Nonfiction Writing: Voice and Structure

Course No: ENGL 454a

Course Title: Nonfiction Writing: Voice and Structure

Instructor: Fred Strebeigh

Th 1:30-4:00

A nonfiction workshop, confronting the challenges of journalism as an art. Emphasis on voice and structure in long-form, reportorial  nonfiction. Study of texts that may suggest modes, voices, forms, and styles for nonfiction pieces. Frequent writing projects and revisions.

English 454 (Non-Fiction Writing: Voice and Structure) concentrates on voice, structure, and style in the shaping of non-fiction reportage.  Workshops and discussions explore techniques by which writers may mold intractable fact into enduring literature.  Readings include reportage by writers such as Joan Didion, Atul Gawande, John Hersey, John McPhee, Jessica Mitford, Susan Orlean, Michael Pollan, Mark Twain, John Updike, Tom Wolfe, and Virginia Woolf.

Students in the course will build, starting with proposals and drafts, to the creation of at least two polished pieces, typically with word lengths from 3000 to 5000 words.  The best information for this course, including links to past work by students, is on the web at <> (available via Yale login).

Fall application due by noon on August 16.

After completing the online APPLICATION FORM, upload one Word or Adobe PDF document that contains your name, the course number (e.g., ENGL 245), instructor’s name, a statement of purpose, a writing sample of approximately 5-10 pages or up to 4500 words of poetry, double-spaced. For the statement of purpose, please write a paragraph about why you wish to take this specific writing course. The file should be named with the course number and your name (Sample: ENGL 245_Sayers-Erica.pdf).

Here are opportunities to add strength to an English 454 application:

Writing samples:

In the space where the application form asks students to paste “a writing sample of … about 4500 words of prose,” feel free to paste up to two pieces of any length (and even a third if its length is a page or less, such as a piece for Daily Themes).  Strong applications often include some of the following:  Reportorial work that has been published on campus or professionally.  Innovative play with structure or voice, in any genre of writing.  Nonfiction writing for at least one and often both of the two samples.  Guidance by the author, particularly when samples are long, about where to look for the greatest strengths.

Proposals for work to write this term:

Applicants for this course are invited to look at past work for this course and, by using that work as an indicator for what this course gives students an opportunity to create, to offer preliminary proposals for writing in the coming term.  Work written by past students, much of it published soon after taking this course, is available via the English 454 Reader at <>. Strong proposals in past have referred to previous student pieces as models for future ones. 

A proposal might include, for example, information such as this: “Much as Sarah Stillman immersed herself in the anti-sweatshop movement for her piece ‘Made by Us’ <>, I hope to immerse in _____ ; whereas Stillman used a hasty November trip to Florida to report one important scene, I have already done my reporting in _____ and have taken notes that guarantee the accuracy of my writing. My piece will prove surprising and significant because ____ .” (As this phrasing suggests, the course is open to some past reportage, although much reporting will occur during the term.) In the form provided by the English department, proposals may be pasted after writing samples.

Undergraduate Course #: 
Th 1:30pm-4:00pm