Styles of Academic and Professional Prose: Writing Cultural Criticism: Style as Argument

A seminar and workshop in the conventions of good writing in a specific field. Each section focuses on one academic or professional kind of writing and explores its distinctive features through a variety of written and oral assignments, in which students both analyze and practice writing in the field. Section topics include legal, humor, travel, or nature writing; writing about medicine and public health, religion, the visual arts, or food; writing in the social sciences; writing reviews of the performing arts; and writing for radio. May be repeated for course credit in a section that treats a different genre or style of writing; may not be repeated for credit toward the major.


An examination of how exemplary critics, such as David Foster Wallace, Joan Didion, Eula Biss, Kelefa Sanneh, Ariel Levy, Ian Frazer, Kyoko Mori, Adam Gopnik, Henry Louis Gates, Louis Menand, Ted Conover, Amitava Kumar, Wesley Yang, Malcolm Gladwell, Roxane Gay, Eric Schlosser, and Elizabeth Kolbert, and others, use elements of style—diction, tone, narrative structure—as both a mode of investigation and a means of persuasion. Our close attention to how these writers use style as argument will help students develop crucial rhetorical skills especially in light of recent social scientific studies that have affirmed that when it comes to persuading readers on cultural issues, the emotional and experiential are at least as important as the rational or factual.

Units will be organized around readings that highlight a particular stylistic approach—critique via personal narrative, artful analyses of cultural framing (society’s narrative instinct), and more in-depth critiques that interweave personal narrative or perspective with research and analysis. Students will close read model essays for craft, research cultural objects that interest them, and craft their own cultural critiques designed to question and persuade not merely with style but by way of style.

Prerequisites: ENGL 114, 115, 120, or another writing-intensive course at Yale.

Students who wish to enroll in a section of this seminar should participate in online preregistration, which opens at 9:00 a.m. on Monday, December 12, 2016 and closes promptly at 5:00 p.m. on Thursday, January 12, 2017.

Undergraduate Course #: 
Section #: 
TTh 11:35am-12:50pm