ENGL 121 Sections

Styles of Professional Prose

Spring 2025 Sections

01. Writing about Legal Affairs.

Lincoln Caplan

Law is integral to American life and lore. Legal affairs are the means through which society works out how law shapes virtually every aspect of life.

The goals of this course are to help students deepen their skills as readers by reading and talking about writing on legal affairs, and strengthen their writing and confidence in it by thinking and writing about stories and subjects that strongly interest them.

The course is a cousin to a seminar I have long taught or co-taught at Yale Law School, with an important difference: that course is for law students and assumes knowledge about law; this one assumes no knowledge of law and is for students with a wide range of interests in the topic.

The reading is organized around different subfields in legal affairs and different kinds of legal processes: court coverage, criminal law, law’s civil side, legal history, and more. The writing will be essays calling for students to engage with legal subjects from different perspectives.


02. Writing about Medicine and Public Health.

Medical and public health stories shape the way individuals view health and disease, and coverage sometime influences scientific research or health policy. This course will give students the chance to join this conversation by writing about medicine and public health for general audiences. To do this well, students must develop a keen sense of audience as they translate complicated science, explain its ramifications, and provide historical context. Students will write breaking news stories, blog posts, a researched feature article, and a personal essay. They will also have the chance to interview a patient and write a profile that combines the physiology of the disease with the impact of illness on wellbeing. In class, we will analyze essays, book chapters, podcasts, film and news stories for craft.

03. Writing about Cities.

Pamela Newton

Big cities present a unique set of opportunities and challenges. They are hubs of art and culture, media and entertainment, business and finance, and food. They serve as canvases for architects and urban planners with visions for the future. They represent the greatest potential for diverse populations to intersect and thrive. At the same time, cities are often sites of injustice, economic inequality, violence, and social division. Cities constantly challenge us to forge communities on a large scale and to learn how to live harmoniously with each other.

In this course, we will explore city life through reading and writing about cities in several non-fiction modes. Major assignments will include a literary personal essay, a reported journalistic feature (which can be a profile), a piece of cultural critique (putting a cultural artifact into relationship with city life), and a policy memo/proposal about a change to city infrastructure. We will supplement our course readings in these four genres with short readings in other genres (poetry, urban planning theory), as well as with other kinds of “texts” (images, films, recorded talks), and we will welcome guest speakers to our class to share their professional experiences and insights into writing about cities.

Given our proximity to New York City, much of our material will be centered on that metropolis, but the course is concerned with city life not only in our backyard but also on a national and global scale. We will also look for opportunities to use New Haven, the city around us, as a source and a test case for our ideas. Through our study and practice of non-fiction writing for a range of audiences, we will seek to join an ongoing (written) conversation about the past, present, and future of the modern city. 

04. Writing about Music.

Adam Sexton

It has been said that writing about music is like dancing about architecture – and indeed, evoking melody, harmony, and rhythm with words can challenge even the most observant and eloquent among us. In this section of English 121, students will read and discuss writing on music by not only scholars and critics (e.g., Margo Jefferson and Kalefa Sanneh) but also journalists (Joan Didion and Susan Orlean), novelists (Zadie Smith and Jesmyn Ward), and many others. The focus will be on popular music, very broadly defined, and among the concepts to be investigated are taste and “cool.” Written assignments will include a critical review of a performance or recording, a literary essay on a musical topic, a profile of a musician, and an academic paper. The goal of the course is for students to improve their skills at observation, description, and analysis of culture.

Prerequisite: English 114, 115, 120, or another writing-intensive (“WR”) course at Yale.

This course may be repeated for credit in a section that treats a different genre or style of writing (but you can’t count more than one section of English 121 for credit toward the English major); ENGL 121 and ENGL 421 Nonfiction Writing may not be taken for credit on the same topic.

Questions? Before or during registration, contact the instructors or the course director, Andrew Ehrgood.