I to Eye: Integrating Research into the Personal Essay

Complete Syllabus

Have you wanted to take your essays beyond the personal? Perhaps integrate a researched or reported element or break into a new media publication? In “I to Eye” we explore the in-between of journalism and essay writing – sometimes called "personal journalism" or personal narrative woven with research or other reporting. Over this five-week course we will look at examples in the media and practice writing in variations of this form, finishing with a brief overview of how to pitch this genre.

Whether you have an idea for integrating research into a finished essay, or want to an introduction to the possibilities of personal journalism, this course will provide options for approaching your piece and guide you to toward a first and revised draft.

We’ll start by reading and discussing published pieces of creative nonfiction on the spectrum of “I” to “eye”, looking at the various ways research and other points of view can add perspective and meaning to a piece. And through low stakes assignments and exercises, we’ll practice these different techniques, moving toward a draft of a researched essay. Each week we’ll have an exercise that practices a different approach to the “eye”, and scaffolded prompts that support the writing of your draft. This course will culminate in a workshop of a first draft as well as a brief discussion of options for pitching and publishing personal journalism.

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WEEK 1: Identifying the I and the Eye
The spectrum from “I” to “eye” offers many approaches to integrating research into a personal essay. In this first week, we will read examples from across the spectrum and begin to identify where the “I” ends and the “eye” begins. Writing prompts will help develop ideas for a researched essay.

WEEK 2: Researching the Threads
“Research” can feel like a daunting idea, conjuring an image of a bespectacled academic huddled under stacks of books in a dusty library basement. But research can be anything from personal observation to interviewing to Googling and using document-based sources. This week we’ll examine and practice the breadth of research methods, practicing some as they may support your project.

WEEK 3: Tying It Together
A common lament of the researcher-writer is that they end up with more material than can ever fit into their work. This week we look at how to prioritize and organize your content, finding surprising threads or connections among your own experiences and the research you’ve done, and creating an outline and moving toward the first draft of your researched essay.

WEEK 4: Draft One
This week a first draft will be due, and options will be offered for revising one’s own work. We’ll also go over approaches for providing feedback to each other in preparation for a group workshop.

WEEK 5: Critique, Revision, & Pitching
As we work to critique each other’s work, this week will offer options for publishing works of personal journalism and approaches to pitching. In some cases, one can pitch a researched essay before writing, and we’ll explore how to do that effectively as well as how an essay pitch – even for one’s own purposes or to share with a writing group – can help you organize your approach to a project before you start writing.

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Questions? Check out our FAQ page or contact our Director of Education, Sharla Yates at yates[at]creativenonfiction.org.