English 311 Feature Writing

English 311: Feature Writing

Spring 2012

Course Schedule 

Unit 1: Columns: Generating ideas, ledes, cutting to the chase, writing persuasively and informatively

Week  1: Introductions

1/18  Introductions

 Week 2: Generating ideas and identifying issues


  • Britt, “Columns: Intimate Public Conversations” pp. 83-85 in Telling True Stories
  • Avlon, pp. 13-55
  • Jefferson, “Writing Columns” http://extension.missouri.edu/p/CM360 (see the class blog)

Column #1 due (750 min-1000 words max):

Write a column on war, politics, or civil rights.  Possible topics: Lee Day controversy in Lexington, VA; increased violence in Iraq since the pull-out of American troops; the recent YouTube scandal of Marines urinating on dead Taliban soldiers; Republican primary race; reports that the economy is turning around; Guantanamo Bay


  • Blundell, “Introduction” and chp 1
  • Avlon, TBA
  • Workshop column#1

Week 3: Cutting to the chase


Avlon, TBA

Column #2 due (750-1000 words max): Write a column on a local issue.  Potential topics: abuse of ADHD meds by college students; Virginia hazing laws vs. student “traditions”; how should college students relate to the communities that surround them; technology in the classroom


  • Avlon, “Local Voices”
  • Orlean, “On Voice” pp. 158-163 in TTS
  • Workshop column #2

Week 4: Writing persuasively and informatively


Avlon, “Civil Rights & Civil Liberties” and “The Pursuit of Happiness”

Column #3 (750-1000 words max):

Write a self-help, sports, or humorous/satirical column.  Potential topics: how to balance work and play; what to do if you don’t like your professor; Tim Tebow; the importance of athletics at a very small women’s college; how to do the bare minimum and still get an “A”


Workshop column #3 

Unit 2: Profiles: Selecting a subject; advanced interview skills; structure; portrait painting with words

Week 5:  Selecting a subject


  • Banaszynski, “Profiles” pp. 66-70 in TTS
  • Dickerson, “Hearing our Subjects’ Voices….” pp. 107-109 in TTS
  • Weiner, “Kanye West Has a Goblet” in BAMW


  • Chps 2 and 3 in Blundell
  • Donovan and Zucker, “Autism’s First Child” in BAMW

Profile proposal due to personal blog. Make a list of three possible profile subjects with a list of pros and cons for each.  Discuss which subject would make the most compelling profile and why.

Week 6: Advanced interview skills


  • “To Tape of Not to Tape?”, “Interviewing: An Accelerated Intimacy,” “The Psychological Interview,” pp. 28-35
  • Read interview guidelines on class blog

Interview Exercise: Interview a friend or roommate (5 questions only) and then write a one-page profile of her.  You must work to ask interesting questions that discovers or uncovers a compelling story, while also capturing her voice.


  • “Every Profile is an Epic Story” and the “The Limits of Profiles” pp. 71-74 in TTS
  • Laskas, “The Enlightened Man” (pdf)
  • Workshop interviews

Week 7: Painting with words


  • “Character,” “Details Matter,” and “Developing Character” pp. 126-132 in TTS
  • Hart, “Narrative Distance” pp. 103-104 and  in TTS
  • Talese, “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold” (pdf)

Profile Exercise: Based on the conventional and best practices for beginning a profile, submit the first page of your profile.  You should aim to establish narrative distance, capture the subject’s voice, and engage the reader in a compelling story.


  • Didion, TBA
  • Profile due

Week 8: Structure


  • Student-chosen profile
  • Workshop profiles


  • Student-chosen profile
  • Workshop profiles


Unit 3:  Immersion: Ethics and techniques; Am “I” in it?; Describing the world of the story; Structure

Week 10: Ethics and techniques


“Participatory Reporting: Sending Myself to Prison” pp. 35-39, “Being There” pp. 39-45, and “A Dilemma of Immersion Journalism” pp. 182-184 in TTS

Conover, “Guarding Sing-Sing” (http://www.tedconover.com/2010/01/guarding-sing-sing/)


“Reporting Across Cultures” pp. 46-48 and “Field Notes to Full Draft” pp. 51-54 in TTS

Kotlowitz, There Are No Children Here (excerpt, pdf)

Immersion proposals due: 1-2 page proposal describing the subject of your immersion article.  Must include detailed time-line and a list of possible sources.

Week 11: Am “I” in it?  Why?


“(Narrative) J School for People Who Never Went” pp. 59-65

LeBlanc, Random Family (excerpt, pdf)


pp. 170-182 and 187-189 in TTS

Ehrenreich, Nickel and Dimed (excerpt, pdf)

Week 12: Describing the world of the story


“Reconstructing Scenes,” “A Reconstructed Scene,” and “Setting the Scene” pp. 132-139 in TTS

In-class writing: Bring drafts


“Handling Time” and “Sequencing: Text as Line” pp. 139-145 in TTS

In-class writing: Bring drafts 

Week 13:  Structure

4/9: Peer Review of immersion drafts

Reading TBA

4/11 Peer Review, contd.

Reading TBA

Unit 4: Publishing

Week 14: Portfolio Prep

4/16: Portfolio Prep: meet in Fletcher Lab

4/18: Portfolio Prep: meet in Fletcher Lab

Week 15: Prep contd.

4/23:  Portfolio Prep: meet in Fletcher Lab

4/25: Portfolio Prep: meet in Fletcher Lab

Week 16: Portfolio Prep


Essay #3 due along with Portfolio