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2021/22 Undergraduate Module Catalogue

ENGL1999 The Creative Essay: From Idea to Submission

20 creditsClass Size: 55


Module manager: Dr Emma Trott

Taught: Semester 1 (Sep to Jan) View Timetable

Year running 2021/22

This module is not approved as a discovery module

Module summary

The historic art of essay writing is flourishing in the internet age. Long understood as a creative practice - in 1712 Joseph Addison wrote of their "wildness," likening them to "a wood that abounds with a great many noble objects" - writers of the twenty-first century, from Zadie Smith to Benjamin Myers, continue to find in this old tradition a conducive space for creative, critical thought. In this module we study leading examples from the long English history of this form as well as some recent responses essayists have made to the bewildering tensions of modern life. We do so with a particular eye on how essays old and new can distance us from the world at hand, providing writers with what the feminist essayist Tillie Olsen called "creation's needs for full functioning." The course structure is designed to provide you with the time and space necessary for such "functioning," allowing you to produce a creative essay of your own. In plenary talks and discussion groups at the start of the semester we will identify and define three varieties of modern essays: cultural review, object study, and essay argument. Subsequent conversations will allow you, using our applied criteria, to select one of these varieties for your own creative essay plan. You can write about any topic of your choice, from public transport announcements to capitalism's erosion of sleep, but your account must be lucid and enjoyable and hold the interest of your general reader. To help you achieve this the final weeks of the module offer an intensive period of consideration, consultation, rereading and revision. This will help you deepen your thinking about your essay project, producing a piece of writing that you will have lived with and developed for far longer than most prior school projects.


This module provides students at the start of their degrees with a space to reflect upon their existing practices in writing and research. It will present established essayists to them not as writers to revere but as models of rhetoric and research from which they can learn. Drawing literary precedent into their own modes of self-reflection, it will invite them to produce an independent project for a general audience. Reflection and revision of prose will be of paramount concern, and the concluding option - of gathering student submissions in an online anthology each year - will provide a taste of the publication of one's written work.

Learning outcomes
1. Knowledge of a range of critical and journalistic commentaries and the research and rhetorical techniques that they use.
2. Ability to synthesise this complex material and present with clarity to a general audience, verbally and visually.
3. The capacity to work both collaboratively and independently to identify a topic or problem in the wider culture that invites further discussion.
4. The capacity to conduct independent research into this problem through traditional library means as well as through online resources including journalism portals such as Nexis.
5. The capacity to develop from the results of this research a set of sequential observations or argument to be presented to an audience of general university-level readers rather than disciplinary specialists.
6. The capacity to revise and rewrite prose in order to produce an essay that is written to a high and professional standard, holding the attention of the reader.

Skills outcomes
Capacity for elegant and persuasive mode of analysis, both spoken and written.
Capacity to analyse and critically examine diverse forms of discourse.
Ability to acquire and handle quantities of complex information of diverse kinds in a structured and systematic way, producing synthesised and lucid argument within specified timeframes.
Capacity for independent judgement in response to nonfictional literary material.
Critical reasoning in visual, verbal and written presentation.
Research skills, including information retrieval skills, the organisation of material, and the evaluation of its importance.


The module guides the cohort from reading a range of creative essays to producing one of their own. Examples of creative essays will be drawn from a range of sources, but will certainly include samples from leading writers associated with the genre such as George Orwell, James Baldwin and Joan Didion. Close reading of these examples will be supported through the consultation of secondary, scholarly material on writing and rhetoric as well as independent research. Seminars will provide close direction for students as they conduct their research and develop their drafts.

Teaching methods

Delivery typeNumberLength hoursStudent hours
Class tests, exams and assessment11.001.00
Group learning51.005.00
Private study hours173.00
Total Contact hours27.00
Total hours (100hr per 10 credits)200.00

Private study

Reading of primary and secondary texts to be discussed in lectures and seminars; formative seminar preparation tasks; use of library and online resources; researching and writing assessed written assignments. Seminar tutors will provide guidance, via both Minerva and in seminars, for private study activities and assignments. Students will meet in weekly peer sessions to address specific preparatory tasks.

Students are expected to devote 173 hours of private study time to this module, with the following suggested breakdown:

- Reading, preparation and follow-up for lectures and seminars: (21x3): 63 hours
- Preparation for group work (5 x 2): 10 hours
- Preparation for presentation: 20 hours
- Preparation for essay: 80 hours

Opportunities for Formative Feedback

As the development of individual writing projects is the focus of the module, informal formative feedback will be integral to discussions at each seminar session. Individual written formative feedback will be provided by the tutor following the presentations in week seven. Further discussions regarding the development of research and drafts will occur following reading week through to the end of term.

Methods of assessment

Assessment typeNotes% of formal assessment
Essay3,000 words80.00
Presentation5 minute presentation plus one A4 sheet handout20.00
Total percentage (Assessment Coursework)100.00

All students will have the option to include their essay in an online anthology to be published without grades or annotations following the finalisation of the module.

Reading list

The reading list is available from the Library website

Last updated: 11/08/2021 15:25:39


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