Department of English

Nonfiction FAQs

Concentrating in English requires a good background in critical reading and writing. If you are reasonably competent at critical reading and writing, taking an introductory literature course first will help you learn more about your strengths and weaknesses as a writer. You will then be able to choose a writing course that more precisely meets your needs.

Every Nonfiction Writing tracker concentrates in English, so the English concentration requirements apply to Nonfiction Writing trackers. Students interested in the concentration should reference the Registration Guidelines. English concentrators take 10 total courses, 5 of which are electives. Those choosing the Nonfiction Writing track must use 3 of those electives for upper-level (10XX or 11Xx) Nonfiction Writing courses, remembering that 900/930 do not count towards the concentration. But of course most of our trackers take many more Nonfiction Writing courses during their journey at Brown, and you probably will too.

Yes! Many of our trackers/concentrators have second and even third concentrations.

What are you curious about? The real flexibility of Brown’s open curriculum allows for all kinds of pairings, including very disparate or very similar ones. You might find a concentration in Nonfiction Writing track/English pairs well with a concentration in Literary Arts, MCM, IBES, philosophy, languages, or other writing-based or creative production/ideas communication concentrations. But you might also think broadly, as many of our trackers do, about “communication” and “writing” and find you’re interested in pairing with biology, neuroscience, public health, computer science, anthropology, physics, or any other concentration out there. Writing is always foundational to thinking and doing, so anything you’re interested in might fit!

Use ASK and make your declaration there. If you need assistance, reach out to your advisor or a professor you feel comfortable with.

Students who choose the Nonfiction Writing Track with a Concentration in English learn to explore and assess evidence, to read and to write critically and creatively, to communicate clearly, to follow up a thread of research, to craft a narrative, to interview, to edit, and many other skills that are applicable and useful in many areas of work. Some of our Nonfiction Writing trackers find their way to careers in research, editing, journalism, podcasting, media writing/production, teaching, and of course other kinds of writing, but the skills they learned in their courses in the track are widely transferable to many careers, since they are foundational to all human interaction.

Glad you asked! Nonfiction Writing trackers may choose to write an honors thesis if they are eligible. Interested students should reference Honors in Nonfiction Writing. A thesis is a longer piece of writing, generally at least 60 pages, that is completed over a student’s final two semesters of work at Brown—usually drafted in the Fall of the senior year, and revised and evaluated in the early part of the following Spring. Students apply to write the thesis in the Spring of their junior year, and must have earned mostly As in their English courses, should have in mind a professor in the Nonfiction Writing Program who will advise the thesis, and should have a project in Nonfiction Writing that meets the conditions outlined in the application. Students might ask for more information by contacting the honors coordinator (Jim Egan) or the Director of the Nonfiction Writing Program (Emily Hipchen).

Here are some recent thesis titles:

As you can see, as long as it’s Nonfiction and it meets the criteria in our rubric, your thesis idea is very welcome.

Absolutely not, but it is helpful if you are applying to graduate school, need a lengthier writing sample for a portfolio, or simply—and most delightfully—want to chase down and dig deeply into an idea that intrigues you. Intensive writing with support from professionals and peers is optimal, and the thesis gives you that support.

Advisors are assigned by your surname, but you can always request a favorite Nonfiction Writing Program professor if you would like. That request is made in ASK.

Transfer credits are approved only by the Director of Undergraduate Studies (DUS), Stuart Burrows.

All concentration advisors should refer all of their students with questions about study abroad to the Director of Undergraduate Studies (DUS), Stuart Burrows. You should check with the DUS before you study abroad to ensure that the courses that you’re considering would count toward/be approved. You should also double-check with the DUS via email during the program to reconfirm (before you take a class that doesn't count), and then you should meet with the DUS back at Brown once you return to ensure that your study-abroad courses did indeed get counted and recorded on ASK.