Creative Writing in relation to formal essay-writing skills and the understanding of literature

Creative Writing, Literacy & Writing skills

Brief Description

Using interviews and questionnaires as well as samples of student work, this project examined student perceptions of the way in which a Creative Writing component, taken in the first term of their university degree, provides skills which are relevant to the study of English Literature, particularly in textual analysis and the production of clear written English for academic purposes. Published outcomes:

  • a survey of student perceptions,
  • samples of students’ work
  • downloadable exercises

These outcomes were compiled with the aims of:

  • increasing understanding of the ways in which creative writing and literature are mutually beneficial academic disciplines
  • enhancing knowledge of student perceptions of the relations between the two disciplines
  • enabling staff teaching literature to use small creative writing projects within their seminars.

An additional outcome may be a better understanding of the ways in which creative writing within English literature can aid students whose A-level background is in language rather than literature.

Aims and Objectives

Funding made it possible to reflect in depth on the recent growth of creative writing at undergraduate level in English teaching at universities. Recruiting a research assistant with relevant expertise made it possible to produce an in-depth study of student perceptions of their course, with a focus on the relationship between the study of literature, the production of formal written English and the practice of creative writing. Open-ended interview questions and a carefully produced questionnaire encouraged students to consider the benefits they found in studying creative writing within the context of an English Literature degree. This enabled us to see connections of which we were previously unaware, and also be alerted to ways in which we could heighten students’ awareness of connections between the disciplines. Using a research assistant from outside the department to conduct interviews, will encourage students to be both clear and frank about their experiences and perceptions. Further interviews/discussions were conducted with second year students to see if the experience of studying creative writing in their first term at university had a perceived continuing effect. Examination of the way students edit work, and their comments upon the drafting and editing process, may be particularly helpful. Finally, the buy-out time enabled me, using the technological expertise of colleagues, to make creative writing exercises available in downloadable form. The report and exercises are intended to facilitate an exchange of knowledge, perceptions and expertise among university lecturers in both English Literature and Creative Writing.


The Creative Writing component in the first year was introduced at De Montfort in 2004. It is compulsory for all single honours English Literature students and has been made available as an option for students on Socrates exchanges. From 2006 it also became available to students studying for a named award in Creative Writing, who are not necessarily be studying English Literature. We therefore had a test group of mainly single honours English Literature students who can be surveyed for their perceptions of studying creative writing as part of a literature degree at a number of key stages.

The key elements of the methodology was as follows:

semi-structured interviews with a selection of first year students (Sample drawn from a group of between 50 and 70; number of students interviewed to be decided in consultation with research assistant)

  • analysis of students’ reflective essays (sample size 50-70)
  • semi-structured interviews with groups of second year students (sample size – 2 groups of 6-8 students)
  • questionnaires for all first year students (sample size 50-70)

An indicative list of the lines of enquiry to be conducted through these mechanisms was as follows:

prompts and questions about particular writing exercises

  • drafting and editing processes
  • links between creative writing practise and formal essay writing skills
  • creative writing and topics studies at A level/Access
  • undergraduate creative writing in relation to prior experience of creative writing in other contexts

The analysis of the interviews and questionnaires produced a rich source of materials capable of significantly enhancing our understanding of how students’ experience of creative writing is understood in relation to cognate areas of their learning.

Project outputs

  • Project outline – Introduction to the project and its outputs
  • Writing in English – The 11 week course developed as part of this project is presented in the Subject Centres Moodle e-learning environment (Virtue).

Unfortunately due to spammers we have had to add a few extra security levels onto our VLE. To access the course please create an account on Virtue (select ‘create an account’), complete the simple form and click on the link in the authentication email you will be sent. Select the course ‘Writing in English’ from the courses menu in Virtue then enter the enrolment key: 59astra95

Project Leader

Dr Kathleen Bell
English Department
De Montfort University

Project partner/s

  • Dr Deborah Cartmell, De Montfort University
  • Professor Sue Thomas, De Montfort University


Completed spring 2008