institute for documentary studies

{Writing Essentials}



“SALT INSTITUTE BRINGS PASSION and intelligence to an essential mission: training great documentary storytellers. There is an intensity and excitement to the place that makes it exceptional. I’m in awe.”

Susan Orlean // New Yorker staff writer + New York Times bestselling author of “The Orchid Thief”

  • What You'll Learn
    This professional skills-based writing seminar will be structured around scenarios where students will apply both creative and professional writing in the context of real professional situations.  Students will write and revise story pitches, specialized letters, resumes, artist statements, project descriptions and proposals, cover letters, grant applications, and other essential forms of professional communication and research. Students of all genres will be required to produce one written creative nonfiction story of publishable quality.


    In this course, you will:

    • Improve your creative writing and foundational grammatical skills
    • Improve your professional etiquette
    • Improve and enhance your professional portfolio
    • Learn various written communication styles and strategies
    • Discover and apply for grants, funding and professional sources suitable for your field
    • Enhance and polish your professional portfolio

  • What your Salt schedule might look like
    Students spend two (very full) days a week in class – in addition to weekly individual conference time with instructors. Time outside of class is devoted to researching, exploring story ideas, writing, and editing – lots of editing. All in all, Salt is a 24/7 experience for the 15 weeks you’re here.
  • What's provided + what to bring
    Each Salt student is provided with an iMac desktop computer that has all the software you’ll need to do your research and work for each track and core component.

    Having a car at Salt is not required, but it makes pursuing stories outside of the Portland area much more feasible. And bring some warm socks!

  • Curriculum
    Salt students take two courses during their time at Salt – their track course, and an all-student-body course in writing essentials for professional storytelling.



    If you are interested in earning graduate or undergraduate credits for your coursework at Salt through one of our affiliate universities, please contact to learn more.


  • What do alums + others have to say?
    “In 2004, I was a student at Salt. THAT FIRST DAY WHEN I STEPPED THROUGH THE DOORS OF THE SCHOOL, MY LIFE CHANGED FOREVER. Find the extraordinary in the ordinary is what they instructed us to do. My teachers coached me not only on how to write well, but how to write with truthfulness and compassion. Ten years after attending Salt as a student, I am incredibly honored to now teach at Salt. I still have that fire burning inside me and am thrilled to champion each new student here.”

    [ Mira Ptacin //  Instructor ]



    [ Scott Sutherland // former  Instructor ]


    SALT IS AN INTENSE AND UNIQUE EXPERIENCE THAT TAKES YOU OUT OF YOUR COMFORT ZONE AND ALLOWS YOU TO EXAMINE A STORY IN-DEPTH. Salt put me years ahead in my career. The months of intense focus and fieldwork helped me accomplish things that would have taken years had I completed just a straight journalism program.”

    [ Brandi Neal // Former Student ]


    SALT IS A TASTE OF WHAT YOU’VE ALWAYS WANTED TO DO.Your days are divided between the field, the classroom, and yes, the computer. Salt then becomes the aftertaste, the experience that stays with you and propels you toward other creative endeavors.”

    [ Juliet Werner // Former Student ]

APPLY {we’ve made it easy to do online}

meet the faculty
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view student
writing samples
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a week in the
life of a salt
writing student
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