institute for documentary studies


leave Salt & hit the
ground publishing

use the tabs below to learn more about our writing program

By documenting Maine people, culture, and landscape, students become writers of nonfiction – literate, proficient, ethical storytellers in the written word.

“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
    In this course you will learn the skills essential to literary writing and documentary storytelling: finding, recognizing, framing, and pitching story ideas; research, reconnaissance and interviewing techniques; the appreciation for and acquisition of story context; tools for evaluating issues of ethics, fairness, and loyalty; an understanding of story elements, architecture, and assembly; writing and editing for clarity and purpose; working with and marketing material to editors; time and deadline management. You will also be introduced to journalistic genres and the state of the profession today and given opportunities, during the semester, to pitch your stories for publication.
  • What your Salt schedule might look like
    Writing students spend two (very full) days a week in class – writing and New Media each meet for eight hours per week, in addition to weekly individual conference time with instructors. Time outside of class is devoted to researching, exploring story ideas (whether that means checking Craigslist posts, talking to people on the street, or going to a tiny dot on the map to explore), spending time with subjects in the field, 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 writing and new media work – you’ll work mostly in Microsoft Office, but also have the opportunity to work in Adobe InDesign 6 to create text-and-photo layouts of your pieces. Writing students receive a gear kit complete with audio recorder and accessories for recording their interviews in the field. Salt provides one set of new AA batteries for all recorders – after that, students are responsible for providing their own.


    Salt also has several Canon T2i video DSLR cameras available for checkout to gather photographic and video footage, in addition to specialty microphones and audio gear.  If you have any camera gear of your own, especially a camera that shoots video, we encourage you to bring it with you to maximize your options in the field. Please bring a personal hard drive with at least 1 TB of space to save and take your work with you.


    Most writers prefer to bring their own laptop with them to Salt so they can work outside the writing classroom.   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 writing students take two courses during their time at Salt – their writing track course, and an all-student-body course in new media storytelling. The writing course is broken down into two components:


    In consultation with instructors, students develop their own research topic early in the semester based on their interests and the viability of pursuing the topic in the context of Maine social life. Students are expected to uphold the highest standards of ethical behavior with their subjects. Students present their field research on a weekly basis and discuss their goals and challenges with fellow students and instructors. The Field Research course is fundamentally integrated with the Advanced Documentary Skills course, which culminates in final projects specific to each of the three tracks of writing, photography, and radio.


    Students in the Salt writing program are introduced to the process and crafting of narrative nonfiction writing, from the conception and research of story ideas to the editing, lay-out and publication of final written projects that incorporate elements of new media to enhance the written work. Student writers master the documentary techniques of interviewing, field observation, and background research to write timely, compelling, scene-based stories about life in contemporary Maine. Through a process of drafting and intensive workshopping, writers produce two finished, publishable articles — one magazine feature of 1000 words and a longer 3,000 word spread. During their weekly workshops, student writers are also introduced to professional skills essential for breaking into the field such as submission guidelines, publication research, story pitching, and formal meetings with local editors and professional writers at print and online publications that regularly feature short- and long-form nonfiction writing. Graduates of the writing program leave Salt with portfolio samples that showcase their comprehensive understanding of how to research and tell stories with words, image and sound.



    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. Salt was the place that said, “Yes, Mira. That fire burning inside of you? Sure, it’s idealistic. But it’s vital.” Now, I’m a professional author, and thanks to Salt, I know that my motivates for writing stories are pure. And when they’re not, I can almost feel my old Salt instructor sitting on my shoulder (with a halo over her head), whispering into my ear, reminding me that there’s a big difference between writing from my ego and writing from my heart. 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 // writing instructor ]


    WHAT HAPPENS AT SALT ISN’T AN ACADEMIC EXERCISE IN STORYTELLING – IT’S THE REAL DEAL.Salt writers write about real people with real challenges, real joys, real fears, and real dreams. Getting it right is one of the toughest things you’ll ever do, but it’s also what makes Salt such an amazing place to learn the craft of storytelling.”

    [ Scott Sutherland // former Writing 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.As a writer and editor, I can safely say I wouldn’t be where I am today without my experience at Salt. Thanks to my training at Salt, I am able to cover almost any story with confidence, and I never forget that I can always dig deeper and look closer. 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 // Writing 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. You gather material, you share your findings, you toil over how to best tell the story. With your deadline days away, you may find yourself returning to your subjects just to get in one last question or because you’ve begun to realize how much you’ll miss them. Salt then becomes the aftertaste, the experience that stays with you and propels you toward other creative endeavors.”

    [ Juliet Werner // Writing Student ]

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