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English Thesis Guidelines


Thesis Options

Students who choose the thesis option may write either a critical thesis or a creative thesis.

The Critical Thesis

The critical thesis is a research project focusing on a topic appropriate for English studies. Approximately sixty to eighty pages in length, the critical thesis should be divided into several chapters that work together to support a larger, coherent argument. It must use the MLA style of documentation and include a works cited list.

The Creative Thesis

In the creative thesis, students present their own creative work and frame it within a critical discussion. Original literary work in genres of poetry, creative nonfiction, fiction, or screenwriting comprise the bulk of the thesis; hybrid projects are acceptable. A creative thesis should consist of the creative work(s) and a critical introduction or afterword of approximately fifteen to twenty pages. The total length of the thesis should be fifty to eighty pages; length will depend in part on the genre(s) of the student’s work. The project should reflect sophisticated attention to style and structure and demonstrate careful grounding in research. In their research, students may engage with the following:

  • Resource books: Writing practices, handbooks and forms.
  • Mentor texts: Literary works (either contemporary or a mix of contemporary and historical).
  • Theory: Literary, rhetorical and/or composition theory.
  • General: Any body of knowledge related to the subject matter of the creative work that emerges as a result of student inquiry.  

In the introduction or afterword, students discuss their aesthetic focus and creative concerns in relation to literary history, theory and/or craft. They may also describe creative practices that have informed their style and approach. This portion of the thesis will reflect ways in which the work participates in, builds upon or departs from the literary tradition or topic area anchoring the project as a whole. Furthermore, students will illuminate their writing processes and the strategies they used to solve problems in writing the literary text. The critical introduction or afterword must use the MLA style of documentation and include a works cited list.

Getting Started

Choosing a Thesis Advisor

A student who chooses the thesis option must, in consultation with the Graduate Coordinator, identify a thesis advisor before the end of the second semester in the program. The student should work with a faculty member whose area of specialization relates to the thesis project or who is familiar with the subject matter of the thesis. To ensure this, students should choose a thesis topic that relates to an available faculty member’s area of interest and/or knowledge. A student who chooses a thesis topic outside of the area of interest and/or knowledge of any available faculty member may be required to change the thesis topic.

Forming the Thesis Committee

In consultation with the thesis advisor, the student should put together a thesis committee, which will consist of three English faculty members (including the thesis advisor), as well as a graduate faculty representative from outside the department (assigned by the Graduate School). Whenever possible, the two additional English and Interdisciplinary Studies department faculty committee members should have some knowledge of or familiarity with the subject matter of the student’s thesis; however, because the student will be examined on coursework as well as questioned about the thesis during the oral exam, it is essential that the committee members not all be drawn from the same content area. Rather, the three committee members must represent at least two of the following three content areas: 1) British literature; 2) American literature and 3) rhetoric, writing or theory.

As soon as the thesis committee is formed, the student must submit the Advisory Committee Request Form to the Graduate School so that they can assign a graduate faculty representative. This form can be found from the Graduate School.

The Thesis Proposal

Before beginning a thesis project, students must submit a thesis proposal to their committee. Students should adhere to the following guidelines while completing the thesis proposal:

  • A student must not begin work on the thesis project until a thesis proposal has been approved by the thesis committee. All thesis projects must be written in one of the two formats approved by the English and Interdisciplinary Studies department: 1) the critical thesis or 2) the creative thesis.
  • Before beginning the proposal, the student must secure an advisor for the thesis project. See “Choosing a Thesis Advisor” above. In consultation with the thesis advisor and well in advance of the proposal presentation, the student must organize the remainder of the thesis committee, which includes filing the necessary paperwork with the Graduate School and securing a graduate faculty representative. See “Forming the Thesis Committee” above.
  • The student must develop the thesis proposal using the appropriate Thesis Proposal Form. The student should work closely with the thesis advisor to develop the proposal and revise it as needed. Once the thesis advisor believes the proposal is of a quality that will meet with approval, the student should schedule the thesis proposal presentation and provide hard copies of the proposal to the other committee members, including the graduate faculty representative. The proposal presentation is an hour-long meeting during which the student presents his or her proposal to the committee, answers the committee’s questions and receives the committee’s feedback. The committee should receive hard copies of the proposal at least ten working days prior to the scheduled proposal presentation.
  • Though they may do so, the three additional committee members are not required to evaluate drafts of the proposal prior to its submission for the proposal presentation. All interactions between the student and the additional committee members must be conducted through and with the approval of the thesis advisor.
  • Committee members must indicate their approval of the thesis proposal by signing the thesis proposal form where indicated. The committee may not sign until the student has completed the proposal as required and formally presented it to the committee in person.
  • After the proposal has been approved by the committee members, the thesis advisor must submit a clean copy of the proposal with the signatures of the committee included to the English and Interdisciplinary Studies department Graduate Coordinator.
  • The student should have completed the thesis proposal presentation by the beginning of the third semester in the program.
  • A student may not present the thesis proposal and defend the thesis during the same semester.

Completing the Thesis Project

Once the proposal has been approved by the committee, the student should begin working on the thesis, submitting drafts to the thesis advisor and revising accordingly. Once the student and thesis advisor agree that the thesis will be completed within the current semester, the student should apply for graduation. When the thesis advisor believes the thesis has reached the final stage of completion and is of a quality acceptable for the awarding of the M.A., the student should take steps to schedule the oral exam. The student must submit the form to schedule the oral exam to the Graduate School at least ten working days prior to the oral exam. The forms the student will need to apply for graduation and schedule the oral exam can be found from the Graduate Schools.

The student should submit hard copies of the thesis to all committee members at least ten working days prior to the oral exam. Along with the thesis, the student must also provide committee members with hard copies of a detailed reading list based on coursework taken (see “Reading List” guidelines below). To assist with the completion of the reading list, the student should save copies of syllabi from all courses taken.

Around the time of the oral exam, the student should electronically submit a copy of the thesis to the Graduate School for a format check. Once the thesis is accepted and the oral exam is passed, the student should make any changes recommended by the committee and the Graduate School before submitting the final copy, which must also be submitted to the Graduate School electronically. Throughout this process, the student must be mindful of the deadlines set by the Graduate School, including deadlines for the graduation application, the oral exam, the format check and the submission of the final copy of the thesis. These deadlines, along with guidelines for formatting and submitting the thesis, can be found on the Graduate Schools.

Registration for and Assessment of English 798: Thesis

A student must register for English 798: Thesis with their thesis advisor each semester they are working on their thesis project. Before the start of the semester, the student must inform the Graduate Coordinator of their intention to register for English 798, identify their thesis advisor, and specify the number of credits for which they would like to be registered. The Graduate Coordinator will put in a registration request to the Department Head. The Graduate Coordinator will then contact the thesis advisor to discuss where the student is in the program along with reasonable expectations for the work to be completed that semester and will send a separate reminder to both the advisor and the student to document a plan of work for the semester.

According to Graduate School policy, the student and their advisor must document a plan of work at the start of each semester during which the student is registered for English 798. The plan must clearly indicate the minimal amount of work the student must complete to receive a satisfactory grade, but may also articulate goals beyond this minimal amount of work. The minimal work required will be informed by the discussion held between the Graduate Coordinator and thesis advisor and will depend upon where the student is in the program and what should be considered acceptable progress for that student’s particular situation. The thesis advisor and student should document and agree to the plan of work in writing and submit it to the Graduate Coordinator by the end of the drop/add period. At the end of the semester, the thesis advisor should assess the student’s progress based on the agreed-upon plan of work, assigning either a grade of “S” (“Satisfactory”) or “U” (“Unsatisfactory”).

According to Graduate School policy, students receiving two consecutive “U” grades in English 798: Thesis are subject to dismissal from the program; decisions regarding dismissal are made by the department.