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Composition and Rhetoric

At UMass, students interested in studying composition and rhetoric at the graduate level will find a well established program focused on the study of writing in academic and public spaces, emphasizing the intersections of theory, pedagogy, and literate practice.

The rhetoric and composition faculty offer core courses in composition theory, rhetorical theory, literacy studies, and research methodologies which are supplemented by a wide array of special topics courses on public discourse, genre theory, race and writing, gender and writing, and writing and emerging technologies to name just a few. These complement the Department of English's extensive offerings in literary and cultural studies, creative writing, and American Studies. Building on these opportunities, doctoral students have the flexibility to define their own course of study and research project.

The PhD in English and specialization in Composition and Rhetoric Studies offers doctoral students the opportunity to work closely with a distinguished faculty, grow as teachers in our nationally recognized first-year Writing Program, writing-across-the-curriculum program, and computer-equipped writing classrooms.

Composition and Rhetoric has a long and distinguished history at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. In 1970, Walker Gibson began the program, and with John Mitchell, Charles Moran, and C.K. Smith, taught and mentored small cohorts of doctoral students through the next two decades. Under the leadership of Charles Moran, the program grew and gained national recognition. Anne Herrington (now emeritus) joined the Department of English in 1986, Peter Elbow (now emeritus) in 1986, and Donna LeCourt in 2002. More recently, David FlemingHaivan HoangJanine Solberg, Rebecca Lorimer Leonard, and Rebecca Dingo have also joined the composition and rhetoric studies faculty.

Professional development opportunities

  • The Writing Program - Graduate students in composition and rhetoric typically teach College Writing or Basic Writing in the UMass Writing Program, winner of the CCCC Program of Excellence Award (2009). Faculty rotate the directorship of the program; Rebecca Dingo is the Program current director.
  • Western Massachusetts Writing Project (WMWP) - The English department maintains an active National Writing Project site (the Western Mass Writing Project). Charlie Moran was the founding site director in 1993; the current director is Bruce Penniman.
  • Undergraduate writing specializations - The undergraduate program in Professional Writing and Technical Communication, co-directed by Janine Solberg, offers teaching opportunities for 1 or 2 graduate students each year. Faculty (and occasionally advanced graduate students) teach courses in the undergraduate Study and Practice of Writing specialization.
  • The Writing Center - Faculty also direct the University Writing Center which currently employs over 40 tutors and offers over 5,000 sessions a year. Donna LeCourt is the current director.
  • Summer Symposium - The Peter Elbow Symposium provides opportunities for graduate students to connect with visiting scholars.
  • First Year Seminars - Graduate students may apply to teach a topic-driven first year seminar


Composition and rhetoric graduate students and faculty form a friendly community, coming together outside of the classroom for a variety of activities, including student-organized writing groups, program potlucks in the spring and fall, and monthly "comp shares." Comp shares are informal gatherings where students and faculty share their research, receive feedback on writing-in-progress, and discuss professional development topics (applying for grants or drafting conference proposals, for example).  

Comp Rhet Students at Potluck



Applicants to the PhD concentration in Composition and Rhetoric must have the MA in hand before enrolling in the program; the degree should be in English or a related discipline. The strongest applications will include theoretical or research-oriented study in composition and/or rhetoric, ideally more than one course. Read more about admissions.