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Requirements overview

Students pursuing the terminal or pre-doctoral M.A. in English may take as electives any of the courses described here. Pre-doctoral M.A. students specializing in composition and rhetoric are required to take ten courses in five semesters, including:

  • 1 theory course (we highly recommend Theorizing the Discipline, taken during the first year)
  • 3 courses in literature, exclusive of the theory course above
  • 6 elective courses (usually includes Composition Theory and Rhetorical Theory)

Students pursuing the Ph.D. in English may concentrate entirely in composition and rhetoric. As described more fully on the English Graduate Studies page, all Ph.D. students in the English Department take six courses. For students concentrating in Composition and Rhetoric, we strongly encourage students to take the three core courses (described below), which introduce them to the key theories and methods of the field. For the other three courses, students may choose from a wide range of elective seminars. Students can find additional resources to help them plan their coursework, exams, and dissertation in


1. Core courses

All students in the Composition and Rhetoric Ph.D. concentration are strongly encouraged to take the following three courses in theory and research, each of which is offered on a regular two-year rotation.

  • Composition Theory
  • Rhetorical Theory
  • Research on Writing

2. Electives

Students may choose from a variety of specialized seminars for their electives. Our elective offerings can be divided into three categories representing the main strengths and emphases of our program. For example, we offer with some regularity courses that deal with issues of identity and difference as they relate to writing and writing pedagogy. These include: 

  • Writing and Difference
  • Gender and Writing
  • Writing and Race
  • Marxism in Composition
  • Writing and Language Ideologies

We also offer courses that treat the intersections of writing and technology. Such courses include:  

  • Writing and Emerging Technologies
  • Historiography and Digital Humanities

And we offer courses that concern the embedding of literate practices in social context. These courses include:

  • Academic Discourses
  • Literacy Studies
  • Genre, Context, and Social Action
  • The Rhetorical Art of Memory
  • Rhetorics of the Public Sphere

Finally, we also offer an introduction to the field for entering terminal or pre-doctoral M.A. students, area K-12 teachers, and graduate students teaching the undergraduate first-year writing course for the first time: Writing and the Teaching of Writing.

3. Other options for electives

For their electives, students may take relevant courses offered in other areas of the English Department and in other departments on campus, such as the Department of Communication Studies and the School of Education's program in Language and Literacy Studies.

4. Practica offered by the Writing Program

Lastly, the Writing Program at UMass offers a variety of practica in the teaching of writing for Teaching Associates in the Writing Program only. Although these do not count officially towards the Ph.D., they can be an important part of graduate students’ professional preparation in the field, showing up on transcripts as a kind of certification of sustained, reflective practice in the teaching of writing.