Graduate Program Guidelines

Policies and Program Information

MA in English

Additional Information (Not Official Guidelines)

Financial Aid Information

PhD in Rhetoric and Composition


Additional Information (Not Official Guidelines)

English Department Graduate Administration

The English department faculty, in cooperation with the School of Interdisciplinary and Graduate Studies (SIGS), sets all policies of the graduate program.

The English graduate committee determines how policies apply in specific instances. The graduate committee supervises all facets of the graduate program including: admission, probation, dismissal, and appointment of Graduate Teaching Assistants (GTAs), the last in consultation with the Director of Composition, the Director of Creative Writing, and the Director of the Writing Center.

Records for all English graduate programs are kept in the department office (Bingham Humanities 315).  The Director of Graduate Studies (DGS) reviews the progress of every student at the end of every semester, or continuously throughout the semester, if the situation warrants it.

Requests and petitions from graduate students should be put in writing and addressed to the DGS, who will then present them to the graduate committee.

The DGS also supervises graduate advising and supervises the examinations of master's and doctoral students to assure that they are administered according to program policy.  The DGS also works with the Department Chair and Vice Chair to plan graduate course offerings.

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English Graduate Degrees Offered

The English Department offers two graduate degrees: the M.A. in English and the Ph.D. in Rhetoric and Composition.


Candidates for the M.A. degree must complete 30 credit hours.  Those who choose the non-thesis option will take 30 hours of coursework, while those who choose to write a thesis will take 24 hours of coursework and 6 hours of Thesis Guidance (English 615).


Candidates for the Ph.D. degree must complete 42 semester hours, which must include 12 hours of Dissertation Research (English 690).

Note: The English Department does not offer a Masters of Arts in Teaching (MAT) degree. Students interested in such a degree should contact UofL's College of Education and Human Development. 


Students admitted to either of the English Department Graduate Programs will be placed in one of the following categories:

Non-degree status. This category is for students who are not pursuing a specific degree. Only nine (9) hours earned while in non-degree status can later be applied toward a graduate degree. Non-degree applicants must submit an undergraduate transcript (B.A. or B.S. degree required) and an application with the application fee.

Degree status. This category is for students in good standing who are pursuing a specific degree.

Degree status--provisional. This status refers to students whose applications are incomplete at the time of admission. All missing credentials must be submitted by the end of the student's first term.

Degree status--special conditions. This status is reserved for a student whose credentials at the time of admission are weak in some respects, but are strong enough to warrant granting the student an opportunity to succeed in the program. In these cases the graduate committee establishes specific criteria for the student to be allowed to continue in the program beyond the initial trial period.

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Residence Requirements

Detailed information on residency requirements can be found in the School of Interdisciplinary and Graduate Studies Graduate Catalog

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Language Requirement

*We do not currently have a language requirement.

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Satisfactory Degree Progress

Satisfactory progress toward the degree requires the following: regular enrollment in graduate courses, consistent satisfaction of course requirements within given time limits, and maintenance of an appropriate grade point average (minimum 3.0). Failure to pursue coursework for the degree on an orderly schedule consistent with the student's other duties, a history of incompletes in courses, or the acquisition of two or more grades of "C" or below will be cause for a review of the student's records by the DGS with the aim of determining whether the student should continue in good standing, be placed on probationary status, be withdrawn from the program, or be encouraged to transfer to some other academic program. Ph.D. students should get their dissertation prospectus approved during the first semester of year three, immediately after completing exams and entering candidacy: the dissertation should then be finished within the next 12 to 18 months. M.A. students often complete theses or culminating projects while completing coursework. 

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The DGS supervises graduate registration and advises all English graduate students.  Each semester, students must schedule an advising appointment with the DGS, or be advised by phone or e-mail, before they can be cleared to register for classes.  Students who register for English graduate courses on their own must take full responsibility for any mistake about degree requirements.Tuition remission for courses not necessary for the degree will be granted at the discretion of the College of Arts and Sciences.

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Master's students who have completed all required coursework and thesis hours (thesis option only) must register for Master's Candidacy (MAST 600) every semester (Fall, Spring, & Summer) until the thesis or culminating project is completed.

Doctoral students who have passed comprehensive exams must register for Doctoral Candidacy (Doct 600) every semester (Fall, Spring, & Summer) until the dissertation is completed.

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Degree Application

The Application for Degree form must be completed in the semester in which the student plans to graduate (Log on to U-Link, choose the "student services" tab at the top of the page. On the right hand side under "Academic Resources" choose "Degree Application"). Deadlines are included on the academic calendar. All degrees require minor graduation fees.

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Instructors are warranted to grant an "Incomplete" only when students are unable to complete the final portion of a course because of severe illness or other circumstances beyond their control.  The grade of Incomplete will not be counted as normal progress toward a degree.  The work must be completed by the end of the student's next term of enrollment, or the course grade will change from an "I" to an "F."

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Independent Study

Forms for requesting an independent study. The forms must be filled out and signed by both the student and professor before they are submitted to the graduate committee for approval.  Proposals must adhere to the following guidelines:

  1. Independent study proposals must not duplicate regular graduate courses; the committee views independent study courses as opportunities for faculty and students to work together on research projects that could not be pursued with existing courses.
  2. The Independent Study Application must explain how the proposal will fit into the graduate student's overall course of study
  3. Independent studies must be approved by the DGS before the students may register. The DGS will check to ensure that the proposal does not duplicate existing courses or conflict with the objectives of the student's program.
*Course # for Fall = ENGL 613, Course # for Spring = ENGL 614

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    Transfer Credit


    Students may apply to the graduate committee to have up to six credit hours of required coursework waived, allowing for their replacement with extra electives. Requests for requirement waiver or credit transfer should be based on the successful completion of equivalent courses at a comparable graduate institution; students will be asked to include syllabi and transcripts for those courses.


    Credit transfer decisions will typically be made based on consideration of the following factors: the date of the course for which credit transfer is sought and the comparability of that course to those offered at the University of Louisville.

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    Statute of Limitations for Coursework

    Coursework taken more than six years ago at this or another institution cannot be counted toward the M.A. or Ph.D. degrees.  In special circumstances, the student may petition the graduate committee for an exception.  Submit petitions of this sort to the DGS, who will forward them with his/her recommendation to the graduate committee. Final approval must be granted by the Dean of the Graduate School.

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    Sharing of Documents

    The program considers all prospectuses, final projects (for theses, dissertations, and culminating projects) and general exam papers to be public documents, which can be shared with other students in the program. Students who want their proposals and/or prospectuses to be kept confidential must append a written and signed statement to that effect to the documents in question.

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    Undergraduate Enrollment in 600 Level Courses

    Normally, undergraduates are not admitted into 600-level courses. Exceptions are made only for students who have completed upper-level undergraduate courses in the area covered by the 600-level course that the student is petitioning to take. Exceptions will be approved only when the instructor of the 600-level course supports,with a permission form and an add/drop form, the student's petition. Signatures from both the 600-level course instructor and the DGS (as certification of graduate committee approval) are required before the Graduate School will allow the student to register.

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    Fellowships are awarded to Ph.D. applicants competitively through all the graduate programs of the University, upon a recommendation from the home department.  Fellowships carry full tuition remission, with no teaching duties except those required for teaching obligation during the fellowship year. They are renewable for a total of two years upon a recommendation from the home department.

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    Graduate Teaching Assistantships

    GTAships are awarded competitively to M.A. and Ph.D. applicants.  Until they have completed eighteen (18) hours of graduate work in English, M.A. GTAs are assigned to the University Writing Center. Most other GTAs teach two sections of first-year composition each semester.  Graduate Teaching Assistants are eligible to apply for several administrative positions in the Department and Writing Center.  GTA administrators typically teach one course per semester and do ten hours of administrative work each week.

    10-month Graduate Teaching Assistants (M.A. students) receive tuition remission to be used in fall and spring terms only.  Twelve-month GTAs (Ph.D. students) receive summer tuition remission as well and are required to teach one section in the summer or perform other duties, according to departmental needs.


    The graduate committee can guarantee consideration only to those applicants whose files are complete by January 5. Announcements of GTA awards or of an applicant's status in the competition will be made by April 1.  An agreement among graduate schools nationwide requires that students accept or reject such offers by April 15.


    Responsibilities of GTAs are outlined in the letter of agreement that is sent with the offer.  GTAs are required to carry a full load of academic work to remain eligible for support. For GTAs in English, "full load" means taking 9 hours of coursework in both the Fall and Spring semesters. University Fellows and students holding twelve-month GTAships must also take 6 hours in the summer. These can be dissertation hours rather than coursework.  Graduate Teaching Assistantships are awarded to support the student's graduate work and cannot continue beyond the end of the semester in which the student has satisfied the requirements for the degree.

    New GTAs assigned to the Writing Center must take English 604: Writing Center Theory and Practice during the Fall semester.

    GTAs who are teaching in the composition program for the first time must take English 602: Teaching College Composition, during the Fall semester.

    Student duties as GTAs also require that they attend Department and University orientation sessions and participate in staff development sessions.  The Director of Composition and the Director of the Writing Center will send more information about these activities early in the summer.


    Initially, GTAships are awarded by the graduate committee on the basis of academic record, GRE scores, writing samples, and letters of recommendation.  GTAships for students pursuing the M.A. may be renewed once; GTAships for students pursuing a doctorate may be renewed three times.  It is possible for students to hold GTAships for two years while pursuing a Master's degree, then hold GTAships for four more years as doctoral students.  Years spent as a University Fellow or as a GTA for other academic units count against the years of eligibility for an English Department GTAship.

    GTA renewals are not automatic; renewal depends on an evaluation of the candidate's academic record and his/her performance of GTA duties.  The Graduate committee, in consultation with the Director of Composition and the Director of the Writing Center, makes this evaluation.  Current GTAs will receive a renewal letter during the Spring semester.  Students who wish to accept this renewal must return the letter by the given deadline.

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    Part-Time Teaching

    Sections in the Composition Program are sometimes available to graduate students at part-time rates. These sections are awarded according to amount of previous teaching experience, progress toward graduate degrees, recommendations, teaching evaluations, and specific program needs. Graduate students may not teach more than three sections a semester.

    Occasionally, advanced graduate students may be asked to teach other courses in the English department and/or humanities division.These courses are typically awarded to students who are close to completing their Ph.D. degree requirements.

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    Summer Teaching

    The summer teaching schedule, like all scheduling decisions, is the responsibility of the Chair and Vice Chair.  During summer terms, the English department offers a limited number of courses.  Often requests for teaching exceed the number of courses available.

    In distributing assignments, the department will, as much as possible, take into account seniority and contributions to our programs and will give priority to doctoral students.

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    Administrative Opportunities

    The Graduate Program in English at the University of Louisville offers students who demonstrate a special interest in administration several opportunities to serve as assistant administrators in the Composition Program or Writing Center.

    Additional opportunities include assisting the Director of the International Thomas R. Watson Conference and editorial assistantships for the Henry James Review. Most of these opportunities are restricted to Ph.D. GTAs beyond their first program year.

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    MA Application Procedures


    January 5: M.A. (with GTA).

    M.A. (without GTA): Fall semester - due July 15, Spring semester - due December 1, Summer semester - due May 15

    Applications must be complete by deadlines. A complete application includes two letters of reference, a critical writing sample, test scores and official transcripts.

    All applicants must send the following to:

    Office of Graduate Admissions

    105 Houchens Building

    University of Louisville

    Louisville, KY  40292

    1. Application for Graduate Admission (including fee). Online application

    2. Official Transcripts of all undergraduate work and any post-graduate work. (Official transcripts must be sent from previous institutions directly to graduate admissions)

    3. Graduate Record Examination (GRE) General Test scores. (from the last 5 years)

    4. Two academic letters of recommendation.  Letters from employers or personal references are not acceptable. Discursive letters are required.

    5. Writing sample (critical writing that demonstrates your investigative and expository skills) of least 10 pages. Students who plan to focus on creative writing should send a creative writing sample in addition to the critical sample.


    The GTA application is included only if you wish to be considered for a GTAship for the Fall semester. Include names and contact information for references only, letters are not required. The GTA application should be sent directly to the English Department (by January 5):


    Fax - 502.852.4182

    Mail – Graduate Administrative Assistant, Department of English, Humanities Building 315, University of Louisville, Louisville, KY 40292

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    M.A. Degree Requirements

    Note: Only 9 credit hours at the 500-level may count toward the M.A. degree. Creative Writing courses (including 6 hours of thesis guidance) may total no more than 15 credit hours.


    ENGL 601—Introduction to English Studies (3 hours)

    ENGL 691/ENGL 692—Theories of Interpretation OR Topics in Interpretive Theory (3 hours)

    Pre– 1700 Literature— varies (3 hours)

    Literature 1700-1900—varies (3 hours)

    Post–1900 Literature—varies (3 hours)


    ENGL 604—Writing Center Theory and Practice (For GTAs working in the writing center) (3 hours)

    ENGL 602—Teaching College Composition (For GTAs teaching in the Composition Program) (3 hours)

    C. ELECTIVES: 9 Hours

    *One elective may be taken outside the department


    Students must declare whether they intend to pursue the thesis option or non-thesis option during spring advising of their first year (or when they are otherwise completing 18 credit hours).


    (24 hrs. of coursework and 6 hrs. of Thesis Guidance [ENGL 615])

    Students who choose this option will write a scholarly critical or creative thesis that is an original contribution to the field, shows an awareness of current academic practice, and employs methods appropriate to an extended academic project. Scholarly-critical theses are typically between 50 and 75 pages; creative theses should be around 35 pages for poetry and 55-60 pages for prose.  If a creative thesis mixes genres, around 50 pages would be appropriate.

    The student makes an oral defense of the completed thesis before a committee of three faculty members (the thesis director, another English faculty member, and a faculty member from outside the department).


    (30 hrs. of coursework and a culminating project)

    Students who choose this option will, as a culminating project, choose one of their strongest seminar papers or creative writing projects to revise.  The final product should be approximately 25 - 30 pages (shorter for poetry projects - see Creative Culminating Projects below) and should be geared toward publication in a refereed scholarly or creative writing venue.


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    Thesis Procedures

    • The student must gain the sponsorship of a senior member of the graduate faculty of the department who agrees to act as director of the proposed project.  It will be up to the thesis director and the student to see to it that all required procedures are followed.
    • The student composes a prospectus; the director should supervise the preparation of the prospectus and give final approval via signature. Approval via signature is also required from the second departmental reader prior to submission. The prospectus must be approvedat least three monthsprior to the final oral examination.
    • As soon you have formed your committee, you should submit a Thesis/Dissertation Advisory Committee form to the Administrative Assistant, who will forward it to the Graduate School.This form should be completed by the time the student's prospectus is approved.
    • The student writes the thesis, allowing readers to comment on its progress CHAPTER BY CHAPTER.
    • After the advisor and each reader have approved the thesis or dissertation in its entirety, the advisor and student schedule the final oral examination, a defense of the work.  Each reader must receive a final typed copy of the paper at least two weeks before the scheduled oral defense.  Also, the student must arrange with the Graduate Administrative Assistant to submit a Thesis/Dissertation Final Oral Examination Schedule form to the Graduate School at least three weeks prior to the defense.  All members of the graduate faculty of the University will be invited to attend the defense, but only members of the committee have a voice in approving the project.  To be passed on this examination, the thesis may not receive more than one abstention or dissenting vote. To schedule your defense, complete the Defense Registration form.
    • The defense must be completed at least fourteen days before the end of the semester in which the degree is to be obtained. For a student to pass their defense, all departmental committee members must participate directly, whether in person or via technology. 
    • The student should email the graduate school at least 2 months prior to the submission deadline to schedule an appointment to have the document’s formatting approved.

    Finally, in keeping with the deadline announced in the program calendar, the student must submit the dissertation to the to the Graduate School in the form and format required. Format Directions


    The committee includes the director, who must be a member of the English department’s senior graduate faculty; a second faculty member from English, who must have graduate faculty member status; and a member of the graduate faculty from outside the English department.

    Note: MA theses must include a 150-word abstract.

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    Thesis Prospectus


    The prospectus for a scholarly-critical master's thesis should be no longer than ten pages, including bibliography.  It usually describes a project that can be completed in one semester, for which the candidate claims six credit hours.  The M.A. prospectus introduces and describes the topic of investigation and the primary and secondary sources to be used, outlines the major critical assumptions behind the study and gives a tentative line of argument, and finally discusses the potential worth of the project, when completed.  The bibliography should list the most relevant primary and secondary material. Prospectus examples are available by request from the Graduate Administrative Assistant. The final thesis should be between 50 - 75 pages. 


    The prospectus should consist of two major parts:  (1) a brief essay describing and providing a context for the thesis project and (2) a sample of the student's writing--five or six poems, a short story or play, or an equivalent selection from a longer work of poetry, fiction, or drama. The final thesis should be around 35 pages for poetry, 55-60 for prose, or 50 for a mixed genre project. 

    • The essay: The purpose of the essay is to show that the student has a clear working conception of the thesis.Therefore, the essay must provide a tentative plan for the thesis, including some sense of its genre, its structure, and perhaps its subject matter or content.  The student may wish to emphasize generic, formal, technical, or thematic considerations, but in any case the essay must place the work in the context of contemporary writing.  The essay should be from 800 to 1500 words in length.
    • The sample: The purpose of the sample is to demonstrate the student's competence to undertake the project.  Therefore, the sample should contain some of the student's best writing, as determined by the student and the advisor.  The sample need not be a part of the proposed thesis, but should demonstrate the student's ability to work in the proposed genre.  While the sample may be part of the thesis, at least half of the thesis itself should consist of new work.


    The MA thesis prospectus must be approved by the project's director and by the second, departmental committee member before it is submitted, in double-spaced, typed format, to the Graduate Administrative Assistant for the student's file. Approval is indicated by signatures on the cover page of the document itself.

    Consult the program calendar for specific deadlines. Be aware that thesis deadlines are typically quite early in the term. Ideally, students who plan to write theses will compose and revise their prospectuses the semester before they intend to graduate.

    Once the student’s committee has approved their prospectus the student should complete a Thesis/Dissertation Advisory Committee form and return the form after all signatures have been obtained. This form is required by A&S.

    If a prospectus fails, the student should meet with his/her advisor to discuss needed revisions.  At the advisor’s discretion, the student may submit a revised prospectus that semester.  In such cases, the usual rule (that a thesis prospectus must be submitted 12 weeks prior to the defense) will be waived, although the prospectus must be approved before a completed project can be submitted.

    NOTE: If a student continues working on the project after the semester in which coursework is completed, he/she must register for master’s candidacy each term (including summer) until graduation. (MAST 600)

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    Culminating Project Procedures

    Culminating projects are completed under the guidance of a single faculty advisor. However, the culminating project prospectus must be approved by a committee consisting of the director of the project and two faculty members chosen by the DGS from the Culminating Project Review Committee. The same three faculty members will participate with the student in a discussion of the final project near the end of the term in which the project has been completed and after it has been approved by the project's director. The director has sole authority over approving the finished product.

    Because the timetable for completing these projects is tight, and because the vast majority of prospectus rejections call for a refined or better-researched version of the proposed project rather than a wholesale change of topic, students should NOT wait for official prospectus approval to begin working on revisions.  Projects typically go through many rounds of revision and commenting before they’re approved; students and advisors should discuss preliminary deadlines (e.g., a deadline for submitting an initial draft) early in the process.

    The student should give ONE hard copy of the final project, with the director's approval indicated by signature, to the administrative assistant by the due date listed in the program calendar.

      Critical Culminating Project

      The critical culminating project involves substantially revising and re-framing a scholarly paper. The final version should engage with current scholarly and critical conversations relevant to the paper’s topic.  It should be clear how the paper’s argument intervenes in those conversations.

      Accordingly, the student is expected to undertake new primary and secondary research and to revise the structure, development, and style of his or her project to make it as nuanced, convincing, and graceful as possible. Careful re-framing (a substantially new introduction and conclusion) will almost certainly be necessary. The research methods employed, whether overtly stated or implicit, should be appropriate to the argument being advanced.

      The culminating project also entails careful study of a target journal. The title of the chosen journal and a one-page rationale for this choice should be turned in with the prospectus, and then resubmitted with the final project. (It is perfectly acceptable if the target journal changes during the completion of the project. If this is the case, submit a new target-journal rationale with the final project rather than resubmitting the original.)


      1.    A cover sheet with the student’s name, the title of the proposed paper, and the director’s name and signature (indicating approval).

      2.  A discussion, usually 2-3 pages, of the project to be undertaken. This account should indicate what the original paper accomplished and perhaps where it fell short and should delineate the revisions that the student plans to make. Prospectuses must convey a clear sense of the scholarly conversation that has taken place on this topic and must indicate how the student plans to intervene in it.

      3. A bibliography (usually 1-2 pages), including relevant primary and secondary sources.

      4.  Journal statement: This is a one-page statement identifying the academic journal for which the student is preparing his/her essay. Information on the publication itself should be included (scope, tone, prestige, typical length/style of articles, etc.), as well as an articulation of why the student’s work will be appropriate for this venue.

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      Creative Culminating Project

      Like the critical project, a creative culminating project should consist of a substantial revision of a body of writing.  A culminating project in poetry would likely include 10-15 pages of poetry. Prose projects would entail, say, one long short story (23-30 pages) or several shorter pieces.

      This endeavor should include some interaction with the world of letters.  That is, if a student is revising a group of poems as her culminating project, she should investigate the market for contemporary poetry, find out where her work might find sympathetic readers, and prepare the poems for submission.  The project, then, includes researching specific publication venues, becoming familiar with the conventions of submission, and revising work to prepare it for professional review.  Ultimately, the project will provide students with the literary world’s specific responses to their work.


      1.    A cover sheet with the student’s name, the title of the proposed work, and the director’s name and signature (indicating approval).

      2.    A discussion, usually 2-3 pages, of the project to be undertaken.  This account should indicate what the original work accomplished and perhaps where it fell short and should delineate the revisions that the student plans to make.

      3    An account of the publishing venue(s) to which the student plans to submit the revised work. Information on the publications themselves should be included (scope, tone, style, prestige, etc.), as well as an articulation of why the work will be appropriate for these venues.

      4.    A brief sample of the student’s creative writing, drawn from the material to be revised (e.g., a couple of poems, a brief short story, or an excerpt from a longer prose work).

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      The prospectus, once approved by the project's director signature, should be submitted (in double-spaced, typed format) to the Graduate Administrative Assistant. The DGS will then select two additional faculty member readers from the culminating project review committee, who will either approve the prospectus or require the student to revise and re-submit it. At least one of the two faculty readers (along with the project director) must approve the prospectus for it to pass. Copies of all comments made by the faculty reviewers during the prospectus approval process will be sent to both the student and the project director by the Administrative Assistant when a decision has been reached. 


      • Cover sheet with the student's name, the project title, and the director's name and signature indicating his/her approval. Please do not include e-mail, phone number, or any other personal information on this cover page. 
      • The project itself, which should be carefully edited and proofread.
      • Target journal statement, resubmitted from the prospectus or new. 

      General PhD Program Information

      The UofL English Ph.D. in Rhetoric and Composition prepares students for research and teaching careers in the theory and practice of rhetoric and composition.  Most students come to prepare for tenurable or otherwise full-time employment in colleges and universities.

      A master's degree, preferably in English, must be in hand at the time of matriculation.  Students should bring with them the ability to do advanced critical writing and to work effectively in a research library. 

      Coursework in the doctoral program introduces the student to the teaching of writing, to current issues and research paradigms in rhetoric and composition, and to issues in literary studies. The department supports dissertations in rhetorical theory, the composing process, technology and composition, assessment, program administration, and historical rhetoric, among other areas of investigation.  While taking courses, most students also do supervised teaching in the First-Year Composition program; some have an opportunity as well to teach advanced writing or introductory literature courses.  As a result, the English Department offers a site for pedagogical development and for practical research in the teaching of writing.

      The student should finish the program able to teach, conduct research, and interact professionally on a variety of topics related to rhetoric and composition.


      A Master's degree, preferably in English, is a prerequisite for admission to the Ph.D. program.  Some students en route to the Ph.D. first earn their M.A.'s in this department.  On completing the M.A. program, they then must apply for admission to the Ph.D. program.

      The English Department has three classifications for Ph.D. students according to how far along they are in the program.  These are:

      • Ph.D. Conditional Student -- this is the status of all new students in the program until after the progress interview (in December of the second year);
      • Ph.D. Student -- until coursework is completed and comprehensive examinations have been passed; and
      • Ph.D. Candidate -- until the dissertation is completed and accepted.  Doctoral students must register for candidacy after completing coursework and successfully passing comprehensive examinations.

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      Ph.D Application Procedures


      January 5th: Complete application and GTA application due. 

      Applications must be complete by the deadline. A complete application includes three letters of reference, writing sample, test scores, GTA Application and official transcripts.

      All applicants must send the following to:

      Office of Graduate Admissions

      105 Houchens Building

      University of Louisville

      Louisville, KY  40292

      1. Application for Graduate Admission (including fee). Online application

      2. Official Transcripts of all undergraduate work and graduate work. (Official transcripts must be sent from previous institutions directly to graduate admissions)

      3. Graduate Record Examination (GRE) General Test scores. (from the last 5 years)

      4. Three academic letters of recommendation.  Letters from employers or personal references are not acceptable. Discursive letters are required.

      5. Writing sample (critical writing that demonstrates your investigative and expository skills) of least 15 pages.

      6. A written statement no more than one thousand words detailing the applicant’s professional goals in the field of Rhetoric and Composition.


      The GTA application should be sent directly to the English Department (by January 5th):


      Fax - 502.852.4182

      Mail – Graduate Administrative Assistant, Department of English, Humanities Building 315, University of Louisville, Louisville, KY 40292

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      Ph.D. Degree Requirements

      A.  REQUIRED COURSES: 6 hours + exam preparation

      ENGL 602: Teaching College Composition

      ENGL 620: Introduction to Research in Composing or another course in Research Methods

      ENGL 689: Directed Reading for Comprehensive Preliminary Examinations

      B.  ADDITIONAL REQUIREMENTS: 15 Hours from the following categories:

      Pedagogy and Program Administration - 3 hours

      Rhetoric - 3 hours

      Literature - 9 hours (students take one designated theory course (ENGL 691/692), and two other courses in literature or theory; one creative writing course may be used to fulfill the literary studies requirement.)

      C. ELECTIVES: 9 hours from offerings in Rhetoric and Composition; one elective may be taken outside these offerings, including a course outside the department.

      D. DISSERTATION (English 690): The program requires at least 12 hours of dissertation research.



      The DGS and members of the graduate committee conduct progress interviews in early December with all second-year Ph.D. students. The committee mainly wants to get a clear description of the student's graduate and professional goals and then provide feedback.Toward that end, students are asked to bring a one page handout to the meeting detailing their preliminary ideas for a dissertation project, potential committee members, preliminary ideas for the Specialized Literary Area exam (and potential committee members), and progress on professional development - e.g.. courses taught and administrative positions held, conference presentations given, papers submitted for publication, etc. 


      The final and most important part of doctoral training here is the dissertation, which is a scholarly-critical contribution to the field of Rhetoric and Composition.  Students should expect to devote at least a full year of graduate study to the dissertation.

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      Professional Requirements: PhD

      Sometime during their tenure in this program, students must participate in a year-long supervised teaching-intern program. Graduate Teaching Assistants automatically fulfill the professional requirement once they have completed one successful year as a GTA. Other students must make arrangements in consultation with the DGS to fulfill the year-long supervised teaching requirement.

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      Ph.D. Exams

      The structure of the comprehensive exams reflects the distinct identity of the University of Louisville Rhetoric and Composition program. Rather than simply defining themselves as specialists in a single area of English studies – a procedure that does not fully prepare students for the jobs or departments in which most of them will spend their careers -- students are expected to demonstrate a variety of skills and a variety of ways to join the wide-ranging conversations of English studies as a profession.

      When students have completed all coursework and dissertation hours they may sit for the Comprehensive Preliminary Examinations, which are given every fall semester. The comprehensives involve two examinations consisting of:

      Modern and Contemporary Rhetoric and Composition

      Specified Literature Area (SLA)

      The SLA is different for each student, and thus is geared to meet the goals and schedules of individual students.


      Both exams must be taken the same (Fall) semester; occasionally exceptionally well-prepared students may arrange to sit for the SLA immediately after coursework is completed in the late Spring or early summer, depending upon faculty availability.

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        Modern and Contemporary Rhetoric and Composition Exam

        The goal for the general exam is for students to demonstrate both their knowledge of the historical and contemporary conversations that define the field and that they can position themselves within these conversations. Toward these ends, the General Exam has two components:

        1. The student will write a 2500-3000 word essay in which the student offers a historicizing overview of select key issues in the field, demonstrating their centrality to the field. - Due September 1st.
        2. The student will engage in an oral examination with members of the General Exam Committee. During the examination the student will be asked both to discuss in more detail the arguments made in the essay, as well as respond to other questions pertaining to composition pedagogy, rhetoric, literacy studies, and research methods. The exam will last up to 90 minutes, with the intent being that the first hour focus on the discussion of content and the last half-hour provide time for feedback about the exam. The student may bring a copy of their essay with them to the oral examination. 

        The essay will be due by September 1st. The oral examinations will take place during the first two weeks of October.

        The DGS will appoint a three-person exam evaluation committee the semester before comprehensives are to be taken. The three-person exam evaluation committee and the DGS will meet with graduate students that semester to guide them in preparing for the exam and to answer any questions students may have about the exam.

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        The SLA requires students to articulate a secondary research area in literary studies (including creative writing, critical theory, or cultural studies) that will complement their research in Rhetoric and Composition and/or enable them to develop competence in a field of study that will help them achieve breadth as scholars and teachers. To fulfill their SLA requirement, students must:

        • Identify specific field of literary study.
        • Generate a list of no fewer than twenty (20) book-length texts (shorter individual texts may be combined to produce one book-length text). The list shall consist of a mixture of major primary and secondary sources.
        • Identify a series of significant scholarly, interpretive, or critical questions central to their chosen field of study.
        • After an appropriate period of time, students will undergo an oral exam based on their lists of texts and questions. Success on the exam will be based on 1) a student‘s ability to demonstrate knowledge of the major primary and secondary texts in his or her chosen field of study; 2) a student‘s familiarity with the major theoretical and methodological questions informing his or her chosen field; and 3) a student‘s ability to discuss possible future areas of research or teaching in his or her chosen field.

        The student will work with one faculty member in his or her chosen field who will advise in the production of the lists and oversee the oral exam. A second faculty member will serve on the committee as a second reader. These two readers will approve the lists, conduct the exam, and assess the student‘s performance.

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        Unsuccessful Examinations

        The following policies apply to those who unsuccessfully sit the Comprehensive Preliminary examinations:

        • Students who fail one or more specific examination(s) (General or SLA) must retake the failed exam(s) within two semesters.
        • Students may attempt each examination twice
        • Students who either 1) fail a specific exam twice or 2) fail the entire comprehensive preliminary examination series twice must withdraw from graduate school and may apply for re-admission to the program no sooner than six months after the date of withdrawal. There is no guarantee of re-admission
        • A student who fails a set of comprehensives three times or a single comprehensive three times must leave the program permanently.

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          Progress After the Examinations

          Successful completion of the Comprehensive Preliminary Examinations admits a student to formal candidacy for the doctorate.

          Students who fail to make progress after successfully passing comprehensives may be required to re-sit the comprehensive examination:

          Graduate School policy is that the candidate must complete all requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy within four calendar years after passing the comprehensive examination. In exceptional cases, the Dean of the Graduate School is empowered to grant limited extensions to this four-year period. Students who wish the Graduate committee to petition the Dean for such an extension must provide evidence that they are keeping up with the field of Rhetoric and Composition and are making substantial progress on the dissertation. After evaluating such evidence, the graduate committee can require the candidate to re-sit the examinations.

          If the graduate committee requires the candidate to re-sit an exam, the candidate must pass the exam before the committee will petition the Dean for an extension.

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          Dissertation Prospectus

          The prospectus communicates the student’s desire to write a dissertation on a given topic and demonstrates that this topic can result in a successful piece of scholarship.  The prospectus should be 7500-9000 words, plus a bibliography.  It typically describes a project that can be completed in eighteen months to two years.  Like any proposal, a prospectus is a persuasive document.

          In general, its rhetorical goals are to persuade the reader:

          1. That the proposed project addresses a significant problem or question. That is, the document gives a clear sense of how this research might matter to the discipline.  What might change as a result of this research?  What difference will it make to others working in the field?  In making this case, the student should indicate what has already been published on this issue and should articulate how this project fits with and adds to that existing conversation.

          2.  That the proposed project is feasible. That is, the document demonstrates that the proposed project is well thought out and can be completed in a timely manner.

          3. That the student has done adequate critical reading in the scholarship (theory, methods, existing research) to enable the student to engage in the research proposed in the dissertation.

          The information you will include in order to achieve these goals depends, to some extent, on the nature of the study being proposed.  Below is a list of segments commonly found in a prospectus. These can be combined and divided as necessary.


          What background information does the reader need in order to understand the proposal?  This section orients the reader to the ensuing document.

          Articulation of the problem or topic

          What specific problem(s) or topic(s) will your research treat?  What rationale can you offer for this project?  Why is this problem or topic significant?  Whom will it interest?  What areas or questions will you cover and what will you exclude—in other words, what is the scope of the project?  This section not only states the problem or topic, but indicates how and why it might matter to the field.  In this section you should answer what is commonly called the “so what” question.

          Research question(s)

          These should be clearly stated with operational definitions provided, as needed.  What are the precise goals or objectives of your study?  What specific questions will you attempt to answer?  This section gives the reader a clear sense of what your project will achieve.  (It may repeat, in a more concise and/or specific form, material included in previous sections.)

          Review of relevant literature (with a bibliography appended)

          What previous research is relevant to your project?  How does your project relate to and move beyond what has been done by others?  What kinds of gaps or dissonances have you discovered in previous research and how will your work address them?  What areas of previous research support your work?  This section locates your project within existing research in your field.  The proposal must convince readers that the project is sufficiently connected to established work in the field to be relevant to the discipline and that the project offers sufficient new knowledge to be worth pursuing.

          Plan of research for an empirical dissertation

          What do you propose to do in order to answer your research questions? This section shows the reader that you have a feasible and well-thought-out research design.  To make this case, you will need to specify the following in some detail (as appropriate):

          1.  Research hypotheses

          2.  Subjects (how you will select them; what kind of permission you will need to obtain.

          3.  Treatment (if appropriate)—that is, what is your intervention?

          4.  Data gathering methods

          5.  Data analysis methods (including means of assuring reliability and/or any statistical treatments you plan to use and/or approaches to analyzing qualitative data).

          6.  Budget (if applicable)

          7.  supporting documents (pilot studies, sample materials, etc.) IRB status (or plan and timetable for securing IRB approval)

          **For more information on the IRB approval process, go to  Note that the “principal investigator” for IRB purposes is the dissertation director rather than the student.

          Plan of research for a theoretical, critical, or archival dissertation

          How do you plan to answer your research questions?  What theoretical and/or historical context(s) will you use to pursue those questions?  What kinds of evidence will you use?  On which central texts will you draw? This section shows the reader that you have a feasible and well-thought-out plan for developing your dissertation’s argument.

          Outline of chapters

          How will your dissertation be structured?  This section, which may be combined with your plan of research, typically provides an overview of each chapter.


          What specific activities do you plan to carry out and how much time will you spend on each?  When do you plan to finish each stage?  This section demonstrates that you can complete the project in a timely manner.

          The prospectus may also, of course, include additional information that will assist readers in estimating the value and practicality of the topic.  Remember that a proposal is an informative and persuasive document: clarity, concision, and thoroughness are crucial.

          The prospectus is not simply a formality but an essential first step in producing a successful dissertation.  That said, the prospectus should not be conceived of as a strict contract—elements may shift as you execute the project.  A new prospectus is necessary only if these changes constitute a marked change of topic.  If a question arises as to whether a project has changed so dramatically that a new prospectus is required, the graduate committee will make the determination, taking into account the assessment of the dissertation director.

          The prospectus should be written as soon as the student has completed the necessary preliminary reading and research. Proposals should not be thought through in isolation, but in collaboration with committee members and colleagues who can help anticipate problems and suggest solutions.

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          Dissertation Procedures

          • The student must gain the sponsorship of a senior member of the graduate faculty of the department who agrees to act as director of the proposed project.  It will be up to the dissertation director and the student to put together the student's dissertation committee, and to see to it that all required procedures are followed.
          • The student composes a prospectus with the guidance of their director.The prospectus must be approved by the members of the dissertation committee at which point there will be a prospectus defense meeting. The student is expected to have an approved prospectus no later than Nov. 30 of the third year of the Ph.D. unless granted an extension by the Graduate Committee. Prior to the meeting the student should print the Dissertation Prospectus Approval Sheet and the Committee Appointment Form, to be circulated during the meeting and returned to the Administrative Assistant after the prospectus defense. 
            • The student writes the thesis or dissertation, allowing readers to comment on its progress CHAPTER BY CHAPTER.
            • After the advisor and each reader have approved dissertation in its entirety, the student schedules the final oral examination, a defense of the work.  Each reader must receive a final typed copy of the paper at least two weeks before the scheduled oral defense. All members of the graduate faculty of the University will be invited to attend the defense, but only members of the committee have a voice in approving the project.  To be passed on this examination, the dissertation may not receive more than one abstention or dissenting vote.
              • The defense must be completed at least fourteen days before the end of the semester in which the degree is to be obtained. All departmental committee members must participate directly, whether in person or via technology, in the defense; for a student to pass their defense, the dissertation may not receive more than one abstention or dissenting vote.
                • A preliminary scheduling form can be found on the English Graduate Program website. Schedule Dissertation
                • The student should email the graduate school  at least 2 months prior to the submission deadline to schedule an appointment to have the document’s formatting approved.

                Finally, in keeping with the deadline announced in the program calendar, the student must submit the dissertation to the to the Graduate School in the form and format required.


                A doctoral dissertation committee includes the director, two additional members of the English graduate faculty, and a member of the graduate faculty from outside the department of English. This "outside reader" can instead be chosen from a department outside of English at UofL or from another university (any department, including English); in such cases, the department must request term graduate faculty status for the non-UofL reader. The committee should be composed of at least one member of the English graduate faculty whose scholarly work resides primarily in rhetoric and composition, and one whose work does not reside primarily in rhetoric and composition. In special circumstances, students with highly specialized dissertation topics may petition the graduate committee for an exemption from this requirement. 

                The membership of the dissertation committee and an approved prospectus must be on file with the DGS at least three (3) months prior to the dissertation defense.

                Note: Ph.D. dissertations must include a 350-word abstract.

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