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Please consult the Graduate College for thesis, written comprehensive exam, graduation application, and other important deadlines.

*For Thesis or Non-Thesis students: The comprehensive exam deadline is for paperwork only. If your comprehensive examination is your thesis defense, it must be scheduled and completed by the defense deadlines listed above. Please work with your graduate advisor to make sure you meet all departmental deadlines and other degree requirements.


A thesis is a document that presents original substantive scholarship or research in your field. Some people compare the thesis to a “research paper,” although the thesis is longer than any research paper you would typically write for a graduate course. In the MARC program, the thesis will showcase your ability to make a meaningful contribution to the scholarly conversation in a particular area of rhetoric and composition. A conventional thesis is organized into chapters and is 60-75 pages in length, excluding the bibliography and any appendices.

You will select the thesis or portfolio option for finishing your degree once you have completed 18 hours in the program. If you choose the thesis option, you will assemble a thesis committee (one director and two readers) and take two 3-hour courses dedicated to thesis work: ENG 5399A (otherwise known as “Thesis A”) and ENG 5399B (otherwise known as “Thesis B”).

Each course has distinct requirements (see Q-A forum below) and may only be taken during long semesters (fall and spring). Most students will take ENG 5399A in the fall and ENG 5399B in the spring. Please note that you may need to take ENG 5399B more than once to finish your thesis satisfactorily.

You will schedule and complete an “oral defense” of the thesis toward the end of ENG 5399B, after your committee indicates that the thesis is ready to be defended. You will then revise again as needed, submit the thesis to the Graduate College for review, and submit the final copy to the library to be bound.

Question-Answer Forum

The following questions and answers will guide you systematically through the entire thesis process. Please read this section carefully as it contains all the information you will need to complete your thesis successfully.

  • We developed the thesis and portfolio options to address MARC students’ different needs and interests. Students who plan to pursue a PhD after they complete the MARC program often choose the thesis option, reasoning that they will be better prepared to write a dissertation down the road. These students see academic research and writing in their future and want to prepare themselves for this work.

    Students who aren’t particularly interested in continuing to conduct academic research or who work or plan to work in careers that simply don’t require such research usually choose the portfolio option. They see value in assembling and reflecting thoughtfully on their work in the program. These students may prefer the kind of learning that happens during courses and thus choose the portfolio option because it is a three-hour option and will allow them to take an additional MARC course. Other students may choose the portfolio/written comprehensive exam option because they enjoy synthesizing what they have learned in the program and applying it to the very specific kinds of questions posed in the written comprehensive exam.

    We encourage you to think carefully about what you want out of your degree and what you want to do with it and to use this to guide you in selecting the thesis or portfolio option.

  • The thesis and portfolio options are equivalent in scope and rigor. Neither is easier; neither is more difficult. The 6-hour thesis option culminates in 60-75 pages of new work. The portfolio, a 3-hour option, culminates in 30 pages of new work (10-page portfolio introduction and 3 7-page written responses to 3 comprehensive exam questions).

  • You’ll need to make this decision before or immediately after you’ve completed 18 hours of coursework. For full-time students (students taking 9 hours per long semester), this will be at the end of the first year. Your decision will determine the courses you take during your second year in the program. If you choose the thesis option, you will need to assemble a thesis committee and register to take ENG 5399A (“Thesis A”) in the first long semester after you complete 18 hours.

  • A thesis committee is made up of three graduate faculty: your thesis director and two readers. The thesis director and at least one reader must be on the MARC faculty. The third member of the committee may be another MARC faculty member or a faculty member from another program or department with whom you have taken at least one graduate course. Outside committee members must be classified as “graduate faculty” and have expertise in an area clearly related to your thesis. Both the thesis director and the MARC director must approve third readers who are not MARC faculty. (For a list of graduate faculty, please consult the graduate catalog).

    As a whole, your thesis committee represents expertise in areas related to your thesis. For example, if you are conducting research on the role social media plays in graduate students’ writing processes, you would want to select a director and two readers whose expertise will help you navigate issues and methods central to this research focus. If someone outside the program or department has expertise that would be valuable to this project and you have taken a course with this person, then you might discuss with your thesis director the value of asking him/her to serve as a third reader on your thesis committee. In addition to area of expertise, you should also consider how well you respond to particular interpersonal and work styles.

    Once you’ve decided who you’d like to direct your committee, you should make an appointment with that faculty member to formally request that he/she direct your thesis. MARC faculty may only direct three theses at any one time, so you should have a back up plan if your first choice is not able to direct your thesis. Once you have secured a thesis director, you will want to schedule a time with him/her to discuss potential committee members—your two readers. You will need to meet face-to-face with these faculty members as well to ask them if they are willing/able to serve as readers on your committee.

  • Your thesis director should be a MARC faculty member who has expertise (based on publications, current research and/or scholarship, teaching, and experience) in an area you’d like to explore further in your thesis. You should also select someone with whom you work well and whose work habits complement your own. You should certainly take courses from as many faculty members as possible before deciding whom to ask to direct your thesis.

  • Your director and one reader must have graduate faculty status and teach in the MARC program. Your third reader must also have graduate faculty status and be someone from whom you have taken a graduate course, although he/she may or may not teach in the MARC program.

  • Your thesis director will likely be the committee member with whom you have the most contact, although in some cases all three committee members may be equally involved throughout the thesis process. The thesis committee is there to help you brainstorm or refine your research question and to consult with you throughout the writing process. Readers on your committee will decide at the thesis proposal meeting how involved they wish to be during the writing process. Some readers want to read and comment on chapter drafts throughout the process. Others will prefer that your thesis director handle chapter drafts and revisions. These readers may only want to see the thesis in polished form—after you have gone through rounds of revision with your thesis director.

  • You are eligible to register for ENG 5399A—the first three of six total thesis hours—when you have successfully completed 18 hours of coursework and formally assembled your thesis committee. To register for ENG 5399A, you must let Taylor Cortesi know which faculty member has agreed to direct your thesis. She will then open the appropriate section of ENG 5399A so that you can register. Please note that you may not ask Taylor Cortesi to open a thesis section for you with a particular faculty member until you have asked that faculty member to direct your thesis and he/she has agreed to do so.

  • As you know from your required research methods class (ENG 5327), you must receive Institutional Review Board exemption or approval for any research involving human subjects. You should apply for IRB exemption or approval prior to or during the time you are writing your thesis proposal. Your thesis proposal will not be approved until you receive formal notification that your IRB application has been exempted or approved.

  • Technically, ENG 5399A is the course in which you finish your thesis proposal and begin drafting your thesis chapters, while ENG 5399B is the course in which you continue drafting and revising your thesis chapters. However, our experience shows us that if you follow this schedule you will probably not complete your thesis in two semesters, and you will need to take an additional three hours of ENG 5399B in order to complete the thesis satisfactorily. Thus, we strongly recommend finishing and having the thesis proposal approved prior to ENG 5399A or, at the very least, within the first 2-3 weeks of ENG 5399A. This will give you the majority of time in both ENG 5399A and ENG 5399B to draft and revise chapters of your thesis in consultation with your thesis committee.

    Here’s why we recommend these deadlines: a polished draft of your thesis is due to your committee at midpoint during ENG 5399B. This means that you really only have 1 ½ months of writing and revising time during ENG 5399B. In addition, most thesis committee members will need at least two weeks to read and comment on chapter drafts, leaving you even less time to get everything done before the mid-semester deadline.

    Completing and receiving approval on your thesis proposal either before ENG 5399A begins or within 2-3 weeks after you enroll in the course will give you adequate time to draft and revise several chapters during ENG 5399A and revise and polish chapters during ENG 5399B.

  • No. Theses must be completed during a long semester (fall or spring).

  • A thesis proposal is a persuasive document designed to convince readers that the research you propose is timely and relevant, that you have chosen an appropriate methodology for addressing the research question, and that you have a clear plan for completing the project. In the proposal itself, you will identify your proposed project, establish the need and significance of the proposed project, review the relevant literature related to the project, discuss the methods you will use to complete the project, and provide an overview of thesis chapters.

    Sample Thesis Proposals

  • Technically, the thesis proposal must be submitted and approved by the end of ENG 5399A. If you wait until the end of ENG 5399A to submit your proposal, however, you will most likely need two semesters of ENG 5399B (rather than the required one semester of ENG 5399B) to complete your thesis satisfactorily. If you wish to finish your thesis in two semesters, we strongly recommend that you complete your thesis proposal either shortly before or in the first 2-3 weeks of ENG 5399A in order to stay on track.

    You must schedule a meeting with the entire committee to receive their approval on the proposal after they have read it and before you send a final version to the Graduate College.

    You may not submit a thesis proposal and final thesis during the same semester.

  • You may use MLA or APA style. You should consult with your thesis director early on to decide which of the two you will follow.

  • An oral defense is a formal meeting of your entire committee in which you “defend”—explain and argue for—the value of your thesis project and the solidity of your claims. In the MARC program, the oral defense also serves as a comprehensive exam covering core coursework in the program not addressed in the thesis. For example, if your thesis is a qualitative study of first-year writing instructors’ attitudes about dialect with recommendations for classroom practice, then your committee might conclude that that the thesis demonstrates your understanding of three of the core coursework areas: research methods, composition theory, and composition pedagogy. Therefore, the committee would ask you at least one or two questions about rhetorical theory during the oral defense because this would be the only core coursework area you had not yet discussed.

    The oral defense is typically scheduled two weeks after you submit a complete and polished draft of your thesis to your committee members. The oral defense lasts approximately 1-1 ½ hours. If you choose, family and friends may attend the defense.

  • You should come to your oral defense prepared to respond to committee members’ questions about such topics as the importance of your study, your research methods, your claims, and your conclusions. You should also be prepared to discuss core coursework not addressed in the thesis.

    Your thesis director will begin the meeting by asking you and any guests to step outside. This is part of the protocol as it gives the committee a moment to plan how the defense will proceed. You and guests will then be asked to come back into the room, and the oral defense itself will begin.

    Your committee chair might ask you to begin by talking briefly about your project, but the majority of the defense will be dedicated to conversation among you and your committee chair members about the thesis itself. Committee members will pose questions; you will respond to those questions. When committee members are finished with questions, you and guests will be asked to step outside again so that the committee can outline any revisions to the thesis and other requirements that must be met before you submit your final thesis to the Graduate College. Lastly, you will be asked back into the room, and you and your thesis director will discuss further requirements.

  • The “Thesis/Dissertation Committee Approval Form” documents your committee’s approval of the thesis. You should bring this form with you to the oral defense of the thesis so that committee members may sign and date it if they are in agreement at that time that the thesis has been or will be completed satisfactorily.

Thesis Checklist

Note: Checklist items are not necessarily steps in a sequence. Rather, you will complete many of these activities simultaneously.

__ Assemble a thesis committee

__ Register to take ENG 5399A (“Thesis A”) during a long semester (fall or spring)

__ Write a thesis proposal before or within the first month of ENG 5399A

__ Secure IRB exemption or approval

__ Meet with thesis committee to receive approval on thesis proposal

__ Submit thesis proposal and required forms to the Graduate College

__ Draft and revise thesis chapters in consultation with committee members during ENG 5399A

__ Register to take ENG 5399B (“Thesis B”) during the long semester following successful

     completion of ENG 5399A

__ Apply for graduation at the beginning of ENG 5399B

__ Draft and revise thesis chapters in consultation with committee members during ENG 5399B

__ Schedule and complete an oral defense of the thesis by the deadline

__ Submit any additional revisions required by the committee by the deadline

__ Submit final revised thesis to the Graduate College for review

__ Submit thesis copy approved by the Graduate College to the Library for binding

__ Graduate