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English Studies and MA PW Capstone

The Graduate Studies office requires that you complete a capstone experience: a thesis, a nonthesis project (graduate paper), or creative project. Both the MA in English Studies and the MA in Professional Writing offer two choices for the capstone experience: Thesis (academic, creative, or editing) or the nonthesis project (graduate paper), which also requires a comprehensive exam. Whatever you choose for your capstone experience, it should reflect your accomplishments. It says something about you. It is not just a hurdle to complete the degree, but something you should be able to use in your job search. Think about what you want this project to say about you and your contributions to your field.

Writing a thesis is practice in your chosen field. Whether you choose literature, rhetoric, pedagogy, or creative writing as your focus of study, you should view this experience as entry into a professional dialogue in which you design a project, collect information, read extensively, and write your conclusions based on your findings. It is a chance for you to explore your particular interests or to examine interdisciplinary links between interests. In a thesis, you engage in extended research that produces a new reading of one or more literary works, analyzes a theoretical problem, or develops new conclusions based on an experimental study. This means that a thesis is not a report or research paper that merely sums up what has been previously done. Your research should produce a new reading that you could ultimately publish or present at a conference. It is advisable to examine the kinds of questions that are being asked in your area of interest. It also means that you are responsible for reading what has been previously written on your topic, making certain as you progress that you give due credit.

Because of the advanced nature of this enterprise, a thesis requires commitment. It is not something to be finished in the last semester. Many employers and nearly all doctoral programs will require a writing sample. You will be competing with others who have fulfilled the sustained level of intensity a successful thesis requires. Time spent on the project is frequently of essence. It is that sustained time that produces those hard-won insights and connections that make an individual piece of writing stand out. Although length will vary, you should aim for a minimum of 60-70 pages.

Navigating the Thesis Process

Forming a Committee

Choose your director wisely. Your director guides your process and directs you to key resources. Thus, you should choose your director by field of study—one that most closely matches your own. Discuss with your director your choice for second reader. Once you have a second reader, submit the topic approval form and a prospectus with a bibliography to Graduate Studies. If you have a third reader in mind, you may request that reader; otherwise Graduate Studies will appoint one. After a third reader is appointed, you will call a meeting of your three committee members. If the third committee remains on board, the third committee member will sign the topic approval form. If the committee does not approve the thesis project, the student may not move forward. The topic approval form, accompanied by the prospectus, then goes to the Department Chair and then back to Graduate Studies. This process should be completed a year before your intended graduation date.

Plan for Multiple Drafts

Although each director will have particular preferences in directing the thesis, the process involves multiple drafts. Follow the guidance of your director in this process. Typically, each chapter will go through at least one if not more revisions. This process continues until the thesis is complete. Then, the thesis is released to the second and third readers, who will often also request revisions.

Plan for Editing and Revision

The process is at least one third revision and proofing, so you need to allow for ample time for this. A thesis done too hurriedly can work against you. The thesis will be available online through Southeast Theses. Also, a prospective employer or a future graduate school may request to see your work as a writing sample. You want your project to be competitive. You also need to consider your readers in this process since you will probably request letters of recommendation from them; thus, you want to make a good impression.

Format Your Thesis

When you submit your thesis for the defense, it needs to contain all the front material: See Southeast Theses under Articles and Databases in Kent Library.

See also the Thesis Check Sheet provided by Graduate Studies and the descriptions of the thesis process in the Graduate Bulletin.

The Deadlines

It will seem as if you have all the time in the world; don’t be deceived. The thesis deadlines come early (usually in the middle of a semester). Do not short your second and third readers on time; it makes a poor impression. Moreover, if you wish to obtain a letter of recommendation from one of your committee members, you should be thinking about making a good impression throughout the process. If your aim is a spring graduation, you should have your thesis finished by the first part of February. Below is an approximate schedule of when the official defense deadlines fall.


Last day to schedule an Oral Thesis Defense: October


Last day to schedule an Oral Thesis Defense: March


Last day to schedule an Oral Thesis Defense: June

These dates give you an approximate idea for deadlines. Specific dates for each semester can be found on the Graduate Studies page.

Your thesis needs to be turned in to the Graduate Office approximately a week after the last day to schedule a defense. Frequently you will be required to make revisions after the defense. You also need to leave at least four days for the department chair to read.

The Defense

In the best of all possible worlds, you would schedule the defense after all committee members have read your thesis. However, if time runs short, establish an agreed upon date after you have given your thesis to your second and third readers. Once you have the date and time, a room needs to be scheduled.

Bring two copies of the Acceptance Sheet for Graduate Thesis, Non-Thesis Paper, or Creative Project: Can be found under Graduate School.

Finishing Up

See Graduate Studies Check Sheet, electronic submissions, deadlines and calendar. Graduate School Website provides you with information on deadlines, thesis guidelines, and an access to the needed forms. Go to Southeast A-Z / Graduate School.

After the Department Chair has signed, the thesis will go to Graduate Studies, where it will undergo another reading by the thesis reader. The fewer things that can be found the better.

The creative thesis follows the same process, guidelines, and deadlines for a thesis but differs in content. A creative thesis should include a minimum of 50 pages of original creative writing in the genre of your choice plus 10-20 pages of critical introduction. Mixed-genre theses are acceptable with approval from your thesis director.

The critical introduction provides an academic frame for understanding your creative work and should include research. The exact focus of your critical introduction will vary depending on your creative project, so you should consult with your thesis director.

This option will involve investigating best practices and trends in publishing to prepare a manuscript for publication, design a cover, and explore how the eventual book might be marketed. Those writing a thesis in editing and publishing will prepare a style sheet and edit a manuscript, making all the editorial decisions that come with that process. This thesis will also examine how the manuscript in question fits into the current literary marketplace.

The graduate paper should explore a particular topic of interest. You may expand on a paper you have written for a class or research a topic in your field. The graduate paper should demonstrate your ability to research and analyze a topic and communicate your ideas effectively. Approach this as you would in writing a paper for an academic conference. The graduate paper is part of the capstone experience. If you choose a paper you have written for a class, you will be asked to significantly revise or enhance the paper even if you received an acceptable grade on the paper. A passing grade on the paper does not guarantee a passing grade for this capstone experience.

You will need two readers for your graduate paper. Your paper director should be your first reader and your advisor is your second reader. If they are the same person, you can ask another faculty member in your area of specialization to be the second reader.

Graduate papers should be submitted to your paper director by the last day of the semester before you take comprehensive exams.

Requesting to switch directors for your capstone will be addressed on a case-by-case basis, and multiple requests may not be approved.

Thesis and graduate paper topics should reflect the student’s area of study. Approval to diverge from the area of study will be determined by your committee’s review of the prospectus (e.g. an MAPW student may choose a literary thesis but there must be a clear connection to the student’s area of study).

Evaluative Criteria for Graduate Paper

(Evaluated by the paper director and advisor)

Category Criteria High Pass Pass Fail
Thorough, well-researched documentation
The writer adequately researched the positions that are relevant to his or her area of investigation.
Up-to-date sources
The research incorporates at least some of the more recent positions, and it does so in a way that demonstrates an understanding of those positions.
Appropriate Documentation
Sources are appropriately cited throughout the paper. This means that all outside references are given proper credit.
Accurate documentation
The cited material is handled correctly. The documentation follows the appropriate style manual within the text, in the endnotes, and in the list of works cited.
The paper ranges between 15-25 pages, including notes and the works cited page. The ideas are adequately developed, and they demonstrate a command of the area of investigation. The paper presents a well-defended argument, not a report.
The area of investigation is clear, and the focus is maintained throughout the text.
The writing is free of mechanical errors.
The page design, including headings and subheadings, is consistent.
Graduate Requirement
In accordance with The Graduate Bulletin, paper follows the style guide appropriate to the discipline.

The MA Comprehensive Exam in English will consist of three sections: a question on research, a question that requires you to do a close reading of a text, and a self-generated question that requires a cohesive, substantive essay that reflects your academic interests.

Preparing for Comprehensive Exam

Section One: Research

  • Choose a research situation with which you have familiarity: for example, thesis or graduate paper.
  • Explain why you have chosen your resources (their assets, limitations, and their applicability to your project. Provide examples.
  • Explain the order in you would proceed. There should be logic to your research.
  • EN 601 (and the equivalent for TESOL) should aid you in answering this question.

Section Two: Close Reading of a Text

  • One of the most valued skills you can acquire as an MA candidate in English is the ability to close read a test. Thus, you will be asked to close read a poem, a short story, a piece of creative nonfiction (or a selection from any of these). Make sure you have a central point and your observations support that central point.

Section Three: Self-Generated Essay

Submit your question to your advisor for approval by the second week of the semester you plan to graduate.

The MA Comprehensive Exams in Professional Writing will consist of three sections: two questions that require you to demonstrate the knowledge you have attained in your core MAPW coursework, and a self-generated question that reflects your academic interests. This question must be submitted to your advisor for approval by the second week of the semester you plan to graduate.

Category Questions High Pass Pass Fail
The writer appropriately answers the specified questions. Failure to address the question will result in failure of that particular question and may result in the failure of the exam.
Question #1      
Question #2      
Question #3      
Overall Score      
A balance is established between arguments/interpretations and the concrete detail conveyed.
Question #1      
Question #2      
Question #3      
Overall Score      
The writer provides concrete evidence for the position presented. Put another way, the writer avoids writing in generalities and abstractions.
Question #1      
Question #2      
Question #3      
Overall Score      
The focus is clear, and it is maintained throughout the question.
Question #1      
Question #2      
Question #3      
Overall Score      
The writing is grammatically and mechanically correct.
Question #1      
Question #2      
Question #3      
Overall Score      
Overall Rating of the Exam      


Grauel 236
Department of English
One University Plaza, MS 2650
Cape Girardeau, Missouri 63701