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Master of Arts in English

The Master’s degree in English welcomes applications from anyone interested in pursuing in-depth study of literature, writing studies, and/or pedagogy in English. Our MA in English primarily serves three types of students: those who plan to pursue graduate studies in literature or creative writing at the doctoral level; those aiming to teach in high schools, community colleges, and technical colleges; and those who want to enrich their background in English studies, develop research and writing skills, and continue their intellectual experience beyond the baccalaureate.

Along with courses in English, students may take specialized seminars in related disciplines such as Communication, History, Women and Gender Studies, Anthropology, and Sociology.

Located in the Red River Valley, in Fargo, a city known as the gateway to the Great Northern Plains, our program encourages individuality and collaboration as it prepares candidates for academic and non-academic careers. Read about our impressive graduate placement here.

Degree Requirements
The Master of Arts program consists of 27 credit hours of letter-graded course work with an overall GPA of 3.0 or better and (at least) a 2-4 credit Master's Paper. Note that English 764: Teaching Strategies is required of all GTAs who have not taken a similar class elsewhere.

The NDSU Graduate School policies for advanced degrees can be found in the Graduate Bulletin.  

Please direct any questions to Dr. Rebecca Weaver-Hightower, Director of Graduate Studies. 

Program of Study

MA Core, 9 credits
760: Graduate Scholarship
762: Critical Theory
755: Composition Theory or 756: Composition Research 

Rhetoric/Writing/Linguistics and Literature, 12 credits
Students select, in consultation with their advisor, two courses in Rhetoric/Writing/Linguistics, for a total of 6 credits, and two courses in Literature, for the remaining 6 credits. 

Other/Electives, 6 credits
Students select, in consultation with their advisor, two courses from either category above from inside the English department. NOTE: Courses may be at the 600- or 700-level; additional courses, from outside the department, may be recommended by the student’s academic advisor if they clearly match the student’s research and deepen his/her understanding of the field. A request for substitution needs to be submitted prior to course enrollment and be approved by the graduate director. 

Foreign Language Proficiency
Master’s students need to demonstrate intermediate (200-level or 2nd year) competency in one foreign language by the time the program of study is completed.

Master's Paper Prospectus
Students are required to submit and defend a prospectus after they have formed a supervisory committee and before they formally begin to write their Master’s Paper. The prospectus is a brief overview of the master’s project that provides the committee with (in this order) the proposed problem and topic, the anticipated research method, a review of extant literature, a description of the study, the projected results and impact on the existing body of knowledge on the topic, and an anticipated timeline for completion.

The MA Paper, 3 credits
The Master’s Paper will demonstrate a thorough understanding of existing knowledge and the ability to apply that existing knowledge to a problem of interest. Master’s Papers grow out of work completed for a course or undertaken as an independent study. The degree culminates in the oral defense of the polished Master’s Paper (ca. 35-50 pages, incl. front matter and bibliography) by the MA candidate and administered by the student’s supervisory committee. Note that students need to be enrolled continuously for a minimum of 1 credit while working on their Master’s Paper.

For more information, consult the MA Planning Worksheet, speak to your advisor, or contact the Director of Graduate Studies.

Language Proficiency

MLA Statement on Language Learning and United States Policy

Students need to demonstrate intermediate competency (200-level, 4th semester) in one foreign language by the time the program of study is completed.

Intermediate competency may be demonstrated by
a) providing an official transcript that certifies that secondary or higher education was completed in a language other than English;
b) successfully completing a second-semester, second year (or higher level) college foreign language course, with a grade of C or above;
or c) passing the final exam for a second-year (or higher level) foreign language course with a grade of C or above (test may be retaken, at discretion of the language instructor, after one month).

Note that language proficiency needs to be certified by the Chair of Modern Languages and approved by the Director of Graduate Studies. Consult our Forms page for details. 

The 2-Year Plan to Degree Completion

MLA Statement on Language Learning and United States Policy

For students coming in with two years of college credit in language or already able to pass the language proficiency exam for a level two:

Year One, Fall Semester (6 credits suggested)
English 760: Graduate Scholarship (3 credits)
English 764: Classroom Strategies for TAs or an English elective (3 credits)

Year One, Spring Semester (6-9 credits suggested)
English 755: Composition Theory or 762: Critical Theory (3 credits)
English course in Rhetoric/Writing/Linguistics (3 credits)
English course in Literature (3 credits)

Year One, Summer (0-3 credits suggested)

English course in Rhetoric/Writing/Linguistics, Literature, or Summer Scholar offering
Complete Language Requirement

Year Two, Fall Semester (6-9 credits suggested)

English course in Rhetoric/Writing/Linguistics or Literature (3 credits)
English elective (3 credits)
English 797: MA Paper (1-3 credits)

Year Two, Spring Semester (6-9 credits suggested)

English 755: Composition Theory or 762: Critical Theory (3 credits)
English course in Rhetoric/Writing/Linguistics or Literature (3 credits)
English 797: MA Paper (1-3 credits)

Year Two, Summer (0-3 credits suggested)
English course in Rhetoric/Writing/Linguistics, Literature, or Summer Scholar offering
English 797: MA Paper (1-3 credits)

NOTE: This is not a fixed plan, but represents an ideal sequence.

Preparing for the Prospectus Defense

The Prospectus
In their first year, students discuss possible Master's Paper topics with the Director of Graduate Studies and faculty members likely to constitute the student's MA supervisory committee. After the first year, students identify their major advisor and begin working on their MA Prospectus. 

The MA Prospectus is a summary-outline of the proposed Master's Paper, drafted in consultation with the student's academic advisor and then revised together with the supervisor committee. An MA Prospectus is typically 5-10 pages long and contains the following content and section headings:

  • an abstract (a brief overview of the argument) 
  • a summary outline and expected research results
  • a theoretical framework
  • a review of literature
  • a working bibliography
  • a tentative paper outline
  • a suggested timeline for completion

The Supervisory Committee
The supervisory committee should be formed during the term immediately after the major advisor is identified for the student, and members should be identified before the plan of study is formulated so that all committee members have a chance to contribute; the Plan of Study needs to be signed by all three members of the supervisory committee. It needs to be approved by the program administrator and shall be recommended to the Dean of the Graduate College for final approval.The supervisory committee will have at least three members. The members consist of:

  • The major adviser, who must be a full or affiliate member of the graduate faculty Level 1 or 2. The student selects the adviser with approval of the program administrator and the Dean of the Graduate College. The major advisor-student relationship must be a mutually acceptable one. The major advisor will act as the chair of the student's supervisory committee and will be in charge of the Plan of Study. The remaining members of the committee must be agreed upon by the student, the major advisor, and the Dean of the Graduate College.
  • A second member, who must be a full or affiliate member of the graduate faculty.
  • A third member, who could be either a faculty member from outside the student's program or a qualified off-campus expert in the field.

​If the third member, or additional committee member(s) is not a full or affiliate member of the graduate faculty, the approval of the Dean of the Graduate College is required. To request approval, the Plan of Study must include 1) a memo from the program/department chair explaining the qualifications of and rationale for this person to serve on the committee and 2) curriculum vitae.

The Prospectus Defense
Students present and defend first their MA paper proposal, i.e., "The Prospectus" to their supervisory committee (composed of two members in the department and one outside member) in and oral defenses and prior to embarking on their Master's Paper project.

During the Prospectus Defense, the student, his/her academic advisor, and the rest of the supervisory committee meet to discuss this proposal and offer suggestions on how to complete the MA paper successfully and within the framework of the degree requirements. After the Prospectus Defense, the MA student and his/her academic advisor revise the proposal, according to the committee's feedback. The student is now ready to start writing his/her Master's Paper. 

The Master's Paper

The Master's Paper
The master's student will develop a thorough understanding of existing knowledge and the ability to apply that existing knowledge to a problem of interest. The MA Paper requires independent research at the graduate level in a sustained consideration of a critical project. The MA paper may build on work produced in coursework but must also include significant new work. 

A total 2-4 credits in ENGL 797 Master's Paper* may be counted toward the degree. Students generally take 1-3 credit hours at a time, while doing research and writing. MA paper credits may be taken during the summer, as well as during the regular semester. Students will register for a section of ENGL 797 with their academic advisor.

Required length: 35-50 pages

The successful Master's Paper in English will:

  • identify and investigate a problem or question that is relevant to current debates in the field.
  • demonstrate an awareness of current critical, theoretical trends and/or historical contexts relevant to the project.
  • situate the investigation within the relevant scholarship with appropriate citation of the literature
  • demonstrate command of methodological and analytical tools suitable for the investigation.
  • use library resources to locate and select critical and/or historical sources, and connect them meaningfully to the central text(s).
  • show proficiency in documentation and bibliography.
  • demonstrate command of effective writing in an appropriate academic register.

The Final Defense
Each candidate will pass a final oral examination, the date and place of which needs to be announced to the Graduate School two weeks in advance (see the Notification of Scheduled Examination on the Graduate School's Form page) and posted in the Department of English one week prior to the final defense.

Following a successful defense, the supervisory committee will sign and complete The Report of Final Exam, detailing any and all changes the students needs to perform still in the Master's Paper. The candidate will then revise the Master's Paper, in consultation with his/her major advisor and according to the committee's feedback. Unless otherwise specified, the final Master's Paper submission to the Graduate College is to be approved by the student's supervisory committee.

*Note that the MA in English follows Plan B, as outlined by the Graduate School:

Plan B Master's Degree 

  • Minimum 30 credits total
  • 21 of the 30 must be didactic credits
  • 2-4 credits of research (797 Master's Paper)

Plan B: Master's Paper/Comprehensive Study-based Master's
The Plan B master's student will develop a thorough understanding of existing knowledge and the ability to apply that existing knowledge to a problem of interest. Note that under this degree, the new knowledge being created is limited, and this is the primary difference between the Plan A and Plan B degrees. The precise nature of the individual creative component is defined by the program. Examples of possible creative components include a comprehensive paper, a portfolio, or an integrated field experience. Candidates for the Master of Arts degree will meet the general requirements and those specific requirements in the humanities or social and behavioral sciences; these typically include two years of a foreign language.

Each candidate would assemble a supervisory committee and pass a final oral examination. Following a successful defense, the candidate will compose an executive summary or assemble other appropriate documentation as defined by the program to be submitted to the Graduate School. This submission to the Graduate College is to be approved by the student's supervisory committee.

Recent MA Paper Topics and their Writers

Fawzia S. Riji (MA, 2017) Literacy Narratives of Pre-Literate and Non-Literate Adult Refugee Women 
This study focuses on the Literacy Narratives of Pre-Literate and Non-Literate Adult Refugee Women in the Fargo-Moorhead community. Personal interviews were conducted to gather data. The recorded interviews were then ...

Margaret E. Silvernail (MA, 2017) Dancing through Issues of Class and Race in the Composition Classroom 
Within the writing classroom, teachers (and students) tend to understand writing and rhetoric as a mental activity, rarely considering the body’s role in effective communication—even more rarely do they incorporate the ...

Jesse R. Wagner (MA, 2017) Reprinting Russia: Anti-Imperial Discourse in Elias Boudinot’s Cherokee Phoenix 
While much work has explored American Indian print resistance to the encroaching United States, little scholarship has explored reprinting as a method of resistance. Building on Meredith McGill’s argument that reprinting ...

Emilee C. Ruhland (MA, 2017) “Your Legacy Is Yours to Build”: Defining Leadership in Beowulf and Its Adaptations 
This paper analyzes how narrative choice and media affect the depiction of leadership in Beowulf by studying three texts: the medieval Beowulf, the 2007 Hollywood film of the same name, and Beowulf: The Game. While the ...

Holly Hagen (MA, 2016) Christabel’s Complexity: Coleridge’s View of Science, Nature and the Supernatural 
Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s unfinished poem, “Christabel,” follows the meeting and interaction of a young maiden and a deceptive demonesque woman. This paper explores the interactions between the natural, supernatural, and ...

Kai J. Thorstad (MA, 2015) Literalized Metaphors in China Mieville’s Bas-Lag Novels 
In this paper, I will be discussing hybridity, Othering, and agency in China Miéville’s fantasy novels set in the world of Bas-Lag. I will be expanding upon Joan Gordon’s concept of “literalized metaphors” which suggests ...

Emily Bartz (MA, 2014) Female Heroism and Leadership in the Anglo-Saxon Judith 
In this paper, I argue that the Anglo-Saxon Judith frames its titular character’s simultaneous adoption of sacred femininity and masculine heroic violence as the acceptable and necessary response to despair in the face ...


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Last Updated: Tuesday, October 22, 2019 1:06:08 PM
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