English Department

Handbook for Graduate Students in English


The thesis is normally the last step of your progress through the program. When you decide that you are approaching graduation, remember to apply for graduation during your next-to-last semester (forms are available from the departmental secretarial staff or from Campus 411, Main Classroom 116).

Nature and length of the thesis

Quality is more important than quantity. The scholarly/critical thesis should be about 30-50 pages long; theses for the concentration in creative writing are about 60 pages long, in some cases including a brief introduction. The scholarly/critical thesis may fall within any of the several emphases of the program--literary criticism and history, linguistics, composition--according to the inclinations of the student and advisor. Copies of theses already accepted are available for inspection in the English Department. Experience shows that, almost invariably, the more carefully limited and defined a topic is, the more successful the finished essay will be. Seek a topic for a criticism thesis that can be treated thoroughly in 30 pages.

Registering for the thesis

A total of 5 credits of ENG 699-Thesis is required for the M.A. in English. Students normally register for one, two, three or four credits of thesis in any semester, but once they register for ENG 699, they must register continuously for the course during the academic year (Fall and Spring, but not Summer, unless the student graduates during that term) until the thesis is deposited. Students should therefore estimate when the thesis will be completed in order to decide how many credits to register for in a given semester.

A student should begin registering for Thesis at least two semesters before expected graduation and must fill out a Thesis Approval Form, available from the Director, before registering.

Students will receive a grade of "T" for ENG 699 each semester that they are registered for the course. When the thesis is submitted and graded, five credits of ENG 699 will be changed to the letter grade that the thesis received. (Any additional thesis credits will be graded satisfactory.)

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Choosing a thesis topic and advisor

It is advisable to settle on a topic for the master's essay and find a thesis advisor as early as possible. Students are expected to have a thesis topic and advisor at least two semesters before the anticipated graduation date.

Students may go about selecting a topic and an advisor in any of several ways. They may already have a topic in mind, growing out of their undergraduate studies or independent interests. In that case, they should seek out the faculty members whose fields of specialization would qualify them to supervise the thesis. A thesis topic may grow out of a graduate course the student is taking; in this case, the instructor of the course would be the natural advisor. Or the student, without having a particular topic in mind, may have a general interest in an author, period, or genre; such a student should seek out the faculty member with the appropriate field of specialization and work out a specific topic in consultation with this advisor. A student may talk with several faculty members before settling on a congenial topic. See the beginning of this document for a list of the graduate faculty members of the English Department, with their fields of special interest.

It is important to note that the initiative for finding a thesis advisor lies with the student, though she or he is urged to discuss possibilities with graduate advisors and with other members of the faculty.

No faculty member is to supervise more than five theses as first reader each year. If a sixth student asks for the supervision of a thesis, the student must either wait until one of the first five is completed, or consult another advisor. In these circumstances, a student normally should find another advisor.

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Second and third readers

Graduate College requirements specify that each thesis must be signed by three faculty members of the Graduate Faculty; two of the three must be from the department granting the degree.

The principal advisor, after consultation with the student, will suggest another faculty member who might be an appropriate second reader of the thesis. First and second readers will advise and guide the student in concert as the thesis progresses. The Director of Graduate Studies appoints the third graduate faculty member, who will serve as the third signatory to the thesis.

See instructions for the Master's exam for the procedures to follow as the thesis approaches completion.

The student, of course, should feel free to consult any faculty member about the thesis at any stage of its writing.

A master's degree candidate may, under compelling circumstances, request a change in the membership of his or her thesis committee. The Graduate Director will attempt to resolve the matter; if this is not possible, the Director may, with the approval of the majority of the Graduate Committee, make the requested change.

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Allotting time for the thesis

Because three faculty readers, two of them looking at successive drafts, are working with students on the thesis, students must be careful to allow sufficient time for the completion of the thesis. Allow at least one week for a faculty member to review a draft. Final copies, with all signatures on the approval sheet, must be turned in to the Director of Graduate Studies by Wednesday of the final week of class in the semester during which the student plans to graduate.

Students who wish to graduate during a specific semester will generally need to begin the semester with a completed draft, one that the first and second reader have seen, in order to complete revisions and have the thesis reviewed by the third reader.

Students should remember that faculty are not always available for consultation during the summer or during breaks.

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Style and mechanical specifications for the thesis

Every student, before completing his or her thesis, should  review a copy of the pamphlet Thesis and Dissertation Format Guidelines from the website of the college of Graduate Studies, PH 218 (see http://www.csuohio.edu/gradcollege/students/thesis/) This pamphlet describes the format and mechanical specifications required of all theses by the Graduate College. It should be followed in all details, except for the following three items, which apply specifically to English Department theses.

  1. The following items described in Thesis and Dissertation Format Guidelines are optional for the English department.
    • Acknowledgments
    • List of Tables
    • List of Figures
    • Appendices
    • Index
  2. Footnotes may be placed at the bottom of the page or at the end of the thesis. Note that an Abstract is required.

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Guidelines for preparing abstracts (adapted from MLA guidelines)

  1. Form: Abstracts are to be 150 words or fewer.
  2. Content: Generally, write your abstract as an abbreviated version of the conceptual argument of your essay. Begin with a statement of your thesis and trace the development of your argument through its major hypotheses, proofs or evidence, and conclusions. Show the progression of your thesis by keeping the relative emphases in your abstract the same as for your essay. Do not make your abstract a mere listing of the major points of your essay, or a statement of what your essay is about, but write a succinct condensation of your thesis. If you are in the creative writing concentration you may either abstract the optional introductory essay or explain your objectives in writing.
  3. Style
    • Brevity: Be as brief as possible without being cryptic or obscure. Include only significant details. Avoid repeating information apparent from the title of your essay, but always include the name of the author of the work under discussion (e.g., don't write an abstract of an analysis of "Ghost House" without at least once mentioning Robert Frost). Include dates for all but the most obvious books and authors.
    • Paragraphing: Write your abstract as a single, coherent paragraph.
    • Sentences: Use complete, grammatical sentences. Do not omit verbs, conjunctions, or other form words. Avoid both series of short, choppy sentences and overlong complex sentences in which phrases and clauses are piled up in an attempt to include as much as possible in one sentence. Avoid excessive use of adjectives and adverbs.
    • Language and quotations: Do not use such expressions as "in this essay, I...," "The author concludes...," or "it is shown that..." Reflect in your abstract the language of your essay. Avoid direct quotations from your essay. Define unusual or difficult terms

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Procedure for advisor approval and deposit

  1. Submission of Tentative Final Draft: The advisor and second reader will make all substantive corrections and recommendations during their consultations with the student. The abstract must be submitted with the tentative final draft. This draft is circulated to the three readers in advance of the Master's Examination (see next section).