University General Course Catalog 2022-2023 
    Jun 19, 2024  

English (Rhetoric and Writing Studies Emphasis), Ph.D.

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The Ph.D. program is designed for students preparing to be teachers and scholars at universities and community colleges. Two emphases are offered within this selective degree program: literature and rhetoric and writing studies.

  • The literature emphasis offers an individualized course of study in English or American literatures; students take comprehensive examinations on their selected period, genre, topic, and major author or work.
  • The rhetoric and writing studies emphasis includes coursework in rhetorical history, composition theory and practice, advanced imaginative writing, rhetoric and criticism, and other areas in English studies.

Contact Information

Catherine Chaput, Graduate Program Director
(775) 682-6360

Departmental Website:
Graduate Handbook

Program Objectives/Student Learning Outcomes

Declarative Knowledge: broad knowledge of several of the historical fields in, literary genres of, and major critical approaches to British, American, and World Literatures in English; or, broad knowledge of writing studies issues and methodologies; or, broad knowledge of linguistics issues and methodologies. Students will demonstrate specialized competence in the primary and secondary literature of an appropriate specialized sub-field of literature or writing or language.

Admission Requirements

Applicants to the Ph.D. program must hold an M.A. in English or a closely related field with a cumulative GPA of 3.5 or higher. Potential applicants without an M.A. in English should talk with the Director of Graduate Studies before applying to determine whether their graduate work is comparable to that expected. 

I. Program Requirements

Students design their programs of study following departmental guidelines in consultation with their advisory committees, complete comprehensive examinations in their fields of specialization, and pursue original research resulting in a dissertation of publishable quality. Proficiency in one foreign language (the equivalent of four semesters of college-level coursework), or a three course rotation in linguistics and language studies is required. Students in the program are strongly encouraged to participate in professional activities, including academic conferences. Thirty-one units of 700-level coursework are required. One unit of comprehensive examination (ENG 795  ) is required and is allowed to fulfill the 700-level requirement.

* Curriculum requirements described in this catalog supersede the handbook.

A. General Requirements

Students in both emphases must meet these general requirements.

Time Limit. All requirements must be satisfied during the eight calendar years immediately preceding the granting of the degree.

Advisory Committee. As soon as practical and in consultation with the Director of Graduate Studies, a student should choose an advisory committee and complete a Program of Study. The graduate program in English emphasizes a close working relationship between the student and his or her advisory committee. Advisory committees for doctoral students consist of a chair and two other members from the graduate faculty of the Department of English and one member from the graduate faculty in other departments.

Residence. A Ph.D. degree requires a minimum of six semesters of full-time work beyond the baccalaureate degree, of which at least two successive semesters (excluding summer sessions) must be spent in full-time residence at the University of Nevada, Reno. (Full-time residence requires a minimum of nine credits per semester. Teaching assistants taking at least six credits per semester are also considered to be in full-time residence.)

Continuous Registration. Graduate School regulations require graduate students to maintain continuous registration of at least three credit hours per semester to remain active in the pursuit of a degree. This means that students studying for comprehensive exams or writing dissertations must, even if they are not in residence, register for at least three credit hours (usually ENG 799) each semester (summers excluded) until they graduate.

Total Credits. Candidates for the Ph.D. degree must complete a minimum of 72 graduate credits, including at least 48 credits in course work and 24 dissertation credits beyond the baccalaureate degree. Students are required to take at least eight courses in residence, for a minimum of 24 credits. No more than 4 credits of ENG 736  and 3 credits of ENG 791(Independent Study) may be counted toward the degree. Except in the case of required internships, independent study and internship  credits may not be used to fulfill course requirements but may be counted for total number of credits for degrees.

Transfer Credits. A maximum of 24 credits in graduate courses with grades of B or higher may be transferred from another university and applied toward requirements for the Ph.D. Students with a master’s degree in English from another university can transfer up to 24 credits. Transfer credit requests must be approved by the student’s committee chair, the Director of Graduate Studies, and the Graduate School. Whether courses taken elsewhere may substitute for specific course requirements at Nevada will be determined by the Director of Graduate Studies and/or the student’s advisory committee.

Seminar Requirement. Exclusive of dissertation credits, a total of 31 credits, at least 19 of which are beyond the master’s degree, is required in courses numbered 700 or above.

Foreign Language Requirement. Students may meet the foreign language requirement in one of two ways:

  1. competence in one foreign language; or
  2. course work in linguistics and the nature of language.

The choice of languages or linguistics course work is left to the student in consultation with his or her advisory committee; preference should go to those languages that would prove most useful to the student over a lifetime of reading and research. Competence in a language is defined as completion of the equivalent of four semesters of college level work in the language with a grade of C or better in the final semester, or as completion of the second semester of a sophomore reading course with a grade of B or better. The requirement is considered satisfied when a college transcript shows such a grade in the appropriate final course (whether the earlier courses are shown or not), or when the student has passed at the appropriate level a test administered by the World Languages and Literatures Department. As an alternative to the foreign language, the student’s advisory committee may allow her or him to substitute a three-semester sequence of specified graduate courses in linguistics, language, and language-related topics from other disciplines, such as psychology or anthropology.

Comprehensive Examination (written) In order to register for ENG 795 , a student must have met the following requirements:

  1. Filed a completed Program of Study with the Graduate School;
  2. Completed all course work toward the degree for the Ph.D.;
  3. Met the foreign language requirement for the student’s degree and area of emphasis;
  4. Met with the student’s committee chair to work out plans for completing the written and oral portions of the exams;
  5. Returned the “Approval to Register for Comprehensive Exams” form, completed, to the English department office prior to the end of registration.

After completing course work and the foreign language requirement, the Ph.D. student must pass a comprehensive examination, consisting of a written test and an oral review. The options for Ph.D. exams in each program emphasis are detailed under “Course Requirements” below. The student’s advisory committee is responsible for the evaluation of the exam. Graduate School regulations stipulate that if more than one negative vote is cast, the examination is failed. If this happens, the student may be allowed to repeat specific areas of the exam, or the entire exam. However, no part may be retaken more than once, and three months must elapse between attempts.

Comprehensive Examination (oral). After passing the written exam, the student must also pass an oral examination, administered by his or her advisory committee and lasting approximately one and a half hours. The oral exam will review the written exam and associated materials. As with the written examination, a failed oral exam may be retaken only once. Students who have completed all course work, finished the foreign language requirement, and passed both the comprehensive written and oral exams are formally admitted to Ph.D. candidacy. The student must register for ENG 795, and one credit in the semester he or she will be completing the oral exam.

Dissertation. Candidates for the Ph.D. degree must present a dissertation that makes a significant scholarly or critical contribution to knowledge. A dissertation prospectus must be submitted to and approved by the candidate’s advisory committee before work begins on the dissertation. Typically this prospectus will include a bibliography and an extensive description of contents. Since the dissertation requires close and constant supervision by the chair of the advisory committee, the candidate should develop the dissertation in residence. When considerable progress has already been made, the candidate may be permitted to complete the dissertation elsewhere, under such arrangements as his or her advisory committee may specify and the Graduate Dean approve. In the process of working on the dissertation, each candidate must register for at least twenty-four credits of dissertation under ENG 799  .

Documentation and bibliography should follow the current MLA Style Manual. The Graduate School has formatting requirements and submission guidelines that are available here. Students doing research involving human subjects must check with the Office of Human Subjects Research in Ross Hall regarding necessary protocols and review procedures.

Dissertation Defense (final oral examination). After the dissertation has been accepted by the candidate’s advisory committee, an oral examination specifically covering the dissertation and related topics will be administered. The student must pass this oral exam with not more than one dissenting vote of their advisory committee. The oral exam may be repeated once, but at least three months must elapse between attempts.

Graduation. To graduate in any given semester, the student must file an Application for Graduation by the dates specified for that semester in the university catalog and meet that semester’s deadlines for submission of the Notice of Completion and the final copy of the dissertation to the Graduate School. Students should be aware that graduation application deadline is generally eight weeks prior to graduation.

Paperwork. The student is responsible for knowing the degree requirements and for submitting all Graduate School forms on time. Early in their graduate careers, students should become familiar with the most important of these forms: the Graduate Credit Transfer Evaluation Request, the Program of Study, and the Admission to Candidacy/Comprehensive Examination Report, the Application for Graduation, and the Notice of Completion. Most Graduate School forms are available on the web at The Application for Graduation is available on the Graduate School’s website:

B. Rhetoric and Writing Studies Emphasis

The Ph.D. Rhetoric and Writing Studies emphasis is intended for people planning to pursue careers in scholarship, teaching, and program administration at the college or university level. The emphasis offers a core of work in rhetoric and writing theory, coupled with focused study in other fields of English language and literature, with possibilities for interdisciplinary study as well.

Students in the program are active in professional activities of various kinds, e.g., publishing, participating in conferences, and serving as interns in community agencies, educational institutions, or businesses.

i. Course Requirements

a. Required (3 units)

c. Rhetoric and Composition Electives

In consultation with the advisory committee, each student plans a program of study in rhetoric and composition courses. 

If approved by the student’s advisory committee, related course work may be taken in the College of Education, the School of Journalism, and such departments in the College of Liberal Arts as Anthropology, Psychology, and Speech/Theater.

d. Additional Area

The student also develops expertise in another area, typically in a field of literature or language, but with interdisciplinary study possible as well.

e. Internship

The student will complete a practicum or internship approved by the committee, including applied work in the field, documentation of that experience, and writing a paper and participating in a public forum discussing the implications of the internship.

ii. Comprehensive Exam (written)

Working closely with the advisory committee, the student will prepare a reading list of 80-120 sources selected from canonical rhetoric and composition texts, as well as a secondary (and perhaps tertiary) area of expertise related to the student’s interests in the field. When the student is ready to be tested on these lists, generally the spring semester of the third year in the Ph.D. program, they register for at least one credit of ENG 795, Comprehensive Examination. During the written comprehensive examination, students select three questions from three lists approved by the committee: the first set pertains primarily to the student’s first/canonical list; the second and third sets of questions will mainly examine the second (and third, if applicable) lists. Students have one 24-hour day, per question, to prepare a response of 15-25 pages in length.

iii. Comprehensive Examination (oral)

After the written examinations have been evaluated as passing, an oral examination will be conducted. The student will begin by presenting a narrative of their scholarly development (about 20 minutes). Afterward, the advisory committee will conduct an oral review of the student’s narrative and work in the written comprehensive examination, not to last more than one-and-a-half hours, as described under the Ph.D. general requirements.

iv. Dissertation Defense (final oral examination)

After the dissertation has been accepted by the candidate’s advisory committee, the committee will conduct an oral examination dealing with the dissertation and related topics. The defense will be approximately one and one-half to two hours in length.

II. Total Units (72 units)

Up to 24 units from an M.A. may be approved to count towards the degree.

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