The requirements for the Final Directed Writing Project (ENG-W609) were changed in Spring 2014. Please visit Final Project Resources for information about the new requirements. (And please be patient while we continue to update these resources! In the meantime, you may use this page for formatting guidelines as you complete your final projects.)
This is the resource page for Master's Thesis projects completed prior to Spring 2014, or for students who choose to register for ENG-L699 to complete a traditional Master's Thesis of 40-60 pages.
Traditional Thesis Projects (L-699)
Note: you must have taken at least one course in the area in which you intend to write your project. For example, if you want to write about Moby Dick, you need to have had a course in nineteenth-century American literature, even if that course did not include any readings by Herman Melville.
A project in literature should aim for 40 pages with an upper limit of 60 pages. The project should address an interpretive issue current in a given field that has important stakes for how we understand a larger literary or cultural phenomenon (e.g., race in nineteenth-century America or the gothic novel in eighteenth-century Britain). The project should provide a review of the most recent scholarly approaches to this issue and demonstrate its originality by explaining how the project’s argument complicates or extends this scholarship in new ways. In addition, the thesis should place the literary text(s) within a specific historical and/or theoretical context, engaging with primary and secondary sources to establish this context for the reading of the literature. The originality of the project’s argument will likely extend from the connection that the writer makes between the literature and this historical or theoretical framework. Finally, the thesis should include an extensive close reading of the literary text(s) that engages with the work of additional scholars and/or theorists. The entire thesis should follow MLA format, except where that format deviates from thesis formatting guidelines.
Note: you must have taken at least one workshop in the genre in which you plan to write your project.
A project in fiction, poetry, or creative nonfiction should aim for 40 pages with an upper limit of 60 pages. Projects in all creative areas should include, within this range of lengths, an introductory essay establishing the literary context of the project and including a pertinent bibliography. The Literary Context Essay should be ten pages long and should place your creative thesis in the context of appropriate literary and generic traditions and theoretical approaches. Thus the essay will identify at least one literary tradition or generic category (e.g. Jewish fiction, confessional poetry, satire, fairy tales, fantasy, experimental fiction, magical realism) as well as a few writers working in that tradition, and describe how the work already done in that tradition informs your understanding of your creative project. The essay should also incorporate appropriate theory and scholarship into this discussion. What are the main arguments of relevant theorists and scholars? How do those arguments help you understand your work? How does your work address or reject their concerns? Please attempt to balance the content of your essay so that you discuss your work, the literary context, and the theoretical context in equal measure.
Committee members are the director and two readers. The director and at least one reader should be tenured or tenure-track faculty in the department. The department has conceived of the roles of the committee members as follows: the director will work closely with the student on drafts throughout the semester and the readers will be called on to read the penultimate or final version of the project (depending on what turns out to be needed). The degree of involvement of the two readers could vary a bit, but their role would be chiefly to:
The student should first ask the appropriate person to direct the project, consult with him or her about who might be suitable other readers, and then ask those other readers to be on the committee, presenting in conversation the main areas and goals of the project (and the ways in which you are prepared to carry it out). The student should work with the director on the proposal and then the whole committee should meet to discuss the aims and merits of the project, signing and dating the proposal form to indicate that it has been accepted. The form should be submitted to the department secrtary.
Note: You must have taken at least one course in the area in which you intend to write your project. This means that, for a literature thesis, you need to have a course in the historical period or genre that your project will address. For a creative writing project, you must have taken at least one workshop in the genre in which you plan to write the thesis project.
The proposal for your thesis project should be a 5-10 page description of the intended project, including a working bibliography in MLA format. While you will only be in the early stages of your research at this point, you are expected to use several sources in your proposal. The working bibliography should include these sources, as well as ten or more sources that you might look at in the next stage of your research.
You should submit drafts of your proposal to your director, who will circulate the proposal to the other committee members once he or she believes it is ready to be discussed at the proposal meeting. When sending the proposal to your director, you should save it by your last name, first initial, W609 proposal, and the date to identify the version: for example, “Doe Jane W609 Proposal July 10.”
Below, you can find generic descriptions of the proposal content for literature and creative writing theses. However, you should still consult with your chair about what he or she expects you to address in that document.
The proposal for a project in literary analysis should identify the set of questions, issues, or problems that the project will explore and suggest how this work will fit into literary scholarship. In this proposal you should define the area of inquiry (e.g., the nineteenth-century sentimental novel); the body of literary works you will examine; your interpretive problem and how several scholars have addressed it; and your theoretical approach or framework for addressing that problem. You should conclude with a bibliography of the primary and secondary works you expect to address.
The proposal for creative projects should discuss the issues or themes that the creative work will address; the traits of genre, form, and craft that are most important to the project; and a few literary works that inform the student’s understanding of the project.
The oral defense is an important component of W609: it is the chance for you to demonstrate what you have learned during the process of writing your thesis and to show that you can engage in academic discussion about the issues that it addresses. Your performance at the defense will play a role in your final grade for the project. The defense consists of two parts: a ten-minute presentation and a forty-five minute Question and Answer session. At the conclusion of this discussion, the committee will ask you to leave the room for a few minutes while they discuss the final grade for the project. They will then invite you back into the room and inform you of the grade.
In your presentation, you should offer a brief, three or four sentence summary of the project before discussing the following: the genesis of the project, what you learned from it, and how you would complicate, enrich and/or extend its content if you were to continue working on it. Here are some questions that your thesis committee will expect you to address, though not necessarily in this order:
What was the intellectual inspiration for the project?
What is the relationship between your project and the larger field? What contribution does your project make to this field, and why does that contribution matter?
How did your approach to the topic change over the course of the project? Why did it change? Here, you might focus on different research strategies that you learned to employ and/or particular works, concepts, or techniques that you discovered during the course of the project that influenced your thinking.
What were the most difficult intellectual hurdles that you had to overcome in completing this project? How did you overcome them?
If you were going to continue to work on the project, what areas would choose to expand or revise? How would you do so? How might these additions/revisions enrich the overall project?
You should consult with your thesis director about the content of your presentation.
This is a formal presentation, so you should bring an outline of your remarks or notecards from which to speak. You should also practice this presentation before giving it at the defense to make sure that it doesn’t exceed the time limit.
Your presentation will be followed by a 45-minute question and answer session, during which the members of your committee will ask you questions that extend from the project and your presentation about it. The goal of this Q&A is for you to engage in a sustained academic conversation about your work. A really good Q&A is one where very few formal questions have to be asked because there is a lot of back-and-forth between the candidate and the committee. Here are some suggestions for the Q&A:
Give concrete examples to illustrate your answers. Often, an example of a specific character, concept, or plot point will serve as the grounds for more discussion.
Do not be afraid to ask a committee member for clarification. You want to understand the question before you answer it.
Keep your answers relatively concise. In a conversation, you don’t want someone to hog the floor, right? But you also don’t want your conversational partner to answer in monosyllables.
Try asking the committee members questions as well. An insightful question is as important to a good intellectual exchange as an insightful comment.