M.A. Program Handbook

You are responsible for meeting all deadlines set by the program, your thesis chair, the Department of English, and the Division of Research Graduate Studies (DRGS). Check the DRGS dates and deadlines page for the most current info, and familiarize yourself with these important explanations of the degree process and terminology.

Graduate Writing Skills Requirement

Students should submit a writing sample—usually a revised research paper written for a graduate seminar—at the beginning of the semester during which a student plans to advance to candidacy. Faculty evaluators use the following rubric to assess GWSR writing samples.

GWSR Criteria

Assessment will be based on the following criteria.

Scholarly Merit

This category speaks to the viability of the project, the clarity and focus of the thesis, and the development of an argument. It seeks to ensure that the ideas and interpretations expressed are relevant to important issues or ideas circulating in contemporary discussions of the same topic.

Organization and Structure

This category looks to ensure that arguments are conducted as logical, progressive developments of an idea through coherent, well-organized paragraphs. The essay has an effective introduction, and a thoughtful conclusion.

Complexity of Evidence and Analysis

This category speaks to use of apt sources and ability to explain their significance. The quality and quantity of evidence matters here, but so does the fairness with which the arguments of others are represented and discussed.


This category addresses the formal and mechanical elements of producing an academic argument. Essays should display appropriate academic conventions, format, and style, including citations. Diction level should be appropriate to audience.

GWSR Rubric

A writing sample should receive two evaluations of accomplished to satisfy the requirement.


Scholarly Merit:

The topic is timely and carefully focused. While it does not have to make an original argument, it would serve as a good basis for further research on the subject. Discussion does a creditable job summarizing related literature. The thesis is sufficiently limited in scope; usually stated early on and present throughout the essay as a controlling (not repeated) idea.

Organization and Structure:

Major points raised are relevant to the topic and are logically arranged to provide a coherent argument.  Transitions and organizational structures such as topic sentences and sub-headings are used which help the reader move from point to point.

Complexity of Evidence and Analysis:

Sources are well-chosen and deployed in a range of ways (to motivate the argument, provide key terms). The writer invites complications and considers counterarguments. Analysis is insightful and fresh, more than summary or paraphrase; shows how evidence supports thesis; it should dwell in depth on one or more key examples.


Style and conventions are academically appropriate and consistently used. Nor do errors in mechanics interfere with comprehensibility. Demonstrates thoroughness and competence in documenting sources; the reader would have little difficulty finding citations.


Scholarly Merit:

Although the essay has a focus, it does not participate in a critical conversation. It may be too broadly conceived, without enough specifics and nuances to distinguish a real problem and to address that problem. The essay may be a largely ‘interpretive summary’ of the text, but will feature some insightful moments. OR it could be an essay that is chiefly a personal reaction to something, well-written but with scant intellectual content—mostly opinion.

Organization and Structure:

Writing does not progressively develop an argument. Structure: generally logical, but either confusing in places (big jumps, missing links) or overly predictable and undeveloped; few complications or considerations of counter-arguments; some disorganized paragraphs (either bloated or skimpy). References may be unclear; arguments may be tangential in some places.

Complexity of Evidence and Analysis:

Essay uses a limited range of sources without an awareness of larger array of criticism and/or theory. Evidence builds up a list rather than an articulation of cause-and-effect relationships among ideas. OR works may be quoted and cited correctly, for the most part, but deployed in limited ways, i.e., oversimplifying others’ arguments or manipulating research to affirm of the writer’s point of view.


Paper lacks consistency of style, format. Frequent mechanical errors make reading difficult and interfere with comprehensibility. Thoroughness and competence at documenting sources may need strengthening.


Scholarly Merit:

Essay reveals superficial job of research. Argument depends too heavily on plot summary or paraphrase. The reader is left with very little new understanding of the problem or topic. Thesis can exhibit one of several problems: vague, descriptive, or confusing; parts unintegrated (e.g., three unrelated prongs); only implied or not stated early on; not argued throughout, disappears in places. No clear explanation of literary, cultural and intellectual contexts appears.

Organization and Structure:

Reading and comprehensibility are problematic. Writing demonstrates lack of logical development and focus, causing problems with reading and comprehension.

Complexity of Evidence and Analysis:

Use of existing scholarly/professional literature on the topic is inadequate. Sources used are dated or irrelevant. Interpretation of sources may present some misreadings.


Conventions of style and documentation are not followed. Mechanical problems abound.