Michigan State University
Michigan State University
Department of Writing, Rhetoric, and American Cultures
Current Students


The Rhetoric and Writing doctoral program aims to prepare the next generation of leaders in the discipline of Rhetoric and Writing across all areas of a higher-education career: research, teaching, outreach, & national and institutional service. We understand that our discipline requires outstanding leaders across the higher education mission and in many types of institutions. This mission guides our recruitment, our curriculum, our support packages, and our mentoring philosophy. It asks a lot of both students and faculty, but it also makes the program an exciting place to be.

RW PhD Course Requirements

1. Core Requirements; all of the following core courses (18 credits):  

  • WRA 805 Rhetoric Theory and History (3) 
  • WRA 853 Workshop in Rhetoric and Writing
  • WRA 870 Research Methodologies in Rhetoric and Writing (3)
  • WRA 878 Composition Studies: Issues, Theory, and Research (3)
  • WRA 882 Contemporary Theories of Rhetoric (3)
  • WRA 885 Research Colloquium (3)    

2. Concentration Requirements

The purpose of the concentration requirement is for PhD students to develop a specialized area of study complementary to their rhetoric/writing degree. A concentration consists of at least nine credits of course work (typically, three courses) in a specialized area at the graduate level. Every PhD student is required to develop one concentration; however, our experience has shown us that most students do work that crosses and/or combines “official” concentrations. We encourage that creativity and embrace the innovations to our discipline that comes from it.  

The following doctoral concentrations are currently available 

Critical Studies in Literacy and Pedagogy  

Required for the concentration (9 credits)  

AL 881 Teaching with Technology (or an acceptable alternative)  

One course in language, literacy, and culture:  

WRA 877 Community Literacies  

WRA 992 Seminar in Language, Literacy, and Pedagogy  

One additional course in research methodology:  

CEP 931 Qualitative Methods in Educational Research

CEP 932 Quantitative Methods in Educational Research I 

CEP 955 Research Design and Methods for Learning, Technology, and Culture 

CEP 930 Educational Inquiry 

WRA 872 Methods of Research in Language Learning and Literacy  

ANP 833 Ethnographic Analysis  

Electives for the concentration (3-6 credits, assembled in consultation with student’s committee

Cultural Rhetorics

Required for concentration (3 credits)

WRA 848 Cultural Rhetorics

Electives for concentration (6 credits, assembled in consultation with student’s committee) 

Digital Rhetoric and Professional Writing

Required for concentration (6 credits)

Both of the following courses:

WRA 415 Digital Rhetoric

WRA 841 Professional Writing Theory and Research

Elective for concentration (3 credits); one of the following courses:

WRA 410 Advanced Web Authoring

WRA 417 Multimedia Writing

WRA 420 Advanced Technical Writing

WRA 453 Proposal and Grant Writing

WRA 482 Information and Interaction Design

WRA 852 Portfolio Workshop

WRA 860 Visual Rhetoric

WRA 877 Community Literacy

WRA 893B Internship in Professional Writing

AL 881 Teaching with Technology in Arts and Humanities

An STA graphic design course (in consultation with STA instructor) 

Self-Designed Concentration

In consultation with their guidance committee, a student must petition the Rhetoric and Writing Graduate Advisory Committee for approval to complete a self-designed concentration. The letter of petition should provide the committee with a list of courses to be taken (minimum of 9 credits, although please note that most self-designed concentrations will require more than the minimum number of credits), a guidance committee that is broadly representative of the breadth of the concentration, and a rationale for the concentration. The rationale should address how the proposed concentration will assist the student’s intellectual work and professional development in the field of rhetoric and writing.

More detailed information about the PhD core and concentration requirements can be found in The WRAC Graduate Programs Handbook.


3. PhD Language Requirement

We believe multiple literacies are important for researchers, scholars, and professionals. Learning a second language is also useful for teachers working with increasing linguistically diverse students in K-college classrooms. Furthermore, for teachers at every level, the experience of language/literacy acquisition as a metadiscourse activity is useful in understanding the complexities of bilingualism of second language learning and use, and of the rhetoricity of literacy practices.

Language options; students must complete the language requirement through one of the following options:

    • Demonstrate second-year proficiency in a non-English language, indigenous American language, or American Sign Language.
    • Complete two courses in language variation.
    • Complete two courses in African American vernacular English and rhetoric.
    • Complete two courses in teaching English to speakers of other languages.
    • With approval of guidance committee and as appropriate to the student’s research interests, complete two courses (or the equivalent) in other language/literature areas.


4. Doctoral Exams 

Students must pass three doctoral exams: the Core, the Concentration, and the Prospectus Defense.  


Students must prepare a dissertation-length (or the multi-media equivalent) original work and successfully defend it. Additionally, students must complete no less than 24, no more than 36, WRA 999 dissertation credits.

The graduate program runs a hands-on semester-long job placement workshop each fall. Participation in this workshop is mandatory for job-seeking Rhetoric & Writing doctoral candidates.  
Completion of the PhD must occur within eight (8) years of entering the program. Completion of all comprehensive exams (core, concentration, pre-dissertation defense) must occur within five (5) years of entering the program. The clock starts ticking the semester of the first class that is counted toward the degree.