3.0 MA in Digital Rhetoric & Professional Writing: Annual Review, Certifying Exams & Theses

Annual Review
Every student in the DRPW MA program will develop and maintain an ongoing professional portfolio, to be used once per year by the student’s advisory committee in evaluating the student’s progress towards the degree.

This portfolio (which can be print, electronic, or a combination) will include samples of the student’s work during the degree program–including representative work done in courses (the student should include good, excellent, and even not-so-good work) and professional work done outside courses (e.g., conference presentations).

Each year, the portfolio should also include a new reflective essay that provides evidence of reasoning and reflection on how the student’s program has affected their research and teaching and their understanding of that work in terms of their professional goals.

This portfolio can serve both as the annual review portfolio and as the basis for certifying exam portfolio, depending on the student’s year in the program. See “Maintaining Academic Good Standing” in Section 5.0 for details on portfolio assessment.

MA Plan A Thesis
Those Masters students electing Plan A:

  • inform their advisory committee chair of that intention during the semester prior to writing the thesis;
  • prepare a short prospectus (3-5 double-spaced pages, or the equivalent, plus a short bibliography) for the thesis project, in consultation with their chair;
  • present the prospectus to the entire advisory committee during the semester before the student plans to finish the thesis, for the committee’s approval
  • complete four (4) credits of WRA 899 Masters Thesis Research, usually taken at the end of the MA coursework while writing the thesis;
  • complete a thesis (typically 50-100 pages) which (a) is a substantial piece of research or scholarship (typically, article length), (b) shows specific knowledge within the field, (c) shows understanding of the field, and (d) is of publishable quality;
  • schedule an oral presentation and defense of that thesis before the advisory committee, which must pass it as a final certifying exam.

The student may decide to replace one or more of the members of the advisory committee so as to suit the planned thesis topic. But the student works primarily with the chair to draft, develop, and revise the thesis project.

The thesis must be prepared in accordance with the specifications provided by the Graduate School; see Section 7.0 of this handbook for guidelines concerning thesis formatting and filing.

AL 899 Masters Thesis Research
Plan A requires students to complete six (6) credits of AL 899. According to university policy, students may enroll in this course for 1-6 credits at a time (for up to 15 credits). We encourage students to take these all at once, but they may be spread out over more than one semester.

Stage 1. Preparation and Planning
Preparation will vary depending on the scope of the thesis topic; initial discussion of the focus may involve advisory committee members, but especially the chair. Discussion could include samples of coursework or informal ideas. Planning should involve:

  • deciding the semester(s) in which to enroll for AL 899 credits;
  • any additional courses that may be relevant to the thesis topic;
  • an outline;
  • a schedule for drafting, consultation with the chair, and time for feedback; and
  • discussion with colleagues.

Stage 2. Research and Drafting
While doing research and drafting the project, students work primarily with their chair. It’s crucial to stay in regular contact with the chair, providing intermittent progress reports, asking questions, and meeting for discussion as needed or scheduled. It’s also crucial to discuss with the chair how to handle revisions and relevant types of feedback.

Stage 3. Completion
The student works with the advisory committee chair to draft and revise sections of the project. The chair approves the sections for release to the other committee members for review and feedback. This helps to make the best use of everyone’s time and energy.

Stage 4. Oral Defense
When a final version of the thesis has been approved, the student schedules the oral exam. The exam will focus not only on the thesis, but also on the student’s coursework. The candidate may prepare questions for the oral exam in collaboration with the chair. Typically the candidate makes a brief presentation of the thesis to the committee before the questioning.


MA Plan B Examination
MA DRPW students who elect the Plan B option must pass one written exam at the conclusion of their MA coursework. Exams are typically scheduled for early September and early April of each year, but each student should arrange the exam scheduling with her/his advisory committee at least two months in advance of taking the exam.

Program Philosophy about Exams
In this program we view exams as important for helping students develop professional knowledge and expertise about their core field and areas of specialization. Exams are designed to help students review, assimilate, synthesize, and reflect on their knowledge and learning at a more advanced, professional level of understanding than individual courses typically achieve. Exams show the student’s ability to reflect on and synthesize knowledge gained; to develop new knowledge and expertise; and to present knowledge and to advance an argument within the field at large, not simply for an individual instructor.

Exams are opportunities for reflection and integration that move students forward as scholars and teachers. In short, we use exams to promote each student’s professional development. Given our view of exams, it should not be surprising to learn that portfolio work constitutes a significant portion (50%) of the MA Plan B exam.

The MA Plan B exam is based on the required coursework for the MA in DRPW, plus other significant elective coursework the student has taken to complete her/his program of study. The exam should be taken as soon as possible after completing these courses. The exam will be developed and graded by the student’s advisory committee. The exam itself consists of two parts.

Part 1 Portfolio and Reflective Essay (50%)
The student should submit a portfolio providing samples of her/his best professional work (typically 5-7 pieces of writing, showing a variety of writing types, including academic papers as well as samples of workplace writing and electronic products), as well as an essay which provides a reflective overview. The student must submit the portfolio one week prior to the date the student receives the take-home portion of the exam. The portfolio is graded as part of the exam.

Part 2 Take-Home Exam (50%)
The take-home exam consists of two essays, based on four required core courses in the MA program. In this section of the MA exam, the student and her/his advisory committee cooperatively develop a set of questions related to the MA core. The timeline for the exam–for which the student needs to plan well in advance–is as follows:

  • Two months in advance of taking the exam, the student schedules the examination with the advisory committee.
  • The student develops a list of 4-6 topics, issues, or questions arising from the MA core coursework on which to be examined. The topics should show that the student is making connections across and between the core courses.
  • One month before the scheduled exam, the student submits this list to the advisory committee.
  • Using the student’s list, the advisory committee develops three questions and sends them to the student. These prompts will be revisions of those the student has submitted.
  • Upon receiving the questions, the student selects two of the three options to which to respond. The responses should be limited to 10 double-spaced pages (or the equivalent) per response, including full bibliographical references. The student may consult notes, electronic materials, print readings (e.g., journals, books, etc.) in preparing her/his responses. The student may not consult directly with other people, nor seek personal help in preparing the exam responses.
  • One week (7 calendar days) after receiving the exam questions, the student submits two copies of her/his response to the graduate program secretary.

See “Maintaining Good Academic Standing” in Section 5.0 for information on exam assessment.

Transfer Credits
Up to nine credits may be transferred to the MA program from other accredited institutions, with the approval of the graduate director of Rhetoric & Writing. Students who have taken coursework in the program through Lifelong Education may transfer up to nine credits, with the approval of the director, once they are accepted into the regular degree program.

Petitioning for Course Waiver or Substitution
It is possible for you to petition to waive one of the course requirements or to substitute a different course for one of the requirements in the MA DRPW program.

It might not be necessary to take a course required by the program if a student has already taken comparable coursework. For example, a cross-listed undergraduate/graduate course in web authoring, completed as part of a bachelor’s degree, might suffice to waive the WRA 410 requirement. When a requirement is waived, there is no credit transfer for the course; in other words, it is a course waiver, not a credit transfer. The student must still complete the required number of credits for the degree, usually by taking a 3-credit elective in place of the required MSU course.

To request a waiver, a memo must be submitted to the director of the graduate program, detailing the request and explaining the rationale for the waiver or substitution. The petition must include copies of the syllabus(i) and reading lists for the course(s). The director will review the request with the graduate committee.

Time Limit for Program
Completion of the MA must occur within six (6) years of entering the program. The clock starts ticking the semester of the first class that is counted toward the degree.