College of Letters, Arts and Social Sciences

Rhetoric & Composition

Students pursuing the M.A. in the Rhetoric & Composition option will be exposed to broad theoretical and historical understandings of rhetoric, ranging from classical conceptions of persuasion to contemporary theories exploring the relations of language, knowledge, and power. The three broad areas of study in the option include the history of rhetoric, modern and contemporary rhetorical theory, and pedagogy. Students completing this intensive course of study will have the theoretical, historical, and pedagogical understandings enabling them to teach composition effectively at a variety of levels, including the four-year university or college, the community college, and the secondary school. Students completing course work for the option (along with the comprehensive exam or thesis) will also have a strong foundation for pursuing further graduate work leading to a Ph.D. in rhetoric & composition.

Click on the links below for details on requirements and the culminating experience...

Required coursework

Rhetoric & Composition (24 units)

ENG 581: History of Rhetoric

ENG 584: Theory/Practice of Modern Rhetoric

Three of the following:

ENG 582: Rhetoric & Poetics

ENG 583: Composition Theory

ENG 585: Special Topics

ENG 589: Pedagogies of Reading

ENG 595: Writing in the Disciplines

One of the following:

ENG 586: Teaching High School Composition

ENG 587: Teaching Basic Writing

ENG 588: Teaching Freshman Composition

Directed Electives

A student electing the Rhetoric & Composition Option must choose among the following groups of directed electives:

Literature (24 units)

TESOL (24 units)

ENG 500: Intro to Literary Studies

ENG 521: Intro to TESOL

Two historical sequences

ENG 551/552: Studies in British Literature

ENG 561/562: Studies in American Literature

ENG 541/542: Studies in World Literature

ENG 522: Second Language Acquisition

A Genre Course

ENG 570: Literary Theory

ENG 571/572: Poetry

ENG 573/574: Drama

ENG 575/576: Fiction

ENG 523: TESOL Grammar


ENG 524: American Pronunciation

ENG 525: TESOL Composition

ENG 526/A: Practicum

In Winter 2015, Rhetoric & Composition changed its culminating experience to a portfolio. Students who entered the program prior to Winter 15 will be allowed to choose which culminating experience they prefer: the comprehensive examination, the portfolio, or the thesis. For details on each, see the sections below. 

Portfolio Examination

The portfolio is an opportunity for students to synthesize material from several courses and to consider their learning in the program as a whole. In it, students demonstrate how their knowledge and ability have developed over the course of the program and reflect on what they have learned about rhetoric, writing, and pedagogy. They revisit past work and propose how they might improve it. The portfolio should provide a thoughtful representation of students' writing, research, and teaching abilities (which means that it might be something they could show potential employers as part of a job search). Completed portfolios contain:

  • A cover page confirming the contents of the portfolio.
  • A reflective essay that considers how well the portfolio meets the Student Learning Outcomes of the Rhetoric & Composition M.A. Option.
  • A rhetorical analysis of a text using appropriate classical, modern, and contemporary rhetorical theories/scholarship.
  • Five seminar papers or projects, each including a discussion of changes in the direction or arguments the paper might take after accounting for new perspectives gained since each paper or project was written, plus annotations in the text indicating where changes would be made.

See the Portfolio Contents (PDF) handout for a more detailed discussion of the portfolio contents and procedures. See the Portfolio Grading Rubric (PDF) for more information on expectations for this culminating experience.

Portfolios may be submitted in hardcopy form, or as electronic documents posted to a blog or website. Portfolios are evaluated in the fall and spring quarters. For more information, contact an advisor.

Comprehensive Examination

This option is only available to students who entered the program prior to Winter 2015. 

The M.A. Exam in Rhetoric & Composition is designed to test your knowledge of major texts and issues in the following three areas: the History of Rhetoric, Composition Pedagogy, and Twentieth Century Rhetoric and Composition Studies. The exam is offered twice a year (November and May).

The exam texts for each area are drawn from rhetoric/composition courses taught over the past two years, and the lists are available in the EFL Graduate Program office and on the EFL Department website. For each area, you will have a choice between two or more questions; the exam is administered as a closed book test.

You are encouraged to review examination questions from previous Rhetoric & Composition exams; these questions are available in the department's Graduate Program office (24-207, ext. 869-4459). You are also encouraged to enhance your preparation by joining a study group and by bringing any questions you may have to any member of the Rhetoric & Composition committee: Drs. Edlund and Kraemer. Additional opportunities to discuss the exam and to ask questions about it will be available at the annual Graduate Orientation held each October.

Weight and Time for Each Area




History of Rhetoric


90 min.

Composition of Pedagogy


90 min.

Twentieth Century Rhetoric and Composition Studies


90 min.

Useful Documents for Study
  • The Annotated Reading List (DOC) for Fall 2009.
  • The Scoring Rubric (PDF) for the comprehensive exam. What are the graders looking for? What do you need to do when answering the questions? Look at this to find out.
  • A sample exam. (PDF)
  • Don Kraemer's Checklist (PDF) for Rhetorical Analysis. This is designed for English 584 but may be useful for exam study.
  • John Edlund's "Checklist (PDF) for Rhetorical Analysis." This one sticks to ethos, logos, and pathos, while Don Kraemer's, above, utilizes far more approaches.
  • John Edlund's Grammar of Motives handout (PDF).
  • John Edlund's "Stasis Theory" (PDF) handout and the "Stasis Worksheet" (PDF).
  • John Edlund's "Three Ways to Persuade" (PDF) handout on ethos, logos, and pathos.

M.A. Thesis

Students may also choose to write an M.A. Thesis, a directed, in-depth research project. For more information, see the guidelines (PDF). Then speak with an advisor before filling out the petition (DOC).