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Course Requirements for the Ph.D. in Creative Writing

  1. At least 24 hours of credit in appropriate formal graduate courses beyond the M.A. or M.F.A. At least 15 hours (in addition to ENGL 800 if not taken for the M.A.) of this course work must be taken from among courses offered by the Department of English at the 700-level and above. English 997 and 999 credits cannot be included among the 24 hours. Students may petition to take up to 6 hours outside the Department.
  2. ENGL 800: Methods, Theory, and Professionalism (counts toward the 24 required credit hours).
  3. The ENGL 801/ENGL 802 pedagogy sequence (counts toward the 24 required credit hours).
  4. Two seminars (courses numbered 900 or above) offered by the Department of English at the University of Kansas, beyond the M.A. or M.F.A. ENGL 998 does not fulfill this requirement.
  5. ENGL 999, Dissertation (at least 12 hours).

If the MA or MFA was completed in KU’s Department of English, a doctoral student may petition the DGS to have up to 12 hours of the coursework taken in the English Department reduced toward the PhD

Responsible Scholarship and Research Skills (RSRS) Requirement

For Doctoral students, the university requires completion of a course in responsible scholarship. For the English department, this would be ENGL 800, 780, or the equivalent). In addition, the Department requires reading knowledge of one approved foreign language: Old English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Russian, Japanese, Greek, Latin, or Hebrew. Upon successful petition, a candidate may substitute reading knowledge of another language or research skill that is studied at the University or is demonstrably appropriate to the candidate’s program of study.

Doctoral students must fulfill the requirement before they take their doctoral examination, or be enrolled in a reading course the same semester as the exam. Students are permitted three attempts at passing each foreign language or research skill. Three methods of demonstrating reading knowledge for all approved languages except Old English are acceptable:

  1. Presenting 16 hours, four semesters, or the equivalent of undergraduate credit, earned with an average of C or better.
  2. Passing a graduate reading course at the University of Kansas or peer institution (e.g., French 100, German 100, etc.) with a grade of C or higher. In the past, some of these reading courses have been given by correspondence; check with the Division of Continuing Education for availability.
  3. Passing a translation examination given by a designated member of the English Department faculty or by the appropriate foreign language department at KU. The exam is graded pass/fail and requires the student to translate as much as possible of a representative text in the foreign language in a one-hour period, using a bilingual dictionary.
  4. Passing a translation examination given by the appropriate foreign language department at the MA-granting institution. Successful completion must be reflected either on the MA transcript or by a letter from the degree-granting department.

To fulfill the language requirement using Old English, students must successfully complete ENGL 710 (Introduction to Old English) and ENGL 712 (Beowulf).

Residence Requirement

A doctoral student must fulfill the university policy residence requirement before taking the doctoral exam.

Annual Review

Post-Coursework Ph.D. students must submit, with their committee chair(s), an annual review form to the DGS and Graduate Committee.

Doctoral Exam


Doctoral students must take their doctoral examination within three semesters (excluding summers) of the end of the semester in which they took their final required course. If a student has an Incomplete, the timeline is not postponed until the Incomplete is resolved. For example, a student completing doctoral course work in Spring 2018 will need to schedule their doctoral exam no later than the end of Fall semester 2019. Delays may be granted by petition to the Graduate Director in highly unusual circumstances. Failure to take the exam within this time limit without an approved delay will result in the student’s falling out of good standing. For details on the consequences of falling out of good standing, see “Falling Out of Good Standing,” in General Department Policies and Best Practices.

A student may not take their doctoral exam until the university’s Research Skills and Responsible Scholarship requirement is fulfilled (ENGL 800 or equivalent and reading knowledge of one foreign language or equivalent).

Requirements for Doctoral Exams:

Reading Lists

All students are required to submit three reading lists, based on the requirements below, to their committee for approval. The doctoral exam will be scheduled a minimum of twelve weeks after approval from the whole committee is received. To facilitate quick committee approval, students may copy the graduate academic advisor on the email to the committee that contains the final version of the lists. Committee members may then respond to the email in lieu of signing a printed copy.

During the two-hour oral examination (plus an additional 15-30 minutes for a break and committee deliberation), a student will be tested on their comprehension of a literary period or movement, including multiple genres and groups of authors within that period or movement. In addition, the student will be tested on two of the following six areas of study:

  • An adjacent or parallel literary period or movement,
  • An author or group of related authors,
  • A genre,
  • Criticism and literary theory,
  • Composition theory, and
  • English language.

No title from any field list may appear on either of the other two lists. See Best Practices section for more details on these six areas. See below for a description of the Review of the Dissertation Proposal (RDP), which the candidate takes the semester after passing the doctoral exam. 

While many students confer with the DGS as they begin the process of developing their lists, they are also required to submit a copy of their final exam list to the DGS. Most lists will be left intact, but the DGS might request that overly long lists be condensed, or extremely short lists be expanded.

Review of Literature (minimum 8 double-spaced pages/area; max of 36 double-spaced pages total)

The purpose of the Review of Literature is to develop and demonstrate an advanced awareness of the critical landscape for each list. The student will write an overview of the defining attributes of the field, identifying two or three broad questions that animate scholarly discussion, while using specific noteworthy texts from their list (but not all texts on the list) as examples.

The review also must accomplish the following:

  • consider the historical context of major issues, debates, and trends that factor into the emergence of the field
  • offer a historical overview of scholarship in the field that connects the present to the past
  • note recent trends and emergent lines of inquiry
  • propose questions about (develop critiques of, and/or identify gaps in) the field and how they might be pursued in future study (but not actually proposing or referencing a dissertation project)

For example, for a literary period, the student might include an overview of primary formal and thematic elements, of the relationship between literary and social/historical developments, of prominent movements, (etc.), as well as of recent critical debates and topics.

For a genre list, the Review of Literature might include major theories of its constitution and significance, while outlining the evolution of these theories over time.

For a Rhetoric and Composition list, the review would give an overview of major historical developments, research, theories, methods, debates, and trends of scholarship in the field.

For an English Language Studies (ELS) list, the review would give an overview of the subfields that make up ELS, the various methodological approaches to language study, the type of sources used, and major aims and goals of ELS. The review also usually involves a focus on one subfield of particular interest to the student (such as stylistics, sociolinguistics, or World/Postcolonial Englishes).

Students are encouraged to divide reviews into smaller sections that enhance clarity and organization. Students are not expected to interact with every text on their lists.

The review of literature might be used to prepare students for identifying the most important texts in the field, along with why those texts are important to the field, for the oral exam. It is recommended for students to have completed reading the bulk of (if not all) texts on their lists before writing the ROL.

The Reviews of Literature will not be produced in an exam context, but in the manner of papers that are researched and developed in consultation with all advisors/committee members, with final drafts being distributed within a reasonable time for all members to review and approve in advance of the 3-week deadline. While the Review of Literature generally is not the focus of the oral examination, it is frequently used as a point of departure for questions and discussion during the oral examination.


Doctoral Exam Committee

Exam committees typically consist of 4 faculty members from the department—one of whom serves as the Committee Chair—plus a Graduate Studies Representative. University policy dictates the composition of exam committees. Students may petition for an exception for several committee member situations, with the exception of the Graduate Studies Representative.

If a student wants to have as a committee member a person outside the university, or a person who is not in a full-time tenure-track professorship at KU, the student must contact the Graduate Secretary as early as possible. Applications for special graduate faculty status must be reviewed by the College and Graduate Studies. Requests for exam/defense approval will not be approved unless all committee members currently hold either regular or special graduate faculty status

Remote participation of committee members via technology

Students with committee members who plan to attend the defense via remote technology must be aware of college policy on teleconferencing/remote participation of committee members.

A majority of committee members must be physically present for an examination to commence; for doctoral oral examinations this requirement is 3 of the 5 members, for master’s oral examinations the requirement is 2 of the 3 members. In addition, it is required that the student being examined, the chair of the committee, and the Graduate Studies Representative all be physically present at the examination or defense. Mediated attendance by the student, chair and Grad Studies Rep is prohibited.

Doctoral Exam Timeline

The recommended time between completion of coursework and the doctoral examination is two semesters.

Final exam lists need to be approved and signed by the committee at least 12 weeks prior to the prospective exam date. This includes summers/summer semesters. The lists should then be submitted to the Graduate Secretary. Reviews of Literature need to be approved and signed by the committee at least 3 weeks prior to the exam date. Failure to meet this deadline will result in rescheduling the exam. No further changes to lists or Reviews of Literature will be allowed after official approval. The three-week deadline is the faculty deadline--the last date for them to confirm receipt of the ROLs and confer approval--not necessarily the student deadline for submitting the documents to the faculty. Please keep that timing in mind and allow your committee adequate time to review the materials and provide feedback.

Students taking the Doctoral Exam are allowed to bring their text lists, the approved Reviews of Literature, scratch paper, a writing utensil, and notes/writing for an approximately 5-minute introductory statement to the exam. (This statement does not need to lay out ideas or any aspect of the dissertation project.)

Each portion of the oral examination must be deemed passing before the student can proceed to the Review of the Dissertation Proposal. If a majority of the committee judges that the student has not answered adequately on one of the three areas of the exam, the student must repeat that portion in a separate oral exam of one hour, to be taken as expeditiously as possible. Failure in two areas constitutes failure of the exam and requires a retake of the whole. The doctoral examining committee will render a judgment of Satisfactory or Unsatisfactory on the entire examination. A student who fails the exam twice may, upon successful petition to the Graduate Committee, take it a third and final time.

Students cannot bring snacks, drinks, treats, or gifts for committee members to the exam. Professors should avoid the appearance of favoritism that may occur if they bring treats to some student exams but not others.

Post-Exam Enrollment

Ph.D. candidates must be continuously enrolled in Dissertation hours each Fall and Spring semester from the time they pass the doctoral examination until successful completion of the final oral examination (defense of dissertation).

  • Students enroll for a minimum of 6 hours each Fall and Spring semester until the total of post-doctoral exam Dissertation hours is 18. One hour each semester must be ENGL 999. In order to more quickly reach the 18-hour minimum, and to be sooner eligible for GRAships, it is highly recommended that students enroll in 9 hours of Dissertation in the Spring and Fall semesters. 
  • Once a student has accumulated 18 post-doctoral exam  hours, each subsequent enrollment will be for a number of hours agreed upon as appropriate between the student and their advisor, the minimal enrollment each semester being 1 hour of ENGL 999.
  • A student must be enrolled in at least one hour of credit at KU during the semester they graduate. Although doctoral students must be enrolled in ENGL 999 while working on their dissertations, per current CLAS regulations, there is no absolute minimum number of ENGL 999 hours required for graduation.
  • Students who live and work outside the Lawrence area may, under current University regulations, have their fees assessed at the Field Work rate, which is somewhat lower than the on-campus rate. Students must petition the College Office of Graduate Affairs before campus fees will be waived.

Please also refer to the COGA policy on post-exam enrollment or the Graduate School’s policy.

Best Practices for Doctoral Exam

The doctoral oral examination has the following purposes:

  1. To establish goals, tone, and direction for the pursuit of the Ph.D. in English for the Department and for individual programs of study;
  2. To make clear the kinds of knowledge and skills that, in the opinion of the Department, all well-prepared holders of the degree should have attained;
  3. To provide a means for the Department to assess each candidate’s control of such knowledge and skills in order to certify that the candidate is prepared to write a significant dissertation and enter the profession; and
  4. To enable the Department to recommend to the candidate areas of strength or weakness that should be addressed.


In consultation with the Graduate Director, a student will ask a member of the Department’s graduate faculty (preferably their advisor) to be the chairperson of the examining committee. The choice of examination committee chair is very important, for that person’s role is to assist the candidate in designing the examination structure, preparing the Review of Literature (see below), negotiating reading lists and clarifying their purposes, and generally following procedures here outlined. The other three English Department members of the committee will be chosen in consultation with the committee chair. (At some point an additional examiner from outside the Department, who serves as the Graduate School representative, will be invited to join the committee). Any unresolved problems in negotiation between a candidate and their committee should be brought to the attention of the Graduate Director, who may choose to involve the Graduate Committee. A student may request a substitution in, or a faculty member may ask to be dismissed from, the membership of the examining committee. Such requests must be approved, in writing, by the faculty member leaving the committee and by the Graduate Director.

Reading Lists

Copies of some approved reading lists and Reviews of Literature are available from the Graduate Secretary and can be found on the U: drive if you are using a computer on campus. Despite the goal of fairness and equity, some unavoidable unevenness and disparity will appear in the length of these lists. It remains, however, the responsibility of the examining committee, and especially the student’s chair, to aim toward consonance with the most rigorous standards and expectations and to insure that areas of study are not unduly narrow.

To facilitate quick committee approval, students may copy the graduate secretary on the email to the committee that contains the final version of the lists and reviews of literature. Committee members may then respond to the email in lieu of signing a printed copy.


Comprehension of a literary period (e.g., British literature of the 18th century; Romanticism; US literature of the 19th century; Modernism) entails sufficient intellectual grasp of both the important primary works of and secondary works on the period or movement to indicate a student’s ability to teach the period or movement and undertake respectable scholarship on it.

Comprehension of an author or group of related authors (e.g., Donne, the Brontës, the Bloomsbury Group, the Black Mountain Poets) entails knowledge, both primary and secondary, of a figure or figures whose writing has generated a significant body of interrelated biographical, historical, and critical scholarship.

Comprehension of one of several genres (the short story, the lyric poem, the epistolary novel). To demonstrate comprehension of a genre, a student should possess sufficient depth and breadth of knowledge, both primary and secondary, of the genre to explain its formal characteristics and account for its historical development.

Comprehension of criticism and literary theory entails a grasp of fundamental conceptual problems inherent in a major school of literary study (e.g., historicist, psychoanalytic, feminist, poststructuralist, etc.). To demonstrate comprehension of that school of criticism and literary theory, a student should be able to discuss changes in its conventions and standards of interpretation and evaluation of literature from its beginning to the present. Students will be expected to possess sufficient depth and breadth of theoretical knowledge to bring appropriate texts and issues to bear on questions of literary study.

Comprehension of composition theory entails an intellectual grasp of fundamental concepts, issues, and theories pertaining to the study of writing. To demonstrate comprehension of composition theory, students should be able to discuss traditional and current issues from a variety of perspectives, as well as the field’s historical development from classical rhetoric to the present.

Comprehension of the broad field of English language studies entails a grasp of the field’s theoretical concepts and current issues, as well as a familiarity with significant works within given subareas. Such subareas will normally involve formal structures (syntax, etc.) and history of the English language, along with other subareas such as social linguistics, discourse analysis, lexicography, etc. Areas of emphasis and specific sets of topics will be arranged through consultation with relevant faculty.

Review of the Dissertation Proposal (RDP)


As soon as possible following successful completion of the doctoral exam, the candidate should establish their three-person core dissertation committee, and then expeditiously proceed to the preparation of a dissertation proposal. Within the semester following completion of the doctoral exam, the student will present to their core dissertation committee a written narrative of approximately 10-15 pages, not including bibliography, of the dissertation proposal. Copies of this proposal must be submitted to the members of the dissertation committee no later than three weeks prior to the scheduled examination date.

In the proposal, students will be expected to define: the guiding question or set of questions; a basic thesis (or hypothesis); how the works to be studied or the creative writing produced relate to that (hypo)thesis; the theoretical/methodological model to be followed; the overall formal divisions of the dissertation; and how the study will be situated in the context of prior scholarship (i.e., its importance to the field). The narrative section should be followed by a bibliography demonstrating that the candidate is conversant with the basic theoretical and critical works pertinent to the study. For creative writing students, the proposal may serve as a draft of the critical introduction to the creative dissertation. Students are expected to consult with their projected dissertation committee concerning the preparation of the proposal.

The review will focus on the proposal, although it could also entail determining whether or not the candidate’s knowledge of the field is adequate to begin the composition process. The examination will be graded pass/fail. If it is failed, the committee will suggest areas of weakness to be addressed by the candidate, who will rewrite the proposal and retake the review by the end of the following semester. If the candidate abandons the entire dissertation project for another, a new RDP will be taken. (For such a step to be taken, the change would need to be drastic, such as a move to a new field or topic. A change in thesis or the addition or subtraction of one or even several works to be examined would not necessitate a new proposal and defense.) If the student fails to complete the Review of the Dissertation Proposal within a year of the completion of the doctoral exams, they will have fallen out of departmental good standing. For details on the consequences of falling out of good standing, see “Falling Out of Good Standing,” in General Department Policies and Best Practices.

After passing the Review of the Dissertation Proposal, the student should forward one signed copy of the proposal to the Graduate Secretary. The RDP may last no longer than 90 minutes.

Students cannot bring snacks, drinks, treats, or gifts for committee members to the review. Professors should avoid the appearance of favoritism that may occur if they bring treats to some student exams but not others.

The Doctoral Dissertation


The Graduate Catalog states that the doctoral candidate “must present a dissertation showing the planning, conduct and results of original research, and scholarly creativity.” While most Ph.D. candidates in the Department of English write dissertations of a traditional, research-oriented nature, a creative writing candidate may elect to do a creative-writing dissertation involving fiction, poetry, drama or nonfiction prose. Such a dissertation must contain a substantial section of scholarly research related to the creative writing. The precise nature of the scholarly research component should be determined by the candidate in consultation with the dissertation committee and the Graduate Director. Candidates wishing to undertake such a dissertation must complete all Departmental requirements demanded for the research-oriented Ph.D. degree.


The dissertation committee will consist of at least five members—three “core” English faculty members, a fourth faculty member (usually from English), and one faculty member from a different department who serves as the Graduate Studies representative. The committee may include (with the Graduate Director’s approval) members from other departments and, with the approval of the University’s Graduate Council, members from outside the University. If a student wants to have a committee member from outside the university, or a person who is not in a full-time tenure-track professorship at KU, the student must contact the Graduate Secretary as early as possible. Applications for special graduate faculty status must be reviewed by the College and the Office of Graduate Studies. Requests for defense approval will not be approved unless all committee members currently hold either regular or special graduate faculty status.

The candidate’s preferences as to the membership of the dissertation committee will be carefully considered; the final decision, however, rests with the Department and with the Office of Graduate Studies. All dissertation committees must get approval from the Director of Graduate Studies before scheduling the final oral exam (defense). Furthermore, any changes in the make-up of the dissertation committee from the Review of the Dissertation Proposal committee must be approved by the Director of Graduate Studies.

Once the dissertation proposal has passed and the writing of the dissertation begins, membership of the dissertation committee should remain constant. However, under extraordinary circumstances, a student may request a substitution in, or a faculty member may ask to be dismissed from, the membership of the dissertation committee. Such requests must be approved, in writing, by the faculty member leaving the committee and by the Graduate Director.

If a student does not make progress during the dissertation-writing stage, and accumulates more than one “Limited Progress” and/or “No Progress” grade on their transcript, they will fall out of good standing in the department. For details on the consequences of falling out of good standing, see “Falling Out of Good Standing,” in General Department Policies and Best Practices

Final Oral Exam (Dissertation Defense)

When the dissertation has been tentatively accepted by the dissertation committee (not including the Graduate Studies Representative), the final oral examination will be held, on the recommendation of the Department.

Although the dissertation committee is responsible for certification of the candidate, any member of the graduate faculty may be present at the examination and participate in the questioning, and one examiner—the Graduate Studies Representative—must be from outside the Department. The Graduate Secretary can help students locate an appropriate Grad Studies Rep. The examination normally lasts no more than two hours. It is the obligation of the candidate to advise the Graduate Director that they plan to take the oral examination; this must be done at least one month before the date proposed for the examination.

At least three calendar weeks prior to the defense date, the student will submit the final draft of the dissertation to all the committee members (including the GSR) and inform the Graduate Secretary. Failure to meet this deadline will necessitate rescheduling the defense. The final oral examination for the Ph.D. in English is, essentially, a defense of the dissertation. When it is passed, the dissertation itself is graded by the dissertation director, in consultation with the student’s committee; the student’s performance in the final examination (defense) is graded by the entire five-person committee

Students cannot bring snacks, drinks, treats, or gifts for committee members to the defense. Professors should avoid the appearance of favoritism that may occur if they bring treats to some student defenses but not others

Rubric for an Honors dissertation in Creative Writing

These sets of attributes are adapted from the Graduate Learner Outcomes that are a part of our Assessment portfolio. “Honors” should only be given to dissertations that are rated “Outstanding” in all or most of the following categories:

  1. Significant and innovative plot/structure/idea/focus. The writer clearly places plot/structure/idea/focus in context.
  2. Thorough knowledge of literary traditions. Clear/flexible vision of the creative work produced in relation to those literary traditions.
  3. Introduction/Afterword is clear, concise, and insightful. A detailed discussion of the implications of the project and future writing projects exists.
  4. The creative dissertation reveals the doctoral candidate’s comprehensive understanding of poetics and/or aesthetic approach. The application of the aesthetic approach is innovative and convincing.
  5. The creative dissertation represents original and sophisticated creative work.
  6. The creative dissertation demonstrates thematic and/or aesthetic unity.


After much discussion about whether the “honors” designation assigned after the dissertation defense should be for the written product only, for the defense/discussion only, for both together, weighted equally, or eradicated altogether, the department voted to accept the Graduate Committee recommendation that “honors” only apply to the written dissertation. "Honors" will be given to dissertations that are rated "Outstanding" in all or most of the categories on the dissertation rubric.

Best Practices for the Doctoral Dissertation

Normally, the dissertation will present the results of the writer’s own research, carried on under the direction of the dissertation committee. This means that the candidate should be in regular contact with all members of the committee during the dissertation research and writing process, providing multiple drafts of chapters, or sections of chapters, according to the arrangements made between the student and each faculty member. Though accepted primarily for its scholarly merit rather than for its rhetorical qualities, the dissertation must be stylistically competent. The Department has accepted the MLA Handbook as the authority in matters of style. The writer may wish to consult also the Chicago Manual of Style and Kate L. Turabian’s A Manual for Writers of Dissertations, Theses, and Term Papers.

Naturally, both the student and the dissertation committee have responsibilities and obligations to each other concerning the submitting and returning of materials. The student should plan on working steadily on the dissertation; if they do so, they should expect from the dissertation committee a reasonably quick reading and assessment of material submitted.

Students preparing their dissertation should be showing chapters to their committee members as they go along, for feedback and revision suggestions. They should also meet periodically with committee members to assess their progress. Prior to scheduling a defense, the student is encouraged to ask committee members whether they feel that the student is ready to defend the dissertation. Ideally, the student should hold the defense only when they have consulted with committee members sufficiently to feel confident that they have revised the dissertation successfully to meet the expectations of all committee members>


Students should expect that they will need to revise each chapter at least once. This means that all chapters (including introduction and conclusion) are shown to committee members once, revised, then shown to committee members again in revised form to assess whether further revisions are needed, prior to the submitting of the final dissertation as a whole. It is not unusual for further revisions to be required and necessary after the second draft of a chapter; students should not therefore simply assume that a second draft is necessarily “final” and passing work.

If a substantial amount of work still needs to be completed or revised at the point that the dissertation defense is scheduled, such a defense date should be regarded as tentative, pending the successful completion, revision, and receipt of feedback on all work. Several weeks prior to the defense, students should consult closely with their dissertation director and committee members about whether the dissertation as a whole is in a final and defensible stage. A project is ready for defense when it is coherent, cohesive, well researched, engages in sophisticated analysis (in its entirety or in the critical introduction of creative dissertations), and makes a significant contribution to the field. In other words, it passes each of the categories laid out in the Dissertation Rubric.

If the dissertation has not clearly reached a final stage, the student and dissertation director are advised to reschedule the defense.

Prior Publication of the Doctoral Dissertation

Portions of the material written by the doctoral candidate may appear in article form before completion of the dissertation. Prior publication does not ensure the acceptance of the dissertation by the dissertation committee. Final acceptance of the dissertation is subject to the approval of the dissertation committee. Previously published material by other authors included in the dissertation must be properly documented.

Misc. Best Practices for Creative Writing PhD

Each student beyond the Master’s degree should confer regularly with the Graduate Director regarding their progress toward the doctoral examination and the doctorate.

Doctoral students may take graduate courses outside the English Department if, in their opinion and that of the Graduate Director, acting on behalf of the Graduate Committee, those courses will be of value to them. Their taking such courses will not, of course, absolve them of the responsibility for meeting all the normal departmental and Graduate School requirements.

Doctoral students in creative writing are strongly encouraged to take formal literature classes in addition to forms classes. Formal literature classes, by providing training in literary analysis, theory, and/or literary history, will help to prepare students for doctoral exams (and future teaching at the college level).

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