Program Description

Purdue is a gathering place for faculty and students interested in the serious study of written discourse. We prize writing — its learning, production, rhetoric, and instruction — in academic, workplace, and public settings. Our graduate program allows students to pursue an M.A. and/or a Ph.D. in English with a concentration in Rhetoric and Composition.

Begun in 1980, the graduate program in Rhetoric and Composition now enrolls 50 students and has 216 graduates (145 Ph.D and 71 M.A.). Our graduates hold positions as writing teachers, program and writing center administrators, graduate program faculty, department heads, editors, usability testers, and professional and technical writers/managers.

The Purdue graduate program is structured to support our students. As a new class enters our students participate in: a weeklong orientation to graduate work and teaching and a party to welcome them to Rhetoric and Composition at Purdue. While in coursework, students are mentored together for their teaching, advised in a way that fits their goals [including a yearly review], and cooperative in their preparation for exams. As our students prepare for their dissertations, they are mentored in the process and advised to start dissertation groups. When our students are ready to seek a job, we support them through a year-long job group.

The Rhetoric and Composition participates in a large and diverse graduate program (67 faculty and almost 240 graduate students). The Department of English at Purdue offers Ph.D. concentrations in:

  • English Language and Linguistics
  • English as a Second Language
  • Literature
  • Rhetoric and Composition
  • Theory and Cultural Studies

The Department of English also grants an M.F.A. in Creative Writing, and it participates in interdisciplinary graduate programs in: Women’s Studies; Comparative Literature; Jewish Studies; American Studies: African American Studies; and Philosophy & Literature.

Such diversity allows us to assemble classes with varied interests.

The Ph.D. Program in Rhetoric and Composition

Core Classes

The PhD requires five core classes in rhetoric and composition, a secondary area, a linguistics seminar, a language, written and oral examinations, and a dissertation. The core classes focus on multiple approaches to inquiry–history, theory, pedagogy, and empirical–as they examine issues in Rhetoric and Composition Studies.

Secondary Areas

The secondary area of study is satisfied by taking four specified courses (or examination) in one of the following areas: Creative Writing; Cultural Studies; ESL; Linguistics; Literary Theory; Literary Periods; Poetry; Postcolonial Literature; Professional and Technical Writing; Rhetoric, Technology, and Digital Writing; Writing Program Administration; Public Rhetoric; or Women’s Literature and Feminist Theory.

Other Requirements

The linguistics requirement is satisfied by taking one linguistics [ELL or EFL] seminar. Students must also show a reading knowledge of one foreign language, certified by examination or coursework.

Examinations include a two-part written preliminary exam in rhetoric and composition, an oral exam on the dissertation prospectus, and an oral defense of the dissertation.

Dissertations are studies in rhetoric and composition that use theoretical, historical, qualitative, and/or quantitative methods, and often these projects are multidisciplinary.

All students and faculty participate in The David Hutton Interdisciplinary Lecture Series [named in 1999 to honor Mr. Hutton’s long time support of this lecture series] — a bi-annual lecture/discussion series that features invited scholars in such fields as rhetoric and composition, philosophy, communication, historiography, literary theory, psychology, education, languages, and linguistics.

The M.A. in Rhetoric and Composition

The MA requires three courses in rhetoric and composition, three courses in literature, and introductory courses in linguistics and English studies. Students are required to complete a thesis or take a written examination on rhetoric and composition and literature. Students must also show a reading knowledge of one foreign language, certified by examination or coursework.

If you have any questions about Purdue’s online Graduate School application, contact Jill Quirk, English Department Graduate Programs Office, at