MFA Thesis

MFA Thesis

The MFA thesis affords a student the chance to assemble a book-length manuscript of poems, stories or essays, or to write a novel. From the academic perspective, the thesis demonstrates whether a student has learned the conventions of his or her chosen form and is capable of original creative work. While most thesis projects require additional refinement, it is the hope of the faculty that talented writers will not cease creative efforts upon graduation, and that the thesis project will be an avenue for continued and meaningful work.

An MFA student typically embarks on a thesis project at the start of the third year. The most successful projects are conceptualized long before this point, however. Ideally, a student has begun to generate material during the second year, and we advise all students to make full use of the summer before thesis hours even begin.

Each thesis student is required to have a thesis director and two readers. Their roles are very different and students are advised, as well, that faculty vary in their approaches to these roles.

In general, a thesis director is assigned once a student has submitted a thesis director request (typically, during a student’s second year). The thesis director works closely with the student, from early drafts to completion of the thesis project. Student and director meet at mutually agreed intervals in order for the director to review work in progress, suggest relevant reading, and provide counsel and support so that the student’s completed manuscript reflects his or her abilities in full.

A thesis director may require that certain issues be addressed before approving a thesis project. These do not tend to be questions of taste or style, but rather nuts-and-bolts issues that make a thesis project untenable. 

Second and third readers do not expect to see the thesis until the thesis director has approved it. Typically, this occurs during a student’s final semester. It is the director who has the primary advising relationship with the thesis student and, therefore, second and third readers have less central roles. Second and third readers also vary widely in their approaches, the degree to which they provide written comments, and the number of times they request meetings with the student. If a reader does not approve a thesis, he or she may suggest revisions.

Thesis students must obtain approval from all members of their thesis committees, in signature form, in order to graduate.

Fiction and Nonfiction

In prose, thesis director assignments are made by committee decision in the spring of a student’s second year. While we attempt to honor students’ choices, we regret to say that we cannot always do so. It is in everyone’s interest that loads among faculty be balanced, so that attention to work can likewise be distributed equitably, and we put a great deal of thought into the assignments. 

A fiction thesis is usually a novel, story collection or chapbook of stories. A nonfiction thesis may take the shape of a memoir, collection of personal essays or other forms of creative nonfiction. 

Both fiction and nonfiction faculty prefer that thesis students concentrate on quality over quantity. To this end, we ask our students to focus on the first 100 to 150 pages of their projects for the purpose of a thesis’ final draft. 

The first draft of the thesis is due at the end of the first thesis semester. The second (and final) draft is due halfway through the second thesis semester, with the manuscript subsequently going to first and second readers. The deadlines will be set the spring before thesis work commences. Respecting those deadlines is important and failure to meet them may mean that a director cannot sign off on the thesis.

In prose, second and third readers have different roles. A second reader provides general comments on the manuscript. These comments may be written, or may take the form of a meeting to discuss the manuscript’s strengths and weaknesses. Instead of providing the full manuscript to the third reader, the student will provide a brief summary and a selection of 20-30 pages from the manuscript. The student will submit this at the same time that the student sends the manuscript to the second reader (again, typically during the second semester of the student's third year). If the third reader has concerns about the work, he or she may request the full manuscript. The third reader may also be called upon if the second reader does not find the manuscript acceptable. Any commentary is at the discretion of the third reader.


Typically, poetry faculty require a thesis of at least 40 pages of poems (and some ask that manuscripts not exceed 80 pages). All want the manuscript to exhibit mastery of basic skills (poetic line, rhythm, concision, distinctive phrasing, avoidance of poetic clichés, etc.). A poetry “collection” must also be organized in a manner that makes it more than the sum of its separate parts, so that there is a clear and evident concept for the collection, and so that the design includes an arc of development achieved through its patterning of narrative, or theme, or form, or voice, or through some combination thereof. Each collection must demonstrate knowledge of current poetic practices. 


Completing and Submitting Your Thesis, Step By Step:

STEP 1: Request a Director (usually done the semester prior to starting your thesis)

Each semester, the Graduate Coordinator contacts rising thesis students so that they can request a Thesis Director. You should fill out the attached request the semester prior to starting thesis hours. Please be sure to respond by the deadline. Request forms are specific to each genre, and will be attached to the Graduate Coordinator’s e-mail.

Fill out and return director request form:

Each genre-specific form lists faculty available to advise students. Please rank faculty in numerical order with #1 your first choice for director, #2 your second choice, and so forth.

You are encouraged to choose a director who has an affinity for your work, or an expertise in your chosen subject matter. For example, an instructor whose class inspired the project in some way might be an appropriate choice.  Director assignments will be made within several weeks of the deadline.

A couple of things to remember when requesting a director:

  • Your faculty advisor is not automatically your thesis director
  • Not all faculty are willing to work with students whom they haven't taught at least once
  • You may make note of conversation with a possible director on the request form and every effort is made to uphold verbal commitments by faculty, but no assignment is formal until a request is made and an assignment is announced.

STEP 2: Build a Committee

Once you have been assigned a thesis director, the next important task is finding your Second and Third Readers. If you prefer, you may choose them in consultation with your director. 

This part of the process is informal and you may email faculty or talk to them in person.

In general, readers are from the English Department but if the subject demands a specific expertise that isn't represented in the department, you may ask someone from outside the English Department. The outside member needs to be formally vetted both by the committee and by the creative writing director, and is not eligible to serve as director.

STEP 3: Draft and Submit a Thesis Proposal

Once your committee is in place, it's time to draft a proposal. Ideally the proposal is submitted to the graduate academic coordinator prior to the end of the semester in which you are assigned a thesis director. Technically you have until the last add/drop date for the semester in which you want to start your thesis to add thesis hours, but it does take time to get approvals and that is best done well in advance.

A couple things to remember as you draft your proposal:

  • There is no template for thesis proposals.
  • You can consult with your thesis director about your proposal.
  • Proposals usually range from 3-5 pages in length.

Follow the checklist below and the thesis proposal process will be easily accomplished.

Thesis Proposal Checklist:

-Consult with your thesis director

-Draft a proposal

-Revise draft as necessary with thesis director

-Select a writing sample: A writing sample should be a selection of work that is in line with what you intend to write for your thesis. 10-20 pages of work is appropriate.

-Print this signature page

-Fill out the signature page with information specific to your thesis proposal

-Submit your proposal, writing sample, and signature page to the graduate academic coordinator

-Send the proposal to your thesis committee members via email and let them know that a hard copy of your proposal is available at the graduate academic coordinator's desk. In the email ask your committee members to send their approvals to the graduate academic coordinator.

The graduate academic coordinator will collect approvals from your committee members, the program director, and the chair of the English Department. When all approvals are in place, the graduate academic coordinator will send you an email with the CRN so you can register for your first thesis hours.

STEP 4: Registering for ENGL 799

Only after you complete and submit a thesis proposal (see steps 1-3) can you register for ENGL 799.

When you have the CRN and section number for your director's section of ENGL 799 you are welcome to register. Most students register for 3 credit hours in the first semester of thesis study and 3 credit hours in the second semester of thesis study.

After registering for ENGL 799 check your student schedule to make sure you are in the correct section of ENGL 799 for the appropriate number of credit hours. Registration errors can be difficult to correct if not caught early.

A few things to remember when you register for ENGL 799:

  • ENGL 799 is a variable credit course. When you register you should check the variable credit option to make sure it is set to the number of credit hours that you need (usually 3 credit hours). This cannot be adjusted after registration.
  • You should register for 3 credit hours of ENGL 799 in your first semester of thesis study. In future semesters you can take fewer credit hours of ENGL 799 if necessary.
  • Once your thesis is under way, you must stay enrolled for at least one additional credit of ENGL 799 a semester (not counting summers) until it is completed.  If you do not maintain continuous enrollment in ENGL 799, you will owe those hours retroactively in order to complete your thesis and graduate. There are no exceptions to this rule.
  • You need to complete 6 credit hours of ENGL 799 to meet the degree requirements.
  • If ENGL 799 is the only class you are taking, all the above steps should be taken prior to the start of the semester to avoid a late registration fee.
  • A note to TAs: late registration fees are not covered by waiver.  You are responsible for paying any fees posted to your student account.

STEP 5: Format Your Thesis

As you near the end your thesis writing and editing, you need to start thinking about formatting. Your final thesis must be formatted according to the rules set forth by the University.

All formatting rules/guidelines, templates, and contacts can be found on the University Dissertation and Thesis Services Office's website:

When choosing templates from this site, be careful to select templates specific to the College of Humanities and Social Sciences. Once selected, do not change the formatting on the templates.

Formatting reviews must be completed with staff from the University Dissertation and Thesis Services Office. This office, in cooperation with the CHSS dean's office, hosts two thesis formatting workshops each semester. These workshops are not required, but they are recommended. They are informational workshops only, in that individual formatting help is not given at these workshops and all the information presented at these workshops is available on the website above.

Formatting can be tedious and time consuming, but it is necessary. Formatting is also important on the signature sheet that will be submitted with your final thesis. Again, you should only use the CHSS signature sheet template. Once you have your information in the template, a quick formatting check can be done by sending your signature sheet as an email attachment to Susan Turriziani in the CHSS dean's office. Once you have her approval, you can print official copies of the signature page for collection of signatures. Without her approval, you run the risk of your thesis being turned away when you go to submit it. Susan can be reached by email at and she only approves formatting of your signature pages.

Please don't leave formatting to the very end. Make contact with the UDTS office earlier than you might think it is necessary to do so. The UDTS office has hundreds of students doing exactly what you are doing so it can become very busy ahead of a thesis completion deadline. Be patient and know that they are there to help you.

University and Dissertation Services:

2005 Fenwick Library

(703) 993-2222

STEP 6: Submit Your Completed Thesis

As you start to complete work on your thesis and get formatting approval from the UDTS office, you also need to prepare your thesis for submission.

The largest part of that preparation is the signature collection process.

To begin the signature collection process, you need signature pages. So, print your properly formatted signature page(s). You only need to submit one signature page, but it is always a good idea to print an extra signature page.

Once you have the appropriate number of signature pages printed. It is time to start collecting signatures. You can collect signatures in one of two ways.

  • take your signature pages around to your committee members and collect their signatures


  • leave your signature pages with the graduate academic coordinator and send an email to all your committee members asking them to stop by the graduate academic coordinator's desk to sign

A few things to remember when you are collecting signatures:

  • Faculty members must sign your signature pages. Email approval and by proxy signatures are not allowed.
  • Signatures may be difficult to collect in summer months as many faculty are not on campus or live elsewhere during the summer months. It is best to plan to complete your thesis in the fall or spring.
  • If you have a faculty member on your committee who does not live in the immediate area, it is your responsibility to collect his/her signature. This may require mailing signature sheets out to a faculty member. Please plan accordingly and allow enough time to collect signatures.
  • All signatures must be in black ink. There are no exceptions.

After all your committee members have signed your signature pages, you need to collect the department chair's signature. If the department chair has posted in-office signing hours, you should plan to come to the office to collect her signature. If the department chair has not posted signing hours, you should send an email and request an appointment to collect her signature.

Department Chair:
Debra Lattanzi Shutika

A few things to remember when you are collecting the department chair's signature:

  • Unless open in-office signing hours are posted, you need an appointment to collect the department chair's signature
  • The department chair's office in the Robinson A, Room 473— just around the corner when you enter the main department office (Robinson A, Room 487)
  • Bring all copies of your thesis and all supporting documents when you come to collect the department chair's signature

When you are asked to bring all copies of your thesis and all supporting documents, what does that mean?

The signed embargo form, a transmittal sheet signed by someone in the UDTS office approving your formatting, one pdf version of your thesis on CD (one file entire document and one file abstract only), a completed MARS agreement form, and a completed electronic submission form. More information about these documents can be found here:

After the department chair has signed your signature pages, you need to collect one more signature from the dean of graduate studies in the CHSS Office of Academic Affairs. You must send an email to Susan Turriziani to set up an appointment to collect the dean's signature.

CHSS Academic Affairs:
Susan Turriziani

A few things to remember when you are collecting the dean's signature:

  • The dean will only sign once everyone else has signed your signature sheets. There are no exceptions to this rule.
  • The dean's office is in Mason Hall, Room 217.
  • Bring all copies of your thesis and all supporting documents when you come to collect the dean's signature.

After the dean has signed your signature pages, you need to walk your thesis and all supporting documents to Fenwick Library and submit it for credit and for binding.

A few things to remember when you submit your thesis to the UDTS office:

  • The UDTS office is located in Fenwick Library in room 2005.
  • There is sometimes a line outside the office when you arrive to drop off your thesis. Please be patient as that office processes many students' dissertations and theses. You should wait outside the office until it is your turn.
  • If you are not able to submit your thesis by the deadline at 5pm, it will not be counted as complete during that semester of study. 

Congratulations! After all that work, you have completed your thesis. Once it is submitted to Fenwick library, you are done.