MA in English, Concentration in Professional Writing and Rhetoric

2013-2014 PWR Course Offerings and Schedule

Program Description

The MA concentration in Professional Writing and Rhetoric (PWR) is oriented to workplace uses of language. In addition to training in pragmatic skills, the concentration is characterized by a self-reflexive attention to workplaces as institutions and sites for rhetorical action. Courses on research in nonfiction writing complement instruction in rhetoric, editing, technical communication, digital publication, and ethnography to prepare you for the role of writer and communicator in the private and public sectors. Instruction in textual and observational research methodologies equip you with valuable research tools and strategies, while courses in literature, media studies, folklore, and linguistics provide insight into language and writing practices across a variety of contexts.

Applicants to the MA/PWR submit the following documents:

  • a goals statement
  • an analytical writing sample of at least 1,000 words
  • two letters of recommendation
  • a portfolio of their professional writing or editing
  • two official transcripts from all tertiary (college) institutions attended
  • any other materials required by Graduate Admissions.

We do not require GRE scores. We find that the most persuasive letters of recommendation come from former professors rather than employers. Writing samples will be scanned; therefore they need not be elegantly bound or presented. We do recommend, however, that applicants write up a brief introduction to each of the professional samples, outlining its audience and purpose, as well as the particular challenges posed by the writing task.

IMPORTANT: If you decide to transfer into the MA program from the certificate program, more than half of your course credits must be earned after admittance to the program. Thus, only 12 credits of work will count toward the MA degree, so it is important to make this decision early. If you have taken courses as a non-degree student, you should know that if you decide to switch from Certificate to MA, you may lose credit for the courses you have taken (as the total that can be applied to the MA is 12). Similarly, only 6 credits of non-degree coursework will count toward the Certificate (so be sure to apply to the Certificate program before taking that third course).

University Catalog: MA in English, PWR Concentration


Note: The requirements listed below are updated to reflect curriculum changes that will go into effect Fall 2011. Students who are working under previous calendar years should consult with their advisors to see if a change in catalog year would be advantageous.

You must successfully complete 30 credits in graduate English courses. Coursework must be distributed according to the areas below. Several courses qualify in more than one area. As with other MA in English programs, you must also demonstrate intermediate proficiency in a foreign language.

Core Course (3 credits)
501 — Introduction to Professional Writing and Rhetoric (only offered in the fall)
Research Course (3 credits)
502 — Research Methods in Rhetoric and Writing (only offered in the spring)
Professional Writing and Rhetoric Courses (6 credits)
503 — Theory and Practice of Editing
504 — Internship in Writing and Editing
505 — Document Design
507 — Web Authoring and Design
508 — Digital Rhetoric
611 — Studies in Rhetoric
612 — Cultures of Professional Writing
613 — Technical Communication
697 — Composition Theory
Writing Course (3 credits)
You may select a course from the nonfiction writing courses below or 3 credits from the professional writing and rhetoric courses above.
506 — Research for Narrative Writing
565 — Forms of Nonfiction*
615 — Proseminar in Composition Instruction
616 — Nonfiction Writing Workshop (prerequisite: ENGL 565)
619 — Special Topics in Writing
695 — Writing and Learning
699 — Workshop in English

*Note: 565 is only available for non-MFA students in the spring semester.
Theory Course (3 credits)
514 — Theories in Comparative Literature
551 — Literary Criticism
670 — Visual Culture: Theories and Histories
675 — Feminist Theory and Criticism
705 — Literary Theory and Criticism
CULT 676 — Introduction to Cultural Studies
Electives (6 credits)
You may select any course offered by the English department to fulfill your elective credits.
Project or Thesis Option (6 credits)
Project Option
Elective Course (3 credits)
    You may take any English course from the above areas or a course from another discipline that supports your writing and research interests to fulfill this requirement; ideally, the elective is related to your capstone project. Some courses may need special approval from the individual instructors and the department. You should consult your advisors.

797 — Projects in Professional Writing and Rhetoric (3 credits)
(only offered in the spring — cannot be taken the same semester as 502)
Thesis Option
799 — Thesis (6 credits)
    You may opt out of the elective and capstone courses and instead write a thesis that contributes new knowledge to the fields of professional writing, rhetoric, or technical communication. If you select the thesis option, you should begin the thesis advising process within the first three semesters.

Note that the same course may differ when taught by different faculty members. For example, ENGL 505, Document Design, may focus mainly on print documents, mainly on web documents, or both, depending on who is teaching the course. You should discuss these options with your advisor when planning your coursework.

Course Sequences

While there are few requirements regarding the general sequence of your coursework, the department strongly recommends that you take 501 Introduction to Professional Writing and Rhetoric during your first semester, and 502 Research Methods in Rhetoric and Writing during your first year. Both courses are prerequisites for the 797 project and 799 thesis courses, but they also provide an important introduction to the program and the field, as well as providing theoretical and methodological tools that will assist you in future coursework.

Specific courses may require completion of prerequisite courses before you can enroll in them. Consult the course catalog to see which courses have prerequisite requirements.

Not all courses are offered each semester or year, and some special topics courses are taught only once. Many courses are on a two-year rotation, some on a one-year rotation, though even in these the content may vary from semester to semester. Few courses are offered in the summer (usually one or two Literature courses and a selection of Linguistics courses); you should plan carefully if you include summer classes in your planned sequence of coursework. Consult the University Catalog, the English Department Course Description book, and the English Department website each term to see which courses in Professional Writing and Rhetoric are offered. You should also discuss with your advisor when classes will be available and how you should plan your coursework in order to fulfill the program requirements.


The capstone project or thesis represents the culmination of your work in the PWR program. You will take the 797 Capstone Course or 799 thesis option in the last year of your curriculum. Either option will focus on the fields of rhetoric, professional writing, or technical communication and will likely grow out of a project or question from one of your PWR courses.

The capstone project should address a question or problem of writing or communication that grows out of work experience, coursework, or a new interest. It should demonstrate your ability to apply academic knowledge to practical problems as a reflective practitioner and, conversely, to build academic knowledge by assessing theory in light of practical situations. Class sessions will be conducted as seminars, and you will produce a proposal, review and revise drafts, and make a final presentation.
If you plan to go on to a doctoral program, you should choose to complete the thesis option instead of the capstone project. The thesis should contribute new knowledge to the fields of professional writing, rhetoric, or technical communication. It can be about professional or public discourse in a general sense or it can focus on a particular aspect of professional or technical writing. The thesis will pose a question, often motivated by and situated within previous coursework, and through research, pursue answers through appropriate research methods. If you choose the thesis option, you will not need to fulfill the elective course requirement.

Foreign Language Requirement

To pursue an MA in English, you must also demonstrate intermediate proficiency in a foreign language. Intermediate proficiency corresponds to George Mason's coursework through the 202 or 209 levels and represents four consecutive semesters in a given language. You may satisfy this requirement in one of the following ways:

  • Confirm that your undergraduate or continuing education transcript includes courses corresponding to this level of proficiency.
  • If you do not have the necessary coursework and your language proficiency is in a Romance language or German, take a proficiency exam administered by the English Department. Contact the Graduate Programs Manager, to schedule the exam. If your proficiency is in a language other than a Romance language or German, contact a local university where this language is taught and arrange to sit for an exam.
  • Take courses through the intermediate level at George Mason or elsewhere, making sure that the intermediate level elsewhere corresponds to that at George Mason. Please contact your advisor soon after enrolling to determine how you will meet the language proficiency requirement. Once you have made this determination, contact the Graduate Programs Manager to complete the necessary paperwork.

PWR Contacts

  • Coordinator, MA concentration in PWR: Douglas Eyman,