M.A./M.S. in Writing


I. General Information
II. Application Procedure
III. Admission Requirements
IV. Advising
V. Transfer Credit
VI. Financial Assistance
VII. Plans of Study
VIII. Foreign Language Requirement
IX. Policy on Independent Study
X. Graduation Requirements: Overview
XI. Graduation Requirements: The Portfolio
XII. Graduation Requirements: The Written Examination
XIII. Graduation Requirements: The Oral Examination
XIV. Graduate Assistantships
XV. Other Matters

I. General Information

The Department of English offers graduate work leading to the Master of Arts in Writing and the Master of Science in Writing degrees. The 48-credit M.A./M.S. in Writing is designed for students who are prepared to undertake advanced work in the field. The program provides a range of courses in technical and professional writing and in book publishing. The motives and destinations of the students in the program vary, but the focus on writing to earn a living will attract those who wish to make writing a career.

When you are accepted into the program your faculty advisor will be Professor Tracy Dillon and upon admission you should make contact with him as early as possible to begin planning your course of study. If you have questions that your advisor cannot answer, contact the department's Graduate Administrator, Eileen Mitchell-Babbitt, 503-725-3623. Also, please download the MA/MS in Writing Handbook, which provides a detailed explanation of the program.

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II. Application Procedure

Students must apply to the University and to the Department of English. Both applications are available on the Admissions page. The PSU catalogue (Bulletin), available from the University Bookstore or online, covers the University's GPA stipulations. The University additionally requires an application fee of $50 and a complete set of sealed transcripts. The Department application requires a complete set of transcripts and other material as applicable (see Section III Admission Requirements).

If you would like confirmation that the department received your materials, please include a Self Addressed Stamped Postcard with your application. Please do not call the department regarding the receipt of materials.

The Technical/Professional Writing program and the Book Publishing program have rolling admissions which follow the University's admission deadlines as follows:

  • January 3rd if applying for both Fall admission and a Graduate Assistantship;
  • April 1st for Fall admission only;
  • September 1st for Winter;
  • November 1st for Spring;
  • February 1st for Summer.

Please note that Graduate Assistantship applications can only be accepted from Fall term applicants, who must meet the January 3rd deadline.

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III. Admission Requirements

Admission to graduate study is granted on the basis of evidence of suitable preparation and the probability of success in the intended field of study. In both Book Publishing and Technical/professional Writing, strong writing skills are considered central, but applicants do not need to have a previous degree in English or Writing.

Applicants must submit two different application packets. One packet goes to the University; the second packet goes to the English department. The admissions process will be delayed if packets are incomplete.

Send the University application packet along with a $50 non-refundable fee to the Office of Admissions. Further instructions and the necessary forms are available on the Admissions page.

The University application packet and fee must be submitted prior to submitting an application to the department. The department will not review a student's files until the University admissions application and fee have been submitted to the Office of Admissions.

Send the second departmental application packet to the Department of English. Students accepted into the Master's program must provide satisfactory evidence of preparedness to undertake advanced work, to include a B.A. or B.S. degree from an accredited college or university and the following:

  • Online Departmental application available by link from the Department of English website.
  • One transcript from each post-secondary institution attended. (Unofficial transcripts are acceptable.)
  • 3.25 GPA in undergraduate work.
  • Three letters of recommendation.
  • The applicant's curriculum vitae or résumé.
  • One-page personal introduction, including background as a writer or prospective publishing professional, statement of goals, and proposed plan of study in either the technical/professional writing program or in the book publishing program.
  • Writing samples in the applicant's primary genre(s) or form(s). Previously published, single-authored work will be accepted in the form in which it was originally published. (Please note all application materials must be included as an attachment in the online application.)

*Please do not submit these materials in physical form. Materials produced in other formats, i.e., books or magazines, may be scanned and submitted electronically, and links to online locations may be included in your resume or CV if one is provided.

*Graduate Record Examination (GRE) scores are not required for admission to the M.A. in Writing or the M.S. in Writing program.

Manuscript Submission Guidelines

  • In technical/professional writing: 15–30 pages from customary genres, including (but not limited to) descriptions, specifications, computer documentation, proposals, memoranda, formal reports, newsletters, on-line documentation, web pages. Manuscripts should demonstrate mastery of basic craft and promise of success in technical/professional writing.
  • In book publishing: 15–30 pages of written work demonstrating promise of success in the publications industry. Samples may be professional, academic, business, technical, or artistic. Applicants are also welcome to include samples of edited work (with a cover note detailing role), samples of books or other publications designed or published by the applicant (with appropriate notes), or other samples that demonstrate creativity, organization, and initiative in delivering words from authors to readers in any medium.

Note: Please do not submit bound materials of any kind, i.e., books or magazines. All materials must be provided in the online application.

Applications not fulfilling the requirements may be reconsidered after the student has met certain conditions (e.g., additional preliminary coursework) as specified by the admissions committee.

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IV. Advising

Each student will be assigned an advisor upon admission to the program. Students are urged to contact their advisors for help in planning their programs. The advisor's signature is required on various approval forms, and the advisor is ordinarily the chair of the student's graduate examination committee.

Advisors are knowledgeable, but following department and University rules and regulations is ultimately the student's responsibility. Therefore, students should be familiar with the guidelines and procedures set forth in this guide, as well as with University deadlines and regulations published in the PSU Bulletin or available from the Office of Graduate Studies.

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V. Transfer Credit

A maximum of 16 credits of approved graduate transfer credit may be applied to the 48-credit Master's program. Students wishing to transfer credit should file form GO-11, as approved by the advisor, in the Office of Graduate Studies by the end of the first term of enrollment. Transferable credits are graduate credits graded “A” or “B” received from Portland State prior to admission to the graduate program or from another accredited institution.

N.B. The overall time limit for finishing the Master's is seven years. A student who wishes to graduate Spring 2017, for instance, would not be able to count in their 48 credits courses taken before Spring 2010.

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VI. Financial Assistance

For graduate students who are Oregon residents, the state sponsors the Oregon Laurels Tuition Remission program for graduate study. Information about the Laurels and other competitive scholarships is available in the PSU Bulletin and from the Office of Graduate Studies. A Department of English nomination is required for three all-university competitions: the Oregon Sports Lottery, the University Club, and the Underrepresented Minority Graduate Student Pipeline scholarships.

The English department is limited in its resources for financial assistance. The department does offer some Graduate Assistantships. A fuller description and application information are provided in Section XVI. The University Studies Program also offers opportunities for Graduate Assistantships. Interested students should contact that program for further information.

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VII. Plans of Study

For the technical/professional writing and book publishing programs, the department requires a minimum of 28 graduate credits in writing. The remainder of the student's program may, with the approval of the advisor, include coursework in fields related to writing.

In every case, the student's program must be approved by the advisor and the Chair of the M.A./M.S. in Writing Committee. The student will choose between two tracks: technical/professional writing and book publishing.

Professional and Technical Writing

Students typically will complete 16 core credits (4 courses), 16 elective credits (4 courses), and 16 credits (4 courses) in a specialization that may involve coursework in another discipline (e.g., Management, Marketing, ISQA).

Students will be required to submit a final project in addition to completing their course work. This project typically will be a portfolio of their work demonstrating competence at a professional level but, with advisor approval, may be a single, substantive work.

Note that core courses include Management 550, Organizational Management ,or an alternate advisor-approved business course, which are offered through the School of Business Administration. Students may substitute WR 560: Introduction to Book Publishing for Management 550.

Electives include seminars and workshops on a variety of topics. Writers are encouraged to supplement their core courses in technical/professional writing with electives from creative writing, nonfiction writing, or literature. Advisor-approved courses from outside the department may also count as electives.

The M.S. option does not require students to demonstrate proficiency in a language other than English. In cases where a student does opt to demonstrate proficiency in a language other than English, the M.A. in Writing: Technical and Professional Writing will be awarded.

Core Courses: 16 credits

  • WR 525 Advanced Technical Writing
  • WR 526 Document Design
  • WR 527 Technical Editing
  • MGMT 550 Organizational Management OR WR 560 Introduction to Book Publishing (may also be replaced with an alternate graduate business course with advisor approval)

Electives: 16 credits

  • WR 504 Internship (Credit TBA)
  • WR 505 Writing and Conference (Credit TBA)
  • WR 510 Selected Topics in Writing (4) (Topics vary, including, e.g., Technical Publications Project Management, Writing for Presentations, Information Technology for Writers, Multimedia for PT Writers, Managing Web Communications, International Aspects of PTW, History of Business and Technical Writing, Legal Issues for Technical Writers, Public Relations Writing in Technical Industries, and many others. Consult the PSU Class Schedule for each quarter's offerings.)
  • WR 529 Writing Computer Documentation (4)
  • WR 530 Desktop Publishing (4)

Specialization Tracks: 16 credits

Students will select a specialization track in consultation with the program advisor. Possible specializations include publications management (e.g., Introduction to Book Publishing, Book Editing, Book Design & Production, Book Marketing, Bookselling, Publications Project Management, PT Editing, Workshops in Publication Technologies, Writing Seminars, Selected Topics, Internship), or technical communication (e.g., Writing Computer Documentation, Writing for Presentations, Information Technology for Writers, PT Editing, Writing Seminars, Selected Topics, Internship).

Additional specializations outside of technical/professional writing include nonfiction (i.e., four courses from the nonfiction strand chosen in consultation with the advisor) and creative writing (i.e., four courses from the creative writing strand chosen in consultation with the PTW advisor).

Possible specializations outside the field of writing include business administration (management, marketing/public relations), communication (speech), computer science, environmental sciences and resources, and information systems. Students are encouraged to enhance their professional development by specializing in a series of courses that will create advantages in employment opportunities. Students will identify possible specializations in consultation with the program advisor and with an appropriate faculty advisory from the related discipline.

In consultation with the School of Business Administration, for example, Writing program advisors have identified the following series of courses that would serve well technical communicators in the workforce.

  • Marketing 544 Marketing Management
  • Marketing 548 Product Management & Innovation
  • Marketing 552 Relationship & Service Marketing
  • Marketing 555 Technology Marketing
  • Management 544 Technology Management
  • Management 545 Managing Technological Innovations
  • Management 556 Organizational Politics
  • Management 560 Managerial Responsibility & Public Policy

Book Publishing

Students typically will complete 20 core credits (5 courses), 16 elective credits (4 courses) in writing, and 12 elective credits (3 courses) that may involve coursework in another discipline with advisor's approval. Of the 28 elective credits, candidates are expected to take a total of eight (8) credits working at Ooligan Press in either or both WR 510 Publishing Studio or WR 510 Publishing Lab.

The final project, in addition to completing the coursework, will be a portfolio of work demonstrating competence at a professional level, but with advisor approval, may be a single, substantive work. Upon completion and delivery of the final project or portfolio to the student's orals committee, a topic will be assigned by the student's advisor for a final paper of approximately ten pages to be delivered within 10 days to each member of the committee.

The student will take an oral exam in defense of the final project and final paper. Work included in a portfolio will reflect assignments made in a particular course and appropriate to it — i.e., samples of editorial work, query letters for fiction and nonfiction books, book marketing plans, book design proposals and finished designs, research and writing on issues in contemporary American publishing.

Core Courses: 20 credits

  • WR 560 Introduction to Book Publishing
  • WR 561 Book Editing
  • WR 562 Book Design & Production
  • WR 563 Book Marketing
  • WR 564 Bookselling
  • WR 570 Intellectual Property & Copyright Law

Electives: 28 credits

Students earn eight (8) of their elective credits by participating in the work of Ooligan Press, a small trade publishing house. Students work in groups to review, accept, and edit manuscripts; design the interior and the exterior of books; send books to press; and market the books to booksellers, libraries, and other outlets.

Note that the M.S. option does not require students to demonstrate proficiency in a language other than English. In cases where a student does opt to demonstrate proficiency in a language other than English, the M.A. in Writing: Book Publishing will be awarded.

See the Book Publishing website for more details (faculty, courses, etc.) about the program.

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VIII. Foreign Language Requirement

M.S. students are not required to fulfill the foreign language requirement. However, students who choose to complete a foreign language may receive the M.A. degree. All Master of Arts students at Portland State are required to have experience with a foreign language. We strongly encourage students to fulfill their language requirement early in their program, which they must do before taking the written and oral M.A. examinations. Options for satisfying the Foreign Language Requirements can be found on the World Language and Literature Department website. Students are responsible for completing the Foreign Language Requirement Verification Request Form and requesting evaluation and certification of language equivalency.

For students who choose to fulfill the requirement by taking a language exam, we strongly recommend that you not take the GSFLT exam offered by the World Languages and Literatures Department. These exams expect fluency equivalent to that of a native speaker and are very difficult to pass. Instead, we recommend that you take either the College Level Examination Program (CLEP) exam or the Webcape exam. Both of these are also administered by the World Languages and Literatures Department and you should consult them for more information.

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IX. Policy on Independent Study

The Department of English recognizes that independent study can be a valuable means of expanding the curriculum and allowing students to pursue special interests. Students wishing to pursue independent study should seek the approval of a faculty member willing to undertake the arrangement. Faculty time to supervise independent study during any given term is limited. By University policy, WR 505: Reading and Conference coursework applicable toward the degree is limited to 12 hours in the M.A./M.S. in Writing program. In WR 505: Reading and Conference arrangements, students typically conduct independent research and present their results and analysis in a final paper submitted to the sponsoring professor. WR 504: Internship or Cooperative Education coursework applicable to the degree is limited to 9 hours in the M.A./M.S. in Writing program. In WR 504: Internship and Cooperative Education arrangements, students typically complete relevant professional duties for a business or nonprofit, gaining valuable on-the-job experience, and present a reflection on their work experience to the sponsoring professor.

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X. Graduation Requirements: Overview

Students must apply for graduation with the University in the term prior to the term in which they wish to graduate. The Application for Graduation form is available in either Degree Requirements (Neuberger Hall lobby) or the Office of Graduate Studies.

At the same time (i.e., in the term prior to the term in which they wish to graduate), students should file Graduate Office (GO) Form 12, which lists coursework completed for the degree. The GO-12 must be approved by both the student's program advisor and by the Chair of the Department of English. The GO-12 form is available from the Office of Graduate Studies.

The student also should consult with the program advisor to identify qualified members of a graduation committee. The graduation committee consists of three faculty members: two in addition to the program advisor. The graduation committee will receive copies of the Portfolio and the written exam and will participate in the student's oral exam. A majority of the committee must approve the student's performance on the written and oral exams in order for the student to be awarded the degree.

Note: All Graduate Office (GO) forms (with the exception of the degree application form) must be submitted to the Department of English before the form is submitted to other University offices. Once the forms are submitted to the Department of English and approved, they will be automatically forwarded to the Office of Graduate Studies.

Graduation requirements include the following components:

  • Completion of a minimum 48 approved graduate credit hours of coursework.
  • The Portfolio.
  • The Written Exam.
  • The Oral Exam.

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XI. Graduation Requirements: The Portfolio

The Portfolio should showcase the student's best work over time and across genres. It should function as a professional development tool that the student can use after graduation and over the course of a career.

Portfolios reflect the tastes, skills, and interests of their creators. Therefore, the committee does not mandate a particular format or contents. At a minimum, though, the Portfolio should contain:

  • The student's curriculum vitae or résumé.
  • A personal statement of the student's philosophy as a professional.
  • A sufficient number and kind of work samples to suggest both accomplishment worthy of a graduate degree and the promise of career success.

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XII. Graduation Requirements: The Written Examination

The written examination is a take home examination designed by the student's program advisor and typically based on the information contained in the student's Portfolio. Students are encouraged to consult with committee members prior to the written and oral examinations.

The written examination is read by every committee member. If the candidate fails to pass the written examination, the committee meets to recommend a course of action. The candidate's right to retake the examination is not automatic. Usually, however, a committee recommends that the candidate be allowed to take a second examination in order to address their concerns. The University requires a wait of at least three months before retaking any failed examination. Should the student fail the second examination, disqualification from the program is automatic. Written examinations are either passed or not. No grade is assigned.

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XIII. Graduation Requirements: The Oral Examination

Ordinarily, the student's program advisor chairs the oral examination committee. Questions and discussion usually proceed from responses to the written exam and the Portfolio but may range beyond that. Passing the oral examination requires a favorable majority vote of the committee. The committee may recommend that the student repeat the oral. As with the written examination, oral examinations are either passed or not. No grade is assigned.

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XIV. Graduate Assistantships

The Department of English accepts applications for English Graduate Assistantships once a year with appointments to begin the following fall term. The application deadline is January 3rd. You can apply for a Graduate Assistantship on the English Department Graduate Application, available on the Admissions page. Students must be accepted in the M.A./M.S. in Writing program to be considered for an assistantship. The competition for assistantships is keen. Approximately one in four applicants is offered a position.

Graduate assistants (GAs) are appointed for three terms and receive tuition remission and a stipend. First-year GAs must attend a one-week workshop the week before school begins in September, and attend a weekly seminar on the theory and practice of composition.

Those wishing to continue for a second year must receive a favorable review of their overall performance by the M.A./M.S. in Writing Committee.

In a two-year period, GAs rotate through a variety of assignments that may include tutoring in the University Writing Center, teaching in the Freshman Inquiry Communications course, assisting a faculty member in a Writing Intensive Course (WIC) in another discipline, assisting in a Department of English literature course, teaching a section of writing, or serving as Assistant Director of Writing.

Graduate assistants are required to work 15 hours a week and must carry at least nine hours of graduate coursework each term of the appointment. By University regulation, GAs may not receive a grade of Incomplete in those nine hours, but thesis credits (ENG 503) listed In Progress do qualify.

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XV. Other Matters

For information on other important issues, including the possibility of dual Master's degrees, petitions for exceptions to regulations, validation of out-of-date graduate credit, etc., students are advised to consult the PSU Bulletin, their program advisors, or Eileen Mitchell-Babbitt, Graduate Program Administrator, 503-725-3623.

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