Ph.D. in Rhetoric and Composition

Our Ph.D. program in Rhetoric and Writing Studies emphasizes public and institutional engagement.

Our program was founded in the 1980s by noted composition scholars Steven and Susan Tchudi and Mark Waldo. Over the last decade, the program has intentionally developed its faculty around an emphasis in public and institutional engagement because we believe that rhetoric and writing studies are essentially arts of engagement. Our faculty and students are engaged inside and outside the academy in projects ranging from writing-across-the-curriculum fellowships, to K-16 partnerships, to prison literacy initiatives.

Students in the program participate in professional activities of various kinds, including publishing, academic conferences and internships in community agencies, educational institutions or businesses. The program also hosts a robust student chapter of the Rhetoric Society of America, Rhetoric @ Reno.

Our faculty collect their expertise — which ranges from writing program administration, to disability studies, to the rhetoric of political economy — around three key nodes; select a tab below to learn more about each node.

  • Writing in the Disciplines and Professions

    Professional and disciplinary writing draws on common genres, which in turn coordinate diverse disciplines, community partners and organizations. But, professional writing also seeks to shift how genres coordinate these groups of actors. In other words, professional writing both serves a conserving and a remaking function. By attending to these functions in the disciplines and professions, we seek to help writers gain access to these sites and also to expand/transform them.

  • Rhetoric and Critical Theory

    We emphasize rhetoric’s classical role as a productive art. Our students learn to navigate diverse public and institutional discourses in order to create identifications among those seemingly divergent interests. Rhetorical training helps students acquire a nuanced understanding of how language constitutes our private lives and interests, our disciplinary and professional worlds, and our sociopolitical and cultural landscapes — so that students can productively engage in those spaces.

  • Composition Theory, Pedagogy and Programs

    Composition studies begins from a place of institutional engagement: we work with students, teachers, programs and office/centers. This engagement comes out of a rich theoretical and methodological tradition focusing on writing and rhetorical production. Students learn to produce not only critical scholarly writing but also syllabi, assessment reports and other administrative genres. They learn to write for diverse audiences while also working with linguistically and culturally diverse students in their own classes.

The Ph.D. emphasis in rhetoric and writing studies will help students pursue careers in scholarship, teaching and program administration at the college or university level. The emphasis offers a core of work in rhetoric and writing theory coupled with focused study in other fields of English language and literature, with possibilities for interdisciplinary study as well. Select tabs below to view more information on program requirements.

Course requirements
  • Required course: ENG 730, Intro to Graduate Study in Rhetoric and Composition, or a comparable course at the Master's level is required and should be taken at the first opportunity. It is customarily offered each fall semester.
  • Core courses: ENG 731, Research in Composition and Rhetoric; either ENG 733, Classical through Medieval Rhetoric, or 739, Renaissance through Contemporary Rhetoric.
  • Elective courses in composition and rhetoric: In consultation with the advisory committee, each student plans a program of study in composition and rhetoric courses. These courses are to be selected from 600 and 700-level offerings in the English department. If approved by the student's advisory committee, related course work may be taken in the College of Education, the School of Journalism and such departments in the College of Liberal Arts as anthropology, psychology and communication.
  • Secondary area: The student also develops expertise in another area, typically in a field of literature or language, but with interdisciplinary study possible as well.
  • Internship: The student will complete a practicum or internship approved by the committee, including applied work in the field, documentation of that experience and writing a paper and participating in a public forum discussing the implications of the internship. The internship may be taken for credit as ENG 736.
Comprehensive examination

Written examination

Working closely with the advisory committee, the student will prepare a reading list of 80-120 sources selected from canonical rhetoric and composition texts, as well as a secondary (and perhaps tertiary) area of expertise related to the student’s interests in the field. When the student is ready to be tested on these lists, generally the spring semester of the third year in the Ph.D. program, they register for ENG 795, Comprehensive Examination. During the written comprehensive examination students select three questions from three lists approved by the committee: the first set pertains primarily to the student’s first/canonical list; the second and third sets of questions will mainly examine the second and third lists. Students have one 24-hour day, per question, to prepare a response of 15-25 pages in length.

Oral examination

After the written examinations have been evaluated as passing, an oral examination will be conducted. The student will begin by presenting a narrative of their scholarly development (about 20 minutes). Afterward, the advisory committee will conduct an oral review of the student's narrative and work in the written comprehensive examination, not to last more than one-and-a-half hours, as described under the Ph.D. general requirements.

Dissertation defense

After the dissertation has been accepted by the candidate's advisory committee, the committee will conduct an oral examination dealing with the dissertation and related topics. The defense will be about one and one-half to two hours in length.

Please review the Ph.D. rhetoric and composition checklist of degree requirements.

Rhetoric and Critical Theory
Catherine Chaput
Catherine Chaput, Ph.D.
Professor; Director of Graduate Studies
(775) 682-6360
FH 209
Rhetoric and Critical Theory Composition Theory, Pedagogy and Programs
Chris S. Earle
Chris S. Earle, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor; Acting Associate Director of Core Writing
(775) 682-6368
4260 4261
Writing in the Disciplines and Professions Composition Theory, Pedagogy and Programs
William J. Macauley
William J. Macauley, Jr., Ph.D.
(775) 784-6038
4259 4261
Writing in the Disciplines and Professions Rhetoric and Critical Theory Composition Theory, Pedagogy and Programs
Chris Mays
Chris Mays, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
(775) 682-6376
4259 4260 4261
Writing in the Disciplines and Professions Composition Theory, Pedagogy and Programs
Elisabeth Miller
Elisabeth Miller, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, English; Director of Writing and Speaking in the Disciplines
(775) 784-7548
4259 4261
Writing in the Disciplines and Professions Rhetoric and Critical Theory
Lynda C. Olman
Lynda C. Olman, Ph.D.
(775) 682-6364
FH 217
4259 4260
Composition Theory, Pedagogy and Programs
Todd Ruecker
Todd Ruecker, Ph.D.
Associate Professor; Director, Core Writing Program
(775) 682-6404
FH 131C
Writing in the Disciplines and Professions Rhetoric and Critical Theory Composition Theory, Pedagogy and Programs
Jim Webber
Jim Webber, Ph.D.
Associate Professor; Associate Director, Core Writing Program
(775) 784-6607
FH 225
4259 4260 4261