MFA Dissertation Module Guide – 2013

Following, please find the official module guide for the 2013 MFA Dissertation. This includes requirements, reading lists and an explanation of the dissertation for several forms (Poetry, prose, drama etc.).

MODULE CODE: CWM7020        LEVEL:  7                 CREDITS:  120

TITLE: Advanced Dissertation Project

PRE-REQUISITES:  Completion of first year (MA modules)


This module provides students with one-to-one supervision over an extended period of time to produce a complex piece or collection of pieces of creative writing. The module is assessed in two ways: firstly, by a creative dissertation of 40,000 words or prose (or equivalent in other genres) that may take the form of a single sustained piece of writing or a collection of pieces from a suitable range of genre; and secondly, by a critical reading log of approximately 4,500 words.

Students will be supported in non-credit modules delivered throughout the year, and through eight one-on-one tutorials with a specially selected advisor.

Equivalencies to 40,000 words of prose are arranged in discussion with individual tutors and the MFA director. However, recent equivalents have included: a full length three-act play, a collection of approximately 40 poems, a series scenario and outline sketches of three half hour dramas for TV along with one fully scripted half hour script.

This module will be supported by work completed in non-credit modules as listed above.


The aims of this module are to:

  • enable students to produce a complex, extended work of creative writing through independent study and research
  • require students to edit themselves to achieve professional standards
  • emphasise the importance of advanced critical reading of literary texts within the student’s area of interests and beyond
  • develop a complex analytical awareness of aesthetic techniques and forms
  • encourage students to grapple with issues of literary value and canonicity
  • engage students in the ongoing discussions of writing practices through critical interaction with other writers and other students


On successful completion of the module you will be able to demonstrate:

  • the technical skills and creativity needed to devise and manage the production of an accomplished and sustained work  of creative writing
  • an advanced ability to manage a wide range of practical literary techniques
  • independence, concentration, confidence and time management skills
  • advanced editing and drafting skills, and an ability to make constructive use of criticism from peers and colleagues
  • develop the critical and pedagogical skills required to teach creative writing and writing workshops at the university level
  • close critical reading of texts as both a teacher, and a practitioner, of good literary writing
  • engagement in historical and contemporary debates of canonicity and value
  • a developed awareness of established and innovative literary techniques


• Critical discussion of the importance of genre-specific reading for writers

• Intensive close reading of a selection of genre-specific literary texts

• Focussed debate concerning issues of literary quality, value and innovation

• Analysis of the uses of various literary techniques by carefully selected writers in a chosen genre

• Critical discussion of the role of research and impact for creative writers

• One-to-one supervision tutorials



In summary the module will be made up of:

  • supervision and preparation – total 20 hours
  • directed learning – total 240 hours
  • Independent learning – 940 hours

Total module study time, classes and independent study time – 1200 hours

Tutorials:  all MFA students are appointed a supervisor early in their MFA year and up to 8 hours of tutorials – or eight one hour meetings – during the course of the dissertation.  Some of these meetings may be by email, or by telephone, as agreed with the tutor.  The onus is on the students to arrange these meetings and space them out over the period of development.  If the student does not arrange the full eight meetings well before the dissertation due date in late September, the remaining sessions (if any) will be forfeited.


The assessment for this module is designed to test the students’ ability to produce a complex, structurally sophisticated piece of creative writing that has been drafted and edited to professional standards. See below for a further description of the learning outcomes.

[Note:  All MFA dissertations are double marked.  The first marker of MFA dissertations will not be the major adviser – though the major adviser is usually assigned to double mark the work of his or her student.]


Advanced Creative Dissertation:

1) A sustained piece of creative writing, normally of no more than 40,000 words; or a book-length or near-book-length collection of poetry (30 – 40 pieces, if the pieces are generally of one page in length, or 30-40 pages if the work is continuous).  The final presentation of work can be adapted in consultation with the supervisor; or a complete screenplay or play; or as agreed with your major adviser and the MFA Director – 80%

2) A portfolio of critical reports on assigned and individually selected texts totalling approximately 4500 words (20%)

The dissertation may take the form of a portion of a novel, a novella, a body of poetry, a collection of short stories, creative non-fiction, a memoir, a biography, a play, a screenplay, or any other creative form. It may also take the form of a collection of pieces of creative writing across a suitable range of genres as befits a writer also preparing for a career as a lecturer of creative writing in higher education. The final structure, approximate word length and conventions for the presentation of the dissertation must be approved in advance by the assigned supervisor.

Online submissions must be made at time of hard copy submission.  You will find instructions on StudySpace, which are:

Click on the module

Click on ‘Assignments’ on left hand side of page

Click on ‘Create Assessment’ (top middle tab)

Drop down to ‘Turnitin Assignment’

IMPORTANT:  please submit both elements of your assignment as One combined document only

Due date:  Monday 30 Sept 2013 by 11am.  2 bound copies should be submitted.



It is not a requirement that both assessment categories must be passed in order to achieve an overall pass for the module.

Notes towards the completion of the Critical Reading Log:

The Critical Reading Log comprises a significant part of your final project – and should occupy a significant part of your time while completing the MFA.  As with the creative dissertation, the books and authors you will be studying should be agreed with your dissertation advisor, and/or the MFA Director.

There are many ways to complete – and organise – the Critical Reading Log.  On the one hand, you might want to organise a long, coordinated response to your reading over the past year or years – issues of dramatising character-conflict in several novels, say.  Or how the “novel of ideas” has been developed by three contemporary novelists.  Or the way several poets have used the line to effect in developing a series of images.  The potential topics for a 4,500 word essay are endless.  There is only one imperative:  select an issue, or a technique, which interests you as a writer; and select some writers, poets and dramatists from whom you think you can learn what you want to know.

You might also compose a series of shorter, more specific replies to reading a series of books, or viewing a series of films.  These might be as short as 400-500 words each.  They might even (if your adviser agrees) cover a wide variety of topics and interests.

You should, however, read as widely as possible.  It might be expected that a Critical Reading Log which represents a year’s worth of work would include several dozen substantive texts in the final bibliography – even if you might wish to write on only ten or twelve texts to any great extent.



It is not a requirement that both assessment categories must be passed in order to achieve an overall pass for the module.




Birkett, Julian, Word Power: A Guide to Creative Writing (London: A&C Black,    1993)

Burchfield R. W., ed. New Fowler’s English Usage (Oxford: Oxford University    Press, 1998)

Greig, Noel, Playwriting: A Practical Guide, (London: Routledge, 2005)

Hoffmann, A., Research for Writers (London: A&C Black, 2003)

Kaplin, D. M., Rewriting: A Creative Approach to Writing Fiction (London: A&C Black, 1998)

Lanham, Richard, Revising Prose (any edition)

Ritter, R., Oxford Guide to Style (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002)

Ritter, R., Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000)

William Strunk, Jr. and E. B. White, Elements of Style (any edition)

Maryin Manser and Stephen Curtis, The Penguin Writer’s Manual (London:           Penguin, 2005)


Graham Greene, Our Man in Havana (any edition)

Brian Moore, Lies of Silence (any edition)

Alison Lurie, Foreign Affairs (any edition)

Georges Simenon, The Man Who Watched the Trains Go By (any edition)

Michael Moorcock, The Knight of Swords (any edition)

Elmore Leonard, La Brava (any edition)

Xiaoda Xiao, The Cave Man (Two Dollar Radio, 2009)

Richard Yates, The Easter Parade (any edition)

Brian Evenson, Last Days (Portland:  Underland Press, 2009)

Steve Erickson, Zeroville (Rome:  Europa Editions, 2007)

Rachel Cusk, In the Fold (London:  Faber and Faber, 2005)

Jonathan Franzen, Freedom (Farra, Straus and Giroux, 2010)

Ian McEwan, Solar (London:  Jonathan Cape, 2010)

Capote, Truman, In Cold Blood (New York: Vintage, 1966)

Carter, Angela, Wise Children (London: Vintage, 1992)

Lahiri, Jhumpa, The Namesake (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2003)

Rushdie, Salman, Midnight’s Children, (London: Jonathan Cape, 1981)

Short Stories:

Helen Simpson, Four Bare Legs and a Bed (London:  Harmony Books, 1992)

Raymond Carver: Where I’m Calling From, New and Selected Stories (New           York: The Atlantic Monthly Press, 1988)

George Saunders, Pastoralia:  Stories (New York:  Riverhead Books, 2000)

J. Robert Lennon, Pieces for the Left Hand:  100 Anecdotes (Minneapolis:  Graywolf Press, 2011)

Joyce Carol Oates, The Collector of Hearts (New York:  Dutton, 1998)

Joyce, James, Dubliners, ed., Jeri Johnson (Oxford: Oxford University Press,         2000)

Welty, Eudora, Collected Stories of Eudora Welty, (New York: Harcourt Brace      Jovanovich, 1980)

Munro, Alice, Runaway (New York: Alfred K. Knopf, 2004)

Travel Literature/Life-Writing:

Bill Bryson, The Lost Continent:  Travels in Small-Town America (New York:        Harper & Row, 1989)

Tobias Wolff, This Boy’s Life (New York:  Atlantic Monthly Press, 1989)

Children’s Fiction:

Phillip Pullman, Northern Lights

Louis Sachar, Holes


Barker, Howard, Scenes from an Execution, in Collected Plays: Volume One          (London:  Calder, 1990)

Beckett, Samuel, Waiting for Godot (any edition)

Ibsen, Henrik, A Doll’s House, trans., Peter Watts (London: Penguin, 2003)

Mamet, David, Oleanna (any edition)


Berryman, John, The Dream Songs (New York:  Farrar, Straus and Giroux,            1969)

Bishop, Elizabeth, Collected Poems (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux,            1984)

Heaney, Seamus, North (London: Faber and Faber, 1996)

Boland, E and Mark Strand, eds, The Making of a Poem: A Norton Anthology        of Poetic Forms (London and New York: WW Norton, 2001)

Ramazani, Jahan,The Norton Anthology of Modern and Contemporary Poetry,        vols. 1 and 2 (London and New York: WW Norton, 2003)

Enright, DJ, ed. The Oxford Book of Contemporary Verse, 1945-1980. Oxford:      Oxford University Press, 1980.

Morrison, Blake, ed. The Penguin Book of Contemporary British Poetry.     London: Penguin,1998.

Nelson, Cary, ed. Anthology of Modern American Poetry. London: Oxford             University Press

Hoover, Paul, ed. Postmodern American Poetry: A Norton Anthology. New            York: WW Norton, 1994


Behn, Robin and Chase Twichell. The Practice of Poetry: Writing Exercises            From Poets Who Teach. London: HarperResource, 1992

Salzman and Wack:  Women’s Work, Modern Women Poets Writing in      English, Seren Books, 2009

Enright, DJ, ed. The Oxford Book of Contemporary Verse, 1945-1980. Oxford:      Oxford University Press, 1980.

Hall, Donald. Breakfast Served Any Time All Day: Essays on poetry new and          selected. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2004.

Hulse, Michael, ed. The New Poetry. London: Bloodaxe, 1993.

Pinsky, Robert. The Situation of Poetry: Contemporary Poetry and Its         Traditions.  Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992.

Redmond, John. How To Write a Poem. London: Blackwell, 2005.

Riley, Denise, ed. Poets on Writing: Britain 1970-1991. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 1992.

*NB: This dissertation  module  should only be used as guidance by prospective students. It is for the 2013 dissertation only.


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