The MLA final project often arises from MLA course work and takes into consideration MLA and other Washington University faculty resources. Normally completed during the final semester of the program (and in some cases the final year), the project entails substantial research and analysis on a topic determined by the student in consultation with the program coordinator.

The project is completed under the primary supervision of a faculty advisor, along with a faculty committee, and it is evaluated by this committee in the form of an oral examination at the conclusion of the student’s program.

There are two options for the final written project:

  1. Directed Research Project (DRP), the minimum requirement for all students; and
  2. Master’s Thesis, available to exceptionally strong students authorized by the program coordinator.

Directed Research Project

MLA students are expected to complete a three-unit Directed Research Project (DRP) at the end of the program. The DRP is a study of approximately 40 pages that may build on (but may not replicate) material from one or more MLA classes the student has taken. This project presents an opportunity to explore independently and extensively an area of personal interest. The project also provides an opportunity for students to work closely with a member of the MLA faculty.

Master’s Thesis

Exceptional students with strong research interests may be authorized to complete the MLA with Thesis in place of the DRP. The MLA with Thesis option is a six-credit, two-semester study that includes extensive references to extant published material on the topic. Students must have an A- average (3.7 GPA) for all of their MLA courses in the program to qualify for the degree with thesis. Generally, the faculty director for such a thesis would expect it to conform to requirements for the M.A. degree in his/her home department. Students who are approved for this thesis must meet Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Master’s Thesis guidelines.

Advisor and Committee

Prior to the semester in which the student begins the DRP or Master’s thesis, the student must confer with the MLA Program Coordinator to establish the topic and scope of the project and also to establish the student’s faculty committee. The final project is completed under the primary supervision of a faculty advisor (“director”), who, along with one additional faculty member for a DRP, or with two additional faculty members (“readers”) for a thesis, constitute the student’s DRP or Master’s thesis committee. Faculty directors and committee members for the DRP should be MLA teaching faculty with training in an area relevant to the student’s research topic. Master’s thesis directors and committee members should be tenured or tenure-track faculty at Washington University.

The student works with his/her director, meeting regularly (at least once per month) throughout the semester(s) dedicated to the DRP or Master’s thesis. The student is expected to submit individual sections or chapters one at a time to his/her director, according to a schedule that they arrange at the start of the project, in order to receive comments and suggestions for revisions. Once the director has approved a fully-revised and final version of the student’s DRP or Master’s thesis, the student will submit it to the other two faculty readers.

The full faculty committee will evaluate the student’s work during an oral examination. Authorization to proceed to the oral exam occurs only once the student’s director approves a full and final version of the DRP or Master’s thesis, and no later than two weeks prior to the oral exam, in order to ensure that the other two members of the committee have time to read the DRP or Master’s thesis. Although the scheduling of a thesis date and time does not guarantee that the oral exam will take place, students should schedule an oral defense date very early in the semester in order to have a slot reserved by all members of his/her committee.

Oral Examination

The Director will work with the student and the other two committee members to select a date for the oral exam. The student should notify the School of Continuing & Professional Studies (CAPS) well in advance of the oral exam date to arrange for the necessary paperwork and assign a room for the exam.

Final Essay

Along with the final Directed Research Project or Master’s Thesis, the student will submit to all members of the committee a 5-page personal statement about his/her experiences in the MLA program.

Procedures and Timeline

It is important to adhere closely to requirements and deadlines associated with the final project in order to ensure timely completion of the project and fulfillment of program requirements. Please read carefully “Directed Research Project and Master’s Thesis Guidelines and Timelines” (below) for detailed information about procedures, requirements, forms, and deadlines. All candidates for the MLA are required to complete the Final Project Proposal form for MA Programs. All students authorized to pursue the Master’s Thesis also must complete the Title, Scope, and Procedure form. See “Directed Research Project and Master’s Thesis Guidelines and Timelines” (below) for detailed information about procedures and deadlines.

Guidelines & Timelines


You should begin planning for your Directed Research Project the semester prior to your final semester of study. If you have authorization to pursue a Thesis, begin planning two semesters prior to your final semester of study. The Title, Scope and Procedure of Dissertation (Thesis) Form must be completed and returned to CAPS at least six months before the month in which the degree is expected to be conferred. CAPS will forward approved Title, Scope & Procedure forms to the Graduate School.


The proposal introduces the topic and provides an explanation of the merits of the research that the student proposes to undertake. The proposal must be accompanied by a formal bibliography of both primary and secondary sources. In preparing the DRP or Master’s Thesis proposal, students will find it useful to address the following questions: What is your primary area of research? What knowledge do you expect to gain from this research? Do you have a working thesis? How has your topic developed from your studies in the MLA program? What primary works (works of literature, film, etc.) will form the basis of your study? What motivates your selection of these specific works? What published books and articles address issues you propose to study? What are the major chapter divisions of your project? The proposal should be written in essay form with an attached bibliography and be two pages in length.


The Final Project Proposal form must be completed with all required signatures for registration. In addition to the form, a copy of the proposal is required for registration. Registration follows the normal academic schedule. Refer to the current course schedule for registration deadlines. Submit your Final Project Proposal Form here. This will serve as your registration form.

Schedule Your Oral Defense

The Oral Defense should be scheduled as soon as possible after you have registered. The Oral Defense should take place no later than two weeks prior to the end of the semester you plan to graduate. Consult with your committee to find a time that is agreeable. Your Oral Defense will probably last only 1 hour, but schedule 1.5 hours for the defense to provide a small cushion of extra time if needed. To schedule and reserve space, contact your academic advisor. Please consult the CAPS online calendar for specific deadlines for the oral defense. Usually, the defense must be completed by the beginning of September for summer graduates, the beginning of January for fall graduates, and late April or early May for spring graduates. Please note that these dates conform to deadlines for all graduate programs and are not flexible.

Submission of the Final Project (Directed Research Project or Master’s Thesis)

Submit a copy of your final project to each member of your committee two weeks in advance of your oral defense to allow time for review. Upon successful defense of the project, the final version must be submitted to CAPS along with a copy of the final paper. In addition, thesis candidates must submit an electronic copy and one hard copy of the Master’s Thesis to the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences according to the deadlines listed in the online calendar.

Please refer to the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences Master’s Thesis guidelines for formatting and presentation requirements.