500-word statement guidelines

Graduate Admissions, Department of English, University of Ottawa

Guidelines for writing a letter of intent:

For applications to the MA coursework option:

For the coursework MA, the letter of intent is a 500-word statement of the scholarly interests that motivate you to apply for graduate study. The purpose of the letter is to demonstrate that you are prepared to undertake graduate-level work in the history and criticism of literature in English. Since you will not be writing a thesis, you do not need to propose a specific research project, but you should explain what areas of literary study interest you the most (historical periods, literary genres, critical or theoretical issues); the letter should also demonstrate that you are familiar with the kinds of questions literary critics ask and are prepared to engage with those questions at an advanced level. One good strategy is to describe a research paper you wrote for an advanced undergraduate course as an example of the kind of work you hope to do as an MA student. Your letter should show that your undergraduate studies have given you the background you need to succeed in an English graduate program, and should give a clear sense of why you want to pursue literary studies at a more advanced level.

For applications to the MA with thesis or the PhD program :

For the thesis-based MA and PhD programs, the letter of intent is a 500-word statement that describes not only the scholarly interests that motivate you to apply for graduate study, but also a specific research project that you wish to undertake. The letter should

  • identify a specific topic or question in the history and criticism of literature in English;
  • explain why you think this topic or question is interesting and important;
  • demonstrate your familiarity with existing critical scholarship on that topic; and
  • indicate how your project will build on, differ from, or go beyond existing work in the field.

Of course, this project may change, but the point is to show that you are able to define a specific, interesting, original research project that engages with current critical debates and (particularly for the PhD) will make an original contribution to that field. Your letter should also show how your previous academic studies have given you the background you need to succeed in an English graduate program. Finally, the statement should give a clear sense of why you want to pursue literary studies at a more advanced level, and why you feel the University of Ottawa’s English Department is an appropriate place for you to pursue your MA or doctoral research.

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