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English study options

01 November 2023

Studying English at UC involves examining accepted truths. By questioning and testing these as part of our everyday work we foster open debate about power, knowledge, and identity. We believe such debates are crucial to the ongoing process of developing a culturally diverse society. Check out English study options at UC.


English encourages the examination of accepted truths. By questioning and testing them as part of our everyday work we foster open debates about power, knowledge, and identity. It's our firm conviction that such debates are crucial to the ongoing process of developing a culturally diverse society.

Like other subjects in the Humanities, English studies help us to think about what it means to be human, and to understand the cultural and natural environments we inhabit.

Follow the link below to find out more about the courses we offer.

As a student of English you will join a community of readers and writers who are deeply committed to investigating the ways in which literature helps us understand what it means to be human, and how “humanity” has been constructed throughout the centuries. Starting with close readings and moving into more theoretical and abstract approaches, you will learn how to read and analyze a wide range of texts.

Members of the programme study and teach across the spectrum of literary production: poetry, novels, plays, essays, comic books, children's books, and film. Courses offer both breadth and depth of coverage as we explore the history of literatures in English, including New Zealand and Australian literature, British and American literature, and world literatures in translation.

Stephen King asserts that “Reading is the creative centre of a writer's life”. Here we think that's true. By writing, we grasp the meaning of what we read, and we become able to make more effective, more logical, and more interesting arguments about our reading, and about the world from which that reading emerges. Writing is central to the English curriculum, and our courses will help you develop critical thinking skills. In other words, both in and out of the university, you will be able to state your case, support it with evidence, and explain its larger importance – skills that you will need throughout your working and personal lives.

Like our fellow programmes in the School of Humanities, we in the English programme ask questions such as: Who are we? Where are we going? Why are we here? We ask these questions not to quell the pleasure of literature, but rather to enhance it. We love literature, and love sharing the pleasure that literature can bring. As a student here you'll find how rigorous intellectual pursuit can be combined with a real enjoyment of words and the innumerable ways in which they can combine to tell us stories of the worlds we share.

Find out more about studying a Bachelor of Arts degree at UC.

BA (Honours) and MA entry requirements

If you wish to enrol for a BA (Honours) or an MA in English you must have completed a minimum of seven courses in English, including at least two at 300 level.

If you have completed one course at 300 level in another subject you may, at the discretion of the Honours Coordinator, be admitted to the course with six courses in English, including two at each level.

Admission to 400-level courses presupposes an average grade of B or better in English papers taken at the BA level; but special attention is usually paid to performance at 300 level, and early results which fail to reach the required standard are of less significance.

Prospective MA thesis writers are normally expected to achieve Second Class Honours Division One at the 400 level.


Contact us

If you are intending to enrol in 400-level courses you are advised to contact the Honours Coordinator, in person or in writing and if possible at the end of the year before the one in which you hope to enrol. Provided you have the prerequisites you can be sure that you will be welcome in the course. However, notifying us early about your intentions helps you and us to do some advance planning. It also enables the Honours Coordinator to contact you if any queries or problems arise relating to your enrolment or the paper you propose to take. At any point, if you have questions about any aspect of the course or would like advice about your choice of papers contact the Honours Coordinator.

Note that you still need to complete normal pre-enrolment and enrolment procedures with the Registry.

English also welcomes enquiries from students wishing to take one or two English courses in conjunction with BA (Honours) or MA courses in another programmes.


PhD admission

To be admitted as a candidate for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in English, you must first satisfy the University requirements for enrolment. These requirements will be found in the Registry PhD Guidelines. The Guidelines should be read with care and attention: they spell out in detail what is required of you as a PhD candidate and what your rights are as to supervision. You should study them closely.

Acceptance of your enrolment within the English programme depends on two main factors - whether the programme has the necessary expertise to offer you high-quality supervision and whether the University of Canterbury has the library resources necessary for you to complete the project to the required standard.

Intending doctoral students are invited to discuss their proposal with the Postgraduate Coordinator, who will advise on possible supervisors. 


Graduates of other universities

Graduates of other New Zealand and overseas universities are eligible for admission to the Honours course if they hold the equivalent of this University's prerequisites. Students seeking admission should send to the Honours Coordinator full details of their previous academic record by 1 December of the year preceding commencement of studies, if possible.


Changing direction: The Graduate Diploma

Students with a completed degree in another field may pursue graduate work in English by obtaining a Graduate Diploma. This entails completing five courses in undergraduate English including at least three at Level 300. The programme needs to be approved in advance by the Head of Department.

The English (Honours) degree can consolidate your undergraduate study or introduce you to more advanced research. While the course is normally completed within one year, part-time study over two or more years is also possible.

All courses are taught on a semester basis so enrolment mid-year is also an option.

Course selection

The degree comprises four, 400-level courses. All honours students in the College of Arts are required to take ARTS401: Arts Research and Scholarship: Introduction to Theories and Methods. You will also undertake an extended, supervised research essay (ENGL480) on a topic of your choice. Please contact the honours co-ordinator as you plan your degree, as they will be able to help you find courses that best suit your interests and goals.


In general, each course meets twice weekly for seminars of 90 minutes duration. Attendance is essential to ensure that you keep up with the intense programme of required reading and because substantial participation in seminar discussion is expected from each student. Preparation for seminar presentations or essays will involve reading relevant secondary material as well as primary texts.

Honours study is different from undergraduate work. The class is usually between five and 15 in number. Closer contact with staff is possible and an intimate and sociable atmosphere is generated in the class itself. Study spaces are available for the use of Honours students, with access to tea and coffee making facilities.

Find out more

Contact the Honours Coordinator for more information.

Master of Arts

The course consists of four 400-level papers, which may include an extended essay, in the first year, and a thesis (ENGL 690) in the second. The thesis turns the general Honours degree into a specialised research one.

An MA degree is highly valued by Government departments and by businesses seeking staff with analytical and writing skills. It is also the most well recognised way of entering into a PhD programme, either in New Zealand or overseas.

MA thesis regulations

For Part 2 of the MA students will write and present a thesis of a maximum of 40,000 words. This will be graded with a Pass, or with Merit, or Distinction or, where appropriate, with Honours.

Students should discuss possible topics with the Postgraduate Coordinator, who will consult potential supervisors.

You should familiarise yourself with the University's regulations about Master's studies which you will find in the annual Calendar and consult the full details of thesis-based study on the College of Arts webpage.


Master of Writing

For students with an interest in professional, academic, creative and technical writing, this new coursework-based master’s degree allows students to specialise and deepen their expertise. 

Students will apply skills of advanced textual analysis and written communication to a wide range of contexts, audiences, and styles, and also connect their studies to the community and the workplace. By bringing together a diverse range of writing modes, graduates of the new Master of Writing degree will be set up for diverse careers, from business to government. 

Students of this new highly versatile degree will study, produce, and be assessed on their professional, technical, and fiction and non-fiction writing.

Find out more about the Master of Writing degree

The PhD (ENGL 790) involves the writing of an original piece of research up to 80,000 words in length over a period of three years under two or more supervisors. As a Doctor of Philosophy, you are considered prepared for an academic job or for a variety of research-related positions in government, education, administration and business.

First steps for potential PhD candidates

You should familiarise yourself with the University's regulations about Doctoral studies, which you will find in the annual Calendar, and with the Library Thesis Guide.

Acceptance of topics

Acceptance of your enrolment within the English programme depends on two main factors - whether the programme has the necessary expertise to offer you high-quality supervision and whether the University of Canterbury has the library resources necessary for you to complete the project to the required standard.

Availability of supervision

Consult our staff research profiles to determine the areas of teaching and current research interests of members of the continuing staff of the programme. This will provide some indication of the areas of study in which the programme is able to offer supervision at doctoral level. There may be others, and you are encouraged to discuss your project as widely as possible among members of the staff. Supervisors will be appointed by the Academic Administration Committee on the recommendation of the Postgraduate Coordinator in consultation with the candidate and appropriate academic staff.

Available resources

Members of the staff will be able to advise you of the nature and quality of the research resources at Canterbury in your chosen area of research. They may also be able to advise you of resources at other New Zealand universities and at libraries such as the Alexander Turnbull Library.

Good writing practice

Writing is absolutely central to English studies. You'll be required to write at least one essay in all of your English courses, and a great deal of your grade will rely on how well you master writing skills. Especially in literature courses, you will be expected to write academic essays that incorporate other people's work. You'll be doing research, that is, to find work that complements your own in various ways, and then using that work to bolster your own arguments and claims. Therefore you'll also need to learn how to cite the work of others properly, since not to do so counts as one form of plagiarism. The standard form of citation in English is the Modern Language Association's, found in the MLA Handbook or online at various sites – one of the best is Purdue University's.

It's important to cite properly because you should always give credit to those whose work has helped yours. Citation allows your own readers to follow your research and find resources that may have escaped them. It also enables readers to verify your research and check your facts. More importantly, not to cite is a breach of ethics – in effect, a form of theft.

Deliberate plagiarism can take a few forms:

  • The deliberate failure to cite facts found in the work of others.
  • The deliberate passing off of others' work as your own – this includes purchasing or copying an essay or parts of an essay and passing it in as if it were your own work.
  • The deliberate use of an essay you have written for another course as if it were written for that assignment – also known as self-plagiarism.

Sadly, plagiarism is rife on many university campuses nowadays. The free exchange of ideas and information rests on a basis of mutual trust, a trust that plagiarism endangers. It's crucial that you realise that plagiarism is ethically wrong and that it will be severely punished if discovered.

Consult the UC Scholarships Office database to find the full list of available funding for undergraduate and postgraduate study.

English Department Essay Guide 2017

Download (application/pdf, 1 MB)

More information

See the Course Information website for more details about studying English.


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