What is a course description
A course descrption is a short, informational statement of the approach and content of a course. Anyone browsing the course catalog should be able to determine very quickly what the course is about.
- Course descriptions also form a permanent archive which can be accessed by students, prospective employers or graduate schools, and other information consumers.
Your course description, if current research is a guide, will have about 3 seconds to draw in a reader. Good descriptions therefore have the following elements:
- A snappy topic sentence often in the form of a leading question.
- A list of topics.
- Prerequisites and other information relating to enrollment and eligibility.
Lengthy wordy descriptions do not work in this environment! In essence, we have traded the physical limitations of a book for the constraints of online reading. So a good description is typically no more than 100-120 words in length. Students choose courses based on interest, needs, and degree requirements. A good course description addresses these perspectives.
Do's and Don't's
Or suggestions from long experience with course descriptions from all over the University:
|DO start with a compelling topic sentence or question.||DON'T lard up the first sentence with wordy constructions. You have 3 seconds to grab your reader.|
|DO include lists of topics; you do not need a verb in such a list.||DON'T include non-informative verbiage such as "This course will consider topics such as ..." ... Just say "Topics include ..." Keep it simple.|
|DO create short lists of representative authors such as: Authors include Bob, Mary, and Joan.||DON'T use "etc." or "..." or "and so on". Information is better than implying something.|
|DO include quantifiable prerequisites such a courses or specific activities or background in an area.||DON'T tell us how incredible or how difficult it will be as in "Intensive, difficult course only for students with bubbling enthusiasm and a willingness to work 24/7."|
|DO use flat descriptive phrasing. We're looking for topics.||DON'T use flowery words. You will lose your readers quickly.|
|DO use simple, clear punctuation.||
DON'T use double hyphens and dashes and dots and arrows. Especially, do not use smart quotations or end-of-line return carriages as these are garbled in the system
|DO describe the nature of the course such as "Seminar" or "Workshop".||DON'T describe at length obvious things such as how engrossing your discussions will be or how enriched students will feel.|
Most important: PROOFREAD! Stanford University deserves a course catalog without sloppy errors and misspellings!