How to Write a 25-word Course Description

Course titles and descriptions should be succinct.

  • Five words or fewer for titles, no subtitles
  • Twenty-five words or fewer for descriptions

What must be included in a course description

The only essential element is a sentence fragment that generally describes course content (e.g., for LAT 305 Latin Literature: “Representative selections from major authors of Republican and Imperial Rome: epic, comedy, and satire”)

Optional items (in this order)

  • * A more specific sentence or fragment (e.g., “Topics include …” [two or three should suffice] or “Emphasis on …”)
  • * Sequential breakdown (e.g., for HIST 301, 302, 303 Modern Europe: “301: 18th century. 302: 19th century. 303: 20th century”)
  • * Fee (e.g., “Extra fee”)
  • * Sequence. This word can replace prerequisites in a single entry for two or three courses that share the same title and must be taken in numerical order (e.g., for ITAL 201, 202, 203 Second-Year Italian: “Sequence”)
  • * Prerequisites, corequisites, recommended courses. Prerequisites, including instructor’s consent, must be completed before enrolling in the course; corequisites must be completed concurrently with enrollment in the course. Recommended courses are suggestions, not pre- or corequisites. “Instructor’s permission” may not be used as a prerequisite with a list of courses.
  • * Instructors’ last names. This is useful information as long as one or more specific names are listed. If you don’t know who teaches a course, don’t put anything; students think “Staff” is someone’s name.
  • Limited R. If a course may be repeated for credit only a specific number of times, for a maximum number of credits, or when the topic changes, state it here (e.g., for a 2-credit course: “R twice for maximum of 6 credits”)
  • Language taught in (e.g., “Conducted in English” or “Readings in Japanese and English”)
  • Frequency (e.g., “Offered 2011–12 and alternate years” or “Not offered 2011–12”)
  • Excluded credit (e.g., “Students cannot receive credit for both LING 440/540 and 444/544” or specified teaching site (e.g., “Offered at the Oregon Institute of Marine Biology” or “Offered only through the Oregon Executive MBA Program”) or exclusive frequency (e.g., “Offered summer session only”)

What not to include

  • Information that belongs in the text preceding course listings (e.g., major, minor, degree, or certificate requirements) or that appears elsewhere in the bulletin or online (e.g., approved group-satisfying or multicultural courses)
  • Advising information about the fine points of requirements, exceptions, substitutions, waivers, or options. Such supplemental information belongs in the Student Handbook; advisors’ manuals; or handouts from the department, peer advisors, or the Office of Academic Advising.
  • Wasted words:
    • “Introduction to” or “Advanced study of” if they duplicate the course title.
    • Unnecessary articles (a, an, the) and introductory phrases or clauses (e.g., “Survey of,” “Study of,” “This course introduces students to”)
    • Noninformation (e.g., unnecessary ellipses [ . . . . ], “TBA,” or “etc.”)
  • Entire course content. Save this for the syllabus.
  • Jargon, faddish, or vague words (e.g., “empower,” “interactive,” “engaging,” “hands-on,” “state-of-the-art,” “issues”); unexplained abbreviations (e.g., “CAM,” “CIM”); forced puns (e.g., “enGendering,” “RiverFront”); neologisms (e.g., “mentee”)
  • Clichés (e.g., “-wide,” “quality institution,” “innovative program,” “unique experience,” “cutting edge,” “diverse faculty,” “today’s global society,” “the twenty-first century”)