University of Iowa

Creating a Course Description

Course descriptions should be written with a high school senior audience in mind. Students may not, for example, have the sophistication to understand technical terms. Especially good course descriptions help students connect the theme of the class to their academic aspirations and lives. Writing for an 18-year-old who has not yet arrived on campus is an art.

The list below contains some suggestions on creating course titles and descriptions that make sense to people outside of your field of study and that are readable by a high school graduate. 

  1. The subtitle should be enticing, but also reflect the course content. With over 100 offerings, students will sort by title first.
  2. Students are perusing many different offerings, and long descriptions are not necessarily better.
  3. A catchy lead-off sentence is useful. Here are some examples:
    • “Since 1999, Billy Beane has steered the Oakland Athletics to five playoff appearances despite having one of the lowest payrolls in all of major league baseball,” in course titled “Sports Analytics.”
    • “On April 20, 2010 the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded, burned for 36 hours, and then sank in the Gulf of Mexico unleashing the largest accidental marine oil spill in history,” in course on the causes and consequences of the BP oil disaster.
    • “Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend; inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read,” in a course on human-canine relationships.
    • “Improvisation: it’s a word that can strike terror into many hearts.” In a course on theater improvisation.
  4. You can check the reading level using Word’s spell checker, keeping in mind that the people reading your description are high school graduates.
  5. High school students aren’t familiar with field-specific jargon. Using terms that mean something to someone in the field won’t resonate with a newly-minted high school graduate.