Writing Course Descriptions

How to Write a Course Description

The following suggested guidelines are provided by the Publications Office. Please note that exception will sometimes occur because of the particular nature of a course.

  • It is not necessary to use complete sentences or predication. Instead list the topics covered in brief descriptive phrases. “For example:”

Brief Description

Syntax of film time-space. Conditioning agents as factors of human response in relation to the needs of self expression.

Identical Longer Description

The student will explore the syntax of film time-space. Conditioning agents as factors of human response will be examined in relation to the needs of self expression.

  • Avoid using phrases such as “a study of” or “an examination of” since it is assumed that all courses analyze, examine or study the subject matter. Instead list the topics covered in brief descriptive phrases. If a course has a graduate level number (600 or above) you need not put “graduate” in the title or description.
  • Unless the course typically covers more than the topics named because of multiple sections, subjects that vary from year to year, or a list too long to print, don’t use phrases like “topics include”. Phrases like “with emphasis on” should be used only if it is really significant to point out that one or more among several topics is the primary focus of a course, in which case “emphasizing” is more concise. Separately naming the topic emphasized will usually accomplish the same thing.

Description With Unnecessary Phrases

Survey of the theories of major modern philosophers (Locke, Rousseau, Hume, J.S. Mill, Marx), with particular attention to their views on liberty, justice, and equality. Includes examination of contemporary theories of liberty, justice and equality.

Identical Description Without Phrases

Theories of modern political philosophers: Locke, Rousseau, Hume, J.S. Hill, Marx. Their views on liberty, justice and equality.

  • If the first line of a description does no more than repeat the title, omit it and go on to the next line.
  • If a term such as “laboratory”, “seminar” or “workshop” is used in the title, you needn’t repeat it in the description.
  • If the course number or title adequately indicates the relative sophistication of the course it is unnecessary to use “introduction to” or “advanced study of” in the course description. This directive does not apply to a 500- or 600-level course that is indeed an introduction to a subject and is not so indicated in the title.
  • Try to avoid the use of unnecessary articles and complicated language. If you have any questions regarding the simplification of your course descriptions, please contact the Curriculum Coordinator.
  • Please limit course descriptions to 35 words or fewer.
  • Crosslisted or double-numbered undergrad/grad courses must include “Additional work required of graduate students” in the course description.

Course Descriptions/Course Requisites

The basic rule regarding course descriptions as they pertain to course requisites is that if the requisite can be enforced on system for registration, either at the course or the class level, then it should not be included in the course description.


If a course involves alcohol, a course description including “must be 21” would be appropriate.  PeopleSoft cannot enforce the student’s age, so the restriction is acceptable in the course description.