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Preparing Your Written Course Descriptions

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Timeline for Course Descriptions

Since publishing a course description involves a process of drafting, consultation with the Associate Director and the PWR1 or PWR 2 Course Coordinator, and then revision, the drafting and submission process begins well before that quarter begins.  In general, the final, revised course descriptions for a quarter will be due by week five of the previous quarter.   So, for instance, the final course descriptions for a Winter Quarter course will be due by  week 5 of Autumn Quarter.  This timeline ensures the courses will be coded and uploaded online by the time registration opens.

Characteristics of an Effective Course Description

An effective section description includes these elements:

  • An engaging title that captures your readers’ attention and helps them quickly grasp the course theme. The title should make some reference to “rhetoric,” “writing,” “argument,” or similar terminology that will help immediately clarify that the course is a Writing and Rhetoric course, not an introductory seminar or course offered by a department. Students encounter the courses first as a series of titles, so you want a title that will make them click to get more information and read the description.
  • Clear, dynamic prose, with no jargon. If you must use specialized terms, be sure to define them in your description.  Students have spoken in our focus groups about the way that technical language and jargon tends to alienate them rather than invite them into the course.
  • An emphasis on students as actors or agents, not merely as the recipients of knowledge or the objects of pedagogy. Your choice of verbs can have a big impact here: students in PWR learnexploresolve, and discover (in addition to the actions traditionally associated with writing courses, e.g. readwriteinterpretanalyze). Consider using second person to directly address your readers.
  • focus on student writing. It should be clear from the description that the focus of student learning is writing, speaking, and research (and not the "content" or theme).
  • Real world connections and examples.  Help students see how the theme and focus of the course relate to their own lives, experience, and the world they live in. Use concrete examples when possible, rather than abstractions.
  • Specific but limited references to course readings (if any). Our student focus group members did not find much benefit in lists of readings of authors they had never heard of. Instead, they were much more interested in hearing about the texts and examples they'd engage with in the course that had more relevance in their lives, that resonated with their experience in the world, and that they may have heard of before.  
  • A list of sample research topics.  These examples help students imagine the work they might do in the course and also reinforce the fact that PWR is valuable for all majors.  Include this list these on a final line underneath the opening paragraphs of the description (see the template).
  • An outline of the major assignments (including word counts for PWR 1 and word and minute counts for PWR 2), describing the rationale and goals of each assignment, and providing a sample topic that students might use to fulfill the assignment.  If you are writing a description for PWR 1 or PWR 2, use the PWR 1 and PWR 2 templates for the required assignment titles and lengths for each assignment.  
  • Approximately 3500 characters of writing. The title of the course must be no more than 100 characters (including spaces).  

Course Description Templates for PWR 1 and PWR 2

We use templates for our course descriptions in PWR 1 and PWR 2 to help maintain consistency in assignment titles, design, and lengths as well as work load across sections.  The templates balance pre-established scaffolding (assignment titles and requirements) with opportunities for customization according to the instructor's interests and pedagogical style.  Follow the templates linked here to provide the foundation for your own PWR 1 or PWR 2 course description.  Please note that you cannot change assignment lengths or assignment names. 

Examples of Course Descriptions

To see examples of course descriptions, you can view section descriptions and videos for the current PWR 1 and PWR 2 courses through the PWR Courses site.  Descriptions and videos for Advanced PWR courses can be found linked from our Advanced PWR page.