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Writing a Course Description for the Bulletin

The Columbia College Bulletin is the official publication articulating the degree requirements for a Bachelor of Arts degree from Columbia College and detailing the various programs of study by which a student can fulfill these requirements. Course descriptions submitted by academic departments or programs for the Columbia College Bulletin feed into the School of General Studies Bulletin, since students in both schools fulfill department or program major requirements in the same way. Course descriptions also feed into the course listing in the online Directory of Courses and Vergil, which students use when constructing their semester schedules.

Your course description, then, is the most immediate way to promote your course and to elicit the interest of undergraduate students. It may therefore be useful to have the following points in mind as you compose your course description:

  1. Since you are writing for undergraduate students, it is best to assume that these students have no previous background in the subject of your course, unless you have clearly indicated specific prerequisites. So the course description should be comprehensible to an intelligent but inexpert young person.

  2. For a course description that is useful in contexts like the Bulletin and Vergil, it is best to be more concise than you may be in a full course description on your syllabus. Students will want to know the goals of the class (e.g., major themes, questions and problems to be addressed) and will be interested to know some specifics of how those goals will be achieved (e.g., major authors, texts, movements, eras, discoveries, phenomena to be studied). Aim for a single but meaty paragraph.

  3. If you are hoping to attract students who do not already have some familiarity with the topic of your course, then a list of texts by itself — with no further context about the larger point of studying those texts — may not be sufficient. Think about why your topic could, would, and should be interesting to people outside of your field, and try to encapsulate those ideas in your course description.

A course description, then, is a particular genre that is more akin to an advertisement than to a professional abstract. The goal of the course description is to entice students into your classroom, where you can then fulfill the primary goal of educating them.