Writing for Online Courses – How is it Different?

You are the expert in your chosen area, and love to teach others. How do you share the knowledge with others to enable synthesis and use, or sharing with others? How do you do this in the online environment? Whether you’re transitioning a face-to-face course to an online course or creating a completely new online course, writing is what draws in the student as participant instead of passive viewing.

Diverse student

“As subject specialists they are usually primarily concerned with course content and, therefore, often overlook the ways in which writing and textual practices more generally are central to the process of learning.” –  Mary R. Lea

Here are 4 things to remember when writing for an online course:

1. Use a welcoming tone

A. As the participant opens the course one should see a welcome message with information about what the course is, instructor introduction and course overview.

B. In course announcements, or weekly emails, offer a warm tone and reiterate ways the participant can ask for clarification (open office door feel.)

C. Use italic, or bold for emphasis, but not both at once. Avoid using all capitals for words as it comes across as a SCREAM in online text reading.

2. Chunk information

A. Instead of an hour long slideshow or written lecture, break it into three or four  15-20 min. videos, narrated or written slides.

B. Avoid paragraphs of content on your pages in your online course. Instead, use headers, summaries and content items for different types of information.

3. Consistent tense

A. Proofread your course content to ensure consistent tense use throughout modules, pdf’s, and assignment instructions.

B. Use present tense in  course design and search for and eliminate all occurences of the word ‘will.’

4. Be concise

A. State what a student needs to do in modules, assignment instruction and discussion board interactions in a concise, first person manner.

B. Include a weekly or module checklist of tasks for student expectations of items to be completed. In online courses information can be in various places in the course and this ensures tasks aren’t missed for the student.

Think of your online course design and student communication as you would in a face to face class, where you give the student different ways to show content understanding, and ensure it is included in your online course design.

Then, enjoy the online teaching experience and your students!


Written by: Kelley E.B. Senkowski, Online Design Consultant


Mary R. Lea (2004) Academic literacies: a pedagogy for course design, Studies in Higher Education, 29:6, 739-756, DOI: 10.1080/0307507042000287230


Simon, M, (2018) 6 Tech Writing Tips for Instructional Designers   https://elearningindustry.com/writing-tips-for-instructional-designers-6-tech

4 thoughts on “Writing for Online Courses – How is it Different?

  1. Tracy I know this is a lot of work setting up all of these modules, but I do not always end at a whole section which means I have to navigate back to where I left off. Can a bookmark of some type be added?


  2. Dave, you can use the link option in the editor box on a page and it back to the page in the module where it left off to keep going.

    Hope that helps.


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