Voice and Tone Checklist for Your Online Course

Each page in your online course and every piece of content you create for your students is a chance for you to set the tone and climate, support discourse, and communicate your expectations. These pages and pieces of content represent “you” to your students, and they will look to these pages to help keep them engaged and encouraged. 

Use checklist as you craft and update policies, messages, content, and feedback within your courses.

Consider Audience

No matter what you are writing, all authors need to understand their audience so that their tone, approach, and information meet the audience’s overall experiences and needs. Is it a freshman group that probably has many members who are new to an online course, or an upper-level body that no doubt has veteran online students? Is this a required course or an elective? Is this their first course in the subject area or have they probably taken others? The more you know about your class will help you adjust specificity, instructions, and the level of formality.

Be Inclusive

Look for opportunities to be inclusive in your language. Avoid binaries like black/white, male/female, gay/straight, and try to use gender-neutral phrases like “Dear Students” or “Good Morning Folks.” As you craft individual messages to students, be cognizant of the use of pronouns. Use a variety of names and people in examples and assessments, and avoid using too many American idioms as not all students will understand the nuances of these phrases.

Use Workforce-Relevant Language

Frequently point to how the content or context of the course will be relevant to students post graduation. Framing the course within a workplace context can help increase buy-in from students. For strategies on how to do this, review our on-demand webinar “Mirroring Professional Experiences in Your Courses.”

Reference Support Services

Throughout the course, remind students where they can find help and resources. Students should be frequently reminded of their access to help–this message shouldn’t be limited to the beginning of the course or hiding within course policies. Reference many different support services where you can including advising, counseling, financial aid, Veteran’s services, ally groups, tutoring, and writing labs. 

Alongside those references to resources, always provide contact information. Providing an office location may not be practical for online students, so be sure to include phone numbers, websites, and email addresses where relevant. 

Advocate for Students

No matter what you are communicating to students, let them know that you are excited about their learning and progress in this course. You are their biggest advocate and ally at the university, and your support is vital to their success.

Encourage a “growth mindset” in your online students in your course and communications. Frame challenges as opportunities and encourage them throughout the learning process without focusing too much on the result. Encourage your students to reflect on their progress with frequent reflection questions and opportunities and remain present and proactive with them!

Armed with this checklist, always read through posts and content one more time before making it available for students. Help your written world last the lifetime of your course!