5. The written word

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I recently did a consultation session with a woman who wanted to launch an online course. We ran through structure and marketing and lots of other things and then she said: but how do you actually write the content?

As a writer, I don’t find that part hard but I appreciate that for others, it can feel quite daunting. So here are my quick tips for copywriting…

  1. Keep the copy simple – again, you need to go back to basics; assume your course participants know nothing or very little about this subject. Don’t worry about being patronising; if there’s info in there they already know, they can skim over it. Avoid all jargon and write acronyms out in full, in case they’re not familiar with what they stand for.
  2. Paragraphs should be short – when writing for online, as you are with your online course, paragraphs should be around three/four lines. It can be hard reading a screen so breaking the text up into short paragraphs will help in terms of focus.
  3. Does asking questions help? – yes, it does. It changes the tone and encourages them to access a different part of their brain. Digesting information is different to conjuring information. When you ask a question, you’re getting them to do the latter.
  4. Draft. Edit. Draft. Edit. – once you have your modules down, decide on the topics. Make some bullet points about what to include. Write it up, put it in situ. And then read and re-read. Add to it. Take unnecessary bits out. Avoid repetition. Edit until it’s just right.
  5. Proofread. Proofread. Proofread. – I can’t tell you how many people submit copy with errors. Probably 90% of the writing I’m sent has typos, spelling mistakes and grammatical errors. Some of the most common ones are:
  • Capitalisation where there shouldn’t be. Job titles are lower case, always. So is ‘mums’, unless referring to your own mum and and talking about Mum’s special dish, for example.
  • Apostrophes. See above: Mum’s. This is because the special dish belongs to Mum. When referring to a group of mums – there is no apostrophe. Unless referring to something that belongs to them collectively like: mums’ ability to use apostrophes correctly.
  • Spacing. It amazes me how often people accidentally add  extra spaces. (That was intentional; I’m making a point). It looks unprofessional. And if you were taught that there should be two spaces after a full stop, that is no longer the rule. Just one is fine.
  • Exclamation marks where they aren’t needed. In my opinion, unless you’re texting your mum/friend with really exciting news, you don’t ever need to use exclamation marks. Your words are exciting enough; just stick to them.
  • Emojis should also never enter your copy. When would you ever see a winking emoji face in a newspaper article? Never. So don’t pop them into your online course. It lowers the tone and makes it seem childish. Yes, same goes for <3

So now that you have the copywriting rules down, the best advice I can give you, in terms of writing your course, is to just get started. Decide on the module/topic structure, with a few notes about each, and then get going.

But don’t keep going. And going. Only put in what is absolutely relevant. In terms of word count, I’d say each module should be between 1000 and 3000 words. They can vary, from module-to-module, but less than 1000 words probably isn’t enough and over 3000 might be too much.

And remember you’ll be breaking it up into topics. I tend to think that shorter topics work well, as they’ll be more digestible. This topic, in case you’re interested, has 603 words.


Some courses have downloadable worksheets, like the one I included at the beginning of this module, to help you plan out your work schedule. I thought it might be helpful for people to print this off and stick it above their desk, which is why I chose that format rather than simply including the information in the course.

You might like to include a downloadable worksheet that the course participant can print off to journal in, or fill out exercise answers.