Syllabus Functions

When designing your syllabus, keep in mind the following functions:

The Syllabus as Communication Tool

Use the syllabus to communicate information students need to know about the class. 

Some things to include:

  • your name and contact information
  • if important to you, mention your title preference: Mr./Ms./Mrs., Dr., or first name
  • consider indicating preferred gender pronouns or a guide to pronouncing your name
  • names and contact information for course teaching assistants
  • course name, number, and section
  • time and location of lectures, sections, and office hours
  • required and optional texts: also note where they can be found (e.g. library reserves, online, etc.)
  • any prerequisites required to take the course
  • any other particularly important information

The Syllabus as a Cognitive Map

Use your syllabus to put your course into a broader academic context:

  • explain how this course builds on what students have learned in prior classes
  • consider a visual or graphic representation of where your course fits into the big picture
  • outline expected learning outcomes: learning outcomes are what students should know, be able to do, or value as a result of taking your course
  • mention any practical skills that students will be able to apply in their careers after the course

The Syllabus as a Guide to Expectations

Treat your syllabus as an agreement between you and the students, in which you outline your promises and expectations. Discuss your policies for the class.

These might include:

  • work expectations, academic integrity, and technology use statements
  • classroom expectations for participation and attendance
  • detailed information on how graded assignments or activities will be evaluated
  • policies for late assignments, extensions, and make-ups
  • grading policies and appeals
  • accessibility, accommodation and inclusion statements
  • Course Media & Student Work (FERPA)

The Syllabus as a Plan of Action

Present a timeline for lectures and assignments to help students plan their semester.

  • highlight guest speakers or special events of interest
  • list required and optional weekly readings
  • include assignment due dates
  • include exam and review session dates

A Note on Tone

Students can glean your intent, seriousness, and personality from the tone and style of the syllabus. Decide what kind of impression you want to convey.

  • tell students why the course matters to you, and make an argument for why it should matter to them
  • share information about yourself such as your educational and professional background and/or your teaching philosophy
  • express willingness to work with struggling students
  • provide information about campus services that support students with their studies
  • reflect on the overall tone of your writing (e.g. is it encouraging or punitive?)

How to Motivate Students to Refer to the Syllabus

  • introduce the syllabus in class as a learning activity: ask students to quiz each other, or use a classroom polling technology (i.e. iClickers, Poll Everywhere)

  • ask students to contribute to the syllabus: have them review it in class and make suggestions for changes; consider leaving some class topics or readings open to student suggestion or ask students to vote on various assignments, grading options or deadlines
  • print important class materials on different colored paper to make them easier for students to find