Writing a Syllabus

An effective course syllabus should be considered a contract between the instructor and students in which the goals and expectations for the course are clearly articulated.

Why Write a Syllabus?

  • Sets the tone for the course.
  • Communicates what, when, and how students will learn.
  • Clarifies for students what they need to do in order to be successful.
  • Communicates expectations in terms of student responsibilities.
  • Avoids misunderstandings about course policies.

Considerations for Writing a Syllabus

  • Review the course description established by your department or syllabi of the same course from previous instructors.
  • Check online for sample syllabi of the same or similar courses from colleagues at other universities.
  • Consider questions students may have about the course (Davis, 2009).

Getting Started with Writing a Syllabus


Davis, B. G. (2009). Tools for teaching (2nd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Fink, L. D. (2003). Creating significant learning experiences: An integrated approach to designing college courses. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Hara, B. (2010). Graphic display of student learning objectives. The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from http://chronicle.com/blogs/profhacker/graphic-display-of-student-learning-objectives/27863.

Nilson, L. B. (2010). Teaching at its best: A research-based resource for college instructors (3rd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

O'Brien, J. G., Millis, B. J., & Cohen, M. W. (2008). The course syllabus: A learning-centered approach. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.