Writing a Syllabus

Your syllabus gives students a first impression about what to expect from your course and fosters their curiosity and interest. A comprehensive syllabus helps you to structure and articulate your course expectations in support of student learning.

An effective course syllabus fulfills several important functions. In particular, it:

  • 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.

Getting Started with Writing a Syllabus

  • Check how your course contributes to your department, program, or graduate field curriculum and learning outcomes. Certain programs may have requirements set by their accrediting organizations (e.g. ABET in Engineering).
  • Review syllabi for the same course from previous instructors. Consider meeting with them to discuss how they have taught the course in the past, what has gone well, and what has been challenging for students to learn.
  • Find out which students typically enroll in this course (year, major) and how many?
  • Search online for sample syllabi for the same or similar courses created by colleagues at other universities. Some disciplinary societies provide online resources for common subjects in introductory courses.
  • This Course Decision Guide can guide you in the process of designing your course.

Syllabus Template Resource

  • Consult our Canvas resource: Create a Student-Centered Syllabus to review some recommended best practices for syllabus construction. 
  • From the Canvas site, you can import a syllabus template into your own Canvas course or download a Google Doc to customize when constructing your own syllabus. 
  • Feel free to reuse or adapt the sample statements in the template, i.e. texts to explain office hours, academic integrity, inclusivity statements, disability accommodations, etc. 
  • For disability accommodations, Student Disability Services offers sample syllabus statement language you can use
  • This template is not required at Cornell, but it provides links to many other campus resources and guidelines.