Syllabus Design


Consider how to draw students into not only your subject, the class, but the syllabus document itself. What is this course really about? Why is what they will learn important? Even for a course that is part of a well-defined major or minor program, we can’t always assume that students understand why a course is required. The opening section of a syllabus is one good place to start this conversation. How can you convey your enthusiasm for the course content and for student learning? Review the tone and energy of your syllabus. Consider the ratio of “students can do” to “students cannot do” statements. Are there choices that students can make about the types of assignments they complete? Choice and autonomy are highly motivating. How might you build in some flexibility to the nature or timing of projects?

The promising syllabus framework described by Ken Bain (the author of What the Best College Teachers Do) addresses(a) what students will learn (as opposed to what the instructor will teach), (b) how they will get there, and (c) shared expectations of what success looks like. To learn more, visit:



  • Title, department, and number of the course
  • Instructor information: name, office location, contact information, office hour
  • Statement of course objectives 
  • Prerequisites to (if any) and requirements of the course
  • Required texts and/or supplies
  • An explanation of the policy relative to student absences
  • The basis for grading
  • Date and time of final examination

How accessible is your syllabus? eLearning and Emerging Technologies provides guidance on using features built in to Microsoft Word to create an accessible syllabus, one that is screen reader friendly and viewable by learners with low vision. 

For guidance in writing student learning objectives:

For sample statements that can be added to a syllabus to direct students to campus resources and clarify policies:




The Promising Syllabus, Ken Bain

A refreshing concept, Bain outlines and provides examples of syllabi designed with a positive, rather than a punitive framework 

Guidelines for Gender-Fair Language 

Your syllabus is a great place to model inclusivity. Language is a powerful tool - use it wisely in your written materials as well as in your dialogue with students.

Tempering the Syllabus: From Contract to Invitation, Map, and Guide

A Scholarly Teacher blog post that addresses the purpose and tone of the syllabus.



The Graphic Syllabus and the Outcomes Map by Linda Nilson, 2007

The Course Syllabus: A Learner-Centered Approach by Judith Grunert, 1997

Blueprint for Learning: Constructing College Courses to Facilitate, Assess, and Document Learning by Laurie Richlin, 2006





Page last modified June 14, 2018