Guide to Syllabus Design


Instructors devote an enormous amount of time and energy to planning their courses, but they may not always think as much about how they communicate those thoughtful plans through their syllabi. Many of us follow the syllabus conventions of our departments or fields, and, increasingly, respond to administrative calls to include specific policies or information. Although it may seem counterintuitive, research indicates that the instructor is viewed more favorably by students when the syllabus is more detailed (Saville et al., 2010). So, which details should you include and how should you present them?

Though there is no one right way to write a syllabus, research on syllabus design suggests that:

  • The syllabus is one of the first ways you establish a relationship with your students and should reflect your ethos as a teacher and scholar. 
  • A welcoming syllabus can play an important role in creating an inclusive learning environment. 
  • Being explicit about what students most need to know about the class will help all students succeed, and it will help the least privileged students in your class the most.