Writing a Syllabus

Writing a Good Syllabus

A high-quality syllabus is a critical component of any course. In fact, the quality of the syllabus often correlates directly with the quality of the course itself.  Therefore, instructors should take the time to develop a syllabus that effectively conveys all the necessary information related to the course.  The purpose of the syllabus is to serve as a communication tool that acts a permanent record of course information and also serves a contract between the instructor and student.  An effective syllabus describes not only what students can expect to learn and how they can expect to learn it, but also what the instructor expects from the students.

A good syllabus should follow a logical flow of information for the students, starting with the big picture and working down to the details.  The syllabus should begin with basic course information regarding title, number, credit hours, instructor information, prerequisites and so forth.  Next, the syllabus should set up the content of the course by providing the course description and the learning objectives. Information regarding the format of the course should follow, describing how the content will be delivered and what materials the students may need to be successful. The students should also be provided detailed information regarding any course policies, in particular in relation to attendance and participation. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the syllabus should contain very clear information regarding the assessment and evaluation methods that will be used in the course.  A schedule for the semester is also suggested.  The following table can be used in as a guideline in creating a good syllabus that can serve as a useful tool for the both the instructor and the students.

The Components of a Syllabus

General Course Information

Course title and number, semester and year, number of credits, meeting times and location, prerequisites and corequisites.

Instructor Information

Name, office location, office hours, contact information.

 

Course Description or Purpose

Includes the catalog description and the course goals.  Course goals are broad, general statements that should provide a practical purpose for the course.

Course Objectives

Outline what the students can expect to learn and should be specific and measurable. Follow the ABCD method when writing objectives: Audience, Behavior, Condition and Degree.   Example: Students (audience) should be to demonstrate their knowledge of public health (behavior) in a PowerPoint presentation to the class (condition) by following the rubric provided to them (degree).

Course Format and Organization

Describes the format(s) in which the content will be covered.  Examples would include lectures, guest lectures, group presentations, class activities, etc.

Materials Required

States the textbook and any other materials that may be required for the course.

 

Course Requirements and Time Schedule

Lays out the requirements for the course and tells the students what they will be expected to do including activities such as exams, assignments, projects, papers, presentations and other activities.  The nature and format of these assignments should be detailed here.  This section should also include information regarding attendance and participation policies.

Assessment and Evaluation

Provides students with specific details regarding how they will be assessed and evaluated.  Students should be given a clear breakdown of the grading components and explanation of grading policies including topics such as extra credit options, dropping a lowest grade, curves, weighted grades, the grading scale, and how often grades will be posted (when should they expect to receive feedback).

Technical, Classroom or College Policy Information

 This final section should include all policies that students are expected to adhere to for the course.  These may include policies relating to academic integrity, student conduct, special needs, syllabus amendments, use of calculator/translators and other technological devices and so forth.

 

 

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Resource Links

Syllabus Example for Traditional Classroom Course - See this syllabus for an example of how the necessary components of a syllabus can be put together.

Video:  Writing Better Syllabus - View this video for basic information regarding the purpose and importance of the syllabus and for tips on how to write an effective syllabus. 

Purposes of a Syllabus - Before starting to write a syllabus, it is important to understand that the syllabus serves several important purposes.  Follow this link for more information about how the syllabus can be used and why a well-organized syllabus is important to the course. 

Best Practices in Syllabus Writing - For a comprehensive set of tips/best practices in writing an effective syllabus, follow this link. 

Suggested Readings

  • Altman, H. B., & Cashin, W. E. (2003, May). Writing a syllabus
  • Davis, B. G. (1993). Tools for teaching. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. 
  • Eberly, M. B., Newton, S. E., & Wiggins, R. (2001). The syllabus as a tool for student-centered learning. Journal of General Education 50 (1), 56-74.
  • Grunert, J. (1997). The course syllabus: A learning-centered approach. Bolton, MA: Anker.
  • Parkes, J., & Harris, M. B. (2002). The purposes of a syllabus. College Teaching, 50 (2), 55-61.
  • Woolcock, M. J. V. (2003, May). Constructing a syllabus.

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