Create an effective syllabus

A syllabus can be more than just a list of lecture topics and assignment due dates. Done thoughtfully, it explains the student learning outcomes for the course, demonstrates your enthusiasm for teaching, and expresses your confidence in students. According to Slattery (2005), a syllabus is considered to be high quality if it contains several sections in addition to course facts:

Motivational aspects

  • The tone indicates that you believe students can produce quality work
  • Is expressly inclusive toward groups traditionally underrepresented

Structural aspects

  • Includes student learning outcomes for the course
  • Includes a transparent content structure (class schedule) and assessment schedule
  • Indicates how each assignment relates to learning outcomes
  • Includes clear grading guidelines
  • Is complete enough to allow students to manage their time

Evidentiary aspects

  • Reflects the instructor’s teaching philosophy (emphasizes service learning, or mentoring, or problem-solving practice, or effective group skills for instance).
  • Is complete enough to act as a “contract” outlining student and and teacher responsibilities.
  • Can include information about course and curriculum outcomes and objectives needed for university accreditation

Other helpful items to include

  • Includes an explanation of how assignments/tasks are connected to the outcomes.  A “graphic syllabus” can be particularly helpful to show students the connections.
  • A statement regarding academic honesty and a link to the formal policy or quiz about it.
  • A statement welcoming students who have disabilities and feel they need accommodations to succeed in your course to get such a formal request for accommodation through the Disabilities Services Center.
  • If students are going to be partly assessed by their participation, a definition of what “participation” means and the criteria on which it will be assessed.

A more extensive list of items and samples follow.

These resources by the University of Virginia contain a flexible syllabus evaluation rubric and several annotated syllabi, pointing out aspects that are positive or could be improved.

This tool by Vanderbilt University provides sample statements you can use to address academic honesty, the value of student diversity, student privacy, LGBTQ students, and more.

There are a number of standard “basics” that are helpful to include in a syllabus. An exhaustive list is here – you will likely need many:

Course Details:

Course name & number
Current quarter
class time(s) and day(s)
classroom location
number of units
any required prerequisites
course website URL
Any other important URLs (online homework, discussion boards, clicker registration)

Instructor Details:

instructor’s name
instructor’s email
office hours
office location

TA’s name
TA’s email
office hours
office location
office phone number (if desired)

Course Philosophy Statements

course description
student learning outcomes
ADA Compliance Statement (Americans with Disabilities Act)
Code of academic dishonesty


Required Supplies

required books and readings
recommended books and readings
required supplies (lab notebook, clicker, index cards, etc.)
access to a printer
Digital learning policies (appropriate document formats, Turnitin, access to internet for videos)

Student Resources

Transfer Student Services
Center for Excellence in Writing & Communication
Program in Academic English
Counseling Center





Course Contract

grading scale
detailed schedule of course topics
Assignments & due dates, including final exam
Definition of “student participation”
When students can expect back their graded work
Attendance policy
Email policy (including how you wish to be addressed)
Grading/re-grading policy
Extra credit policy
Late policy
Technology policy (phones and laptops in class)

The following Sample Syllabus Template can help you with how to word policies, etc.

The Division of Teaching Excellence and Innovation is available for free one-on-one consultations about how to create effective syllabi and other documentation of your teaching. We also offer:

  • Regular workshops on a variety of pedagogical topics
  • Workshops personalized for departments or units to maximize discipline-specific teaching
  • A selection of curated online resources on teaching and learning

Contact us at to schedule a meeting or get more information.

Additional references:

Appleby, D. C. (1999). How to improve your teaching with the course syllabus. Lessons learned: Practical advice for the teaching of psychology, 1, 19-24. Link.

Slattery, J. M., & Carlson, J. F. (2005). Preparing an effective syllabus: Current best practices. College Teaching, 53(4), 159-164.

Other online resources:

DIY Syllabus by Kevin Gannon (Vitae, 2016)