Creating a Syllabus

Once you've established what you want to teach your students and how you want to teach it, you can begin to consider the best methods of creating a comprehensive and reliable syllabus. A syllabus acts as a contract between the instructor and each student that says, "I agree to do this and I require you to agree to do that if you remain in this course" (Gross Davis 2009). Consider making your syllabus available on Canvas even if you are intending on providing paper copies. Some essential points of your syllabus should include:

  • Basic course information. Is there an overview you'd like to provide to your students? You have decided for yourself what the main learning objectives are, would this be helpful to show your students?
  • Instructor information. How can your students contact you? When are your office hours and where are they? Are you available via Zoom?
  • Course requirements. Do you have any attendance policies? What is the role of technology in the classroom? How are students expected to conduct themselves in the classroom? What constitutes academic integrity in your course? 
  • Required and optional course materials. What materials did you select during your course planning? Are there any that you want your students to have access to that will not be taught directly in the course? Are there any tools or technology that your students will need to succeed in your course (ex. computers, iClickers, lab equipment, etc.)? If your course is online, are there any additional programs your students will need to download?
  • Grade distribution and assessment techniques. Will your course have a grading curve? Do you offer extra credit? What modes of assessment will they be required to complete and how will that affect their grade? Will their attendance affect their grade? If you are personally grading assessments, how will you be grading them? Do you have any rubrics or overviews you'd like to include at this stage?
  • The university's academic calendar in combination with your personal calendar. Do you have any conferences coming up requiring your absence? Perhaps a religious holiday is not included in the academic calendar, is this a class you'd like your students to be excused from?
  • Campus resources. Do you want to include Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD) and their contact information? Do you want to include the contact information for mental and physical health resources? Do you want to include contact information for the Writing Center?
  • Warm Tone. Some researchers have noticed that a "warm" syllabus with welcoming language is more likely to engage the students and make the instructor more approachable (Harnish and Bridges 2011). After writing down the information of your course, revisit your syllabus to ensure the tone of your syllabus welcomes your students to both learning and asking questions.

Refer to Teaching@UNL's course design and syllabus guide for syllabus elements and sample text. The Chronicle of Higher Education's advice guide is an excellent resource to expand on the previous points. The University of Saskatchewan's syllabus video and California State University Northridge's syllabus video can also help conceptualize how to build your syllabus.


Gross Davis, Barbara (2009). The Course Syllabus Tools for Teaching, 2, 21-36.


Harnisch, Richard J. and Bridges, K. Robert (2011). "Effect of Syllabus Tone: Students' Perceptions of Instructor and Course.Social Psychology, 14, 319-330.