Syllabus Writing Guide

pieces-of-the-puzzle-592820_640Section 1: What is the philosophy behind or importance of having an intentional, well-written syllabus that accurately reflects the instructor and the course?

Section 2: Required components of the syllabus (Syllabus Checklist from the UAF Faculty Senate Curriculum Committee)

Section 3: Other necessary or suggested components of the syllabus

Section 4: Hot tips from current TAs

Section 1: What is the philosophy behind or importance of having an intentional,well-written syllabus that accurately reflects the instructor and the course?

The syllabus is the framework for the course itself. It informs the trajectory of student learning and the objectives of the course. It also keeps the students on track, providing them with expectations, explanations, and a schedule. It demands that the instructor be able to articulate their own pedagogy regarding composition, which, though constantly in development, is something we as TAs should be aware of and passionate about.

A thorough, well thought out syllabus is a service to you and your students. It allows the students to understand you, the course, and your expectations. It is a primary mode of communication between you and the students. The syllabus is also a contract. If you have a well-written syllabus, you can avoid conflicts and miscommunications with students later. The syllabus is also a chance for you to be creative and show a bit of your personality and style to your students.

Be aware that this is a how-to guide with some pragmatic tips as suggestions to help you get started, but not the sole way to write a syllabus.

When designing your own syllabus, use the resources on this page and others, including the University guidelines for syllabi, the English Department guidelines for syllabi, and the University Writing Program Guide Book.

Also, though only the advice and reflections of graduate TAs are featured on this page, this discussion could and should continue between all teachers (faculty) of this course as well as its students. We should all be constantly working to improve our teaching practices and syllabi to reflect current practices and tenets of our program.

Section 2: Required components of the syllabus (Syllabus Checklist from the UAF Faculty Senate Curriculum Committee)

The University requires certain aspects to every instructor’s syllabus. These guidelines are available online at:

Section 3: Other necessary or suggested components of the syllabus

● Policy on electronics (cell phones, laptops, IPods, etc)

● Statement on respect in the classroom (creating a safe space)

● Policy on late work (whether you accept it or not, how much you take off each day it is late, etc)

● Extra credit opportunities

● Questions to consider (regarding your course topic or theme, composition in general,etc)

● Helpful campus resources (location and contact information for places like the Writing Center, the Counseling Center, etc)

● Information about yourself/your teaching style

● Expectations regarding Blackboard, class website, or blog

● Expectations regarding email communication and response time

● Expectations regarding submitted work (For example: all essay should be in standard MLA format, etc)

● How much each component of the course will be worth in the final grade percentage (grade breakdown)

● Relevant pictures, graphics, or quotes

Section 4: Hot tips from TAs

● “When planning the course calendar, have a general idea of the four units you will do, but you don’t have to give your students a schedule past the first unit, especially on the first day of class. Allow yourself to construct your course calendar and schedule as the semester goes on, because it is bound to change.’ —Sarah Jane Holsteen

● “In the same vein as Sarah Jane’s comment, I would recommend you don’t give your students the syllabus on the first day of class, but on the second day of class. Use the first day to introduce yourself. Get to know them and help them get to know each other.’ —Caitlin Scarano

● “Reflect your personality in your syllabus. Make it aesthetically pleasing so the students will keep it.’ -John Messick

● “In regards to a grading policy: ‘If ifs and buts were candies and nuts, we’d all have a Merry Christmas.’’ -Quentin Overton

● “My suggestion would be just to leave lots of room for alterations, in the grading policy and the schedule and basically everything. Since the first semester’s all about figuring out how you want to do things, be careful not to write yourself into a corner. Also, throw in a cartoon or something, just because.’ -Emily Klotz

● “I have the opposite advice than everyone else: plan in great detail ahead of time, but put a clause which allows you to deviate slightly from plan. Leave enough wiggle room for yourself but not enough so that students have no idea what to expect. And always have a clear late work policy: if you give them an inch, they take a mile, but not before giving your authority a swift kick in the shin.’ -Heather Stewart

● “The syllabi is essentially a road-map for your class. Stick to it as much as possible, but as the brilliant and insightful Yogi Berra once said, ‘If there’s a fork in the road, take it.’’ -Ryan Ragan

● “Spend a lot of time the first day of class going over every important detail of your syllabus with your students because (as much as we don’t like to think it) some of them might not read it on their own.’ -Josh Fish

● “The first day I told my students the syllabus is a document that explains how to get an A in this class. Be explicit. I foolishly thought I would just not include a late paper policy or a cell phone policy because I didn’t want to be that kind of instructor, but it was pretty clear a month into the semester that I had to add those components despite my initial inclination not to. If you don’t outline expectations they will assume, and it’s infinitely more difficult to tighten the reigns mid semester than to loosen and let a policy or expectation fall to the wayside.’ -Jennifer Popa

● “Don’t be afraid to throw out your syllabus at any point during the semester if it isn’t working. Radically reorienting the class direction can be generative.” -Charles Frost


Leave a comment