How Do I Create an Effective Syllabus?

Prepared by Allison Boye                                                                             See the PDF version


The syllabus is typically your students’ first real introduction to your course, greeting them with the pertinent details regarding what to expect from the course, and what the course might expect from them. It can set the tone for the entire semester, and as Jennifer Sinor and Matt Kaplan (2010) note, it is one of the few “formal, tangible links between you and your student.” It can and perhaps should be more than just a sheet of paper listing the basic course information, and is therefore the perfect opportunity for you to prepare your students adequately and set the stage for success! In the sections that follow, this paper will offer some of the primary goals and functions of a syllabus as well as some suggestions for elements that you might include.

Goals and Functions

A syllabus indeed fulfills many functions in a course, and those functions can vary depending on the desires and personality of the instructor designing it. Here are just a few of the most common and useful functions:

What to Include: Required or Strongly Recommended Components

Syllabi will certainly vary among disciplines and courses, so you should strive to tailor your syllabus to meet the specific needs of your course, students, and field.  Nevertheless, here are some elements that most syllabi include, including some that are required by the university. Those elements mandated by the university are noted as such in the table located below the following sections.

Writing Effective Learning Outcome Statements

Learning outcomes have 3 major defining characteristics:

  • They specify an action by the students that is observable.
  • They specify an action by the students that is measurable.
  • They specify an action that is done by the students (rather than by the faculty member).

Effective learning outcome statements also:

  • Use concrete, action verbs. (For good examples of action verbs, take a look at this webpage from Eastern New Mexico University.)
  • Are specific to the course.
  • Focus on the end, not the means.
  • Are student-centered.
  • Are assessable.

* Try starting your learning outcomes statements with the phrase, “The student will…