Creating Your Syllabus

The syllabus presents students with a first impression of your course. It offers many opportunities to share what the learning experience in your course will be like—both explicitly, with the information that you choose to include, and implicitly, with the tone that you set.

Georgetown Professor Marcia Chatelain on putting together an effective syllabus.

Think about how the syllabus functions in your teaching. Which of these roles does your syllabus play in your courses? Is there a new function for your syllabus that you might want to try with your next course?

The syllabus can be:

  • a clearinghouse of logistical information
  • a teaser for the content of the course
  • a manifestation of your course design
  • an invitation to students to join you on an intellectual journey
  • an opportunity to demonstrate your commitment to creating an inclusive educational environment for all students
  • a contract with students outlining expectations and consequences
  • a reflection of your teaching philosophy
  • an explanation of how to be a successful student in the course
  • a representation of university- or program-level policies and approaches
  • a roadmap of the course
  • a way to scaffold students throughout the course
  • a guidepost to orient your course within the larger field of study
  • a resource for students who want to explore the topic further

What should a carefully crafted syllabus contain? This checklist offers a reminder of key elements as well as some ideas for optional items you may want to include.

Key elements

Optional elements

Georgetown Professor Betsy Sigman on syllabus necessities.

Ask yourself

Does your syllabus make sense to someone who is unfamiliar with your course material? Ask a friend or colleague, ideally someone outside your department, to review your syllabus and identify any points of confusion.

What tone does your syllabus set for the course? Positive? Punitive? Warm? Impersonal? The syllabus may well be your students' first impression of the course—what impression are they getting?

What does your syllabus do to create an inclusive environment for students of all backgrounds and identities? You can find resources and ideas for inclusive language on our Policies page, or this Inclusive Syllabus Language page from the University of Michigan, or this University of Maryland page on being welcoming around gender identity.

Sample Georgetown Syllabi

Additional resources

  • Stanford Teaching Commons: Creating a Syllabus
  • ProfHacker Creative Approaches to the Syllabus: This blog post from the Chronicle of Higher Education’s ProfHacker blog offers some inspiring examples of visually intriguing syllabi.
  • The Open Syllabus Project, which lists the texts most commonly found on syllabi around the world, and can be filtered by subject, geographical area, and institution.

Please reach out to us at if you'd like to have a conversation with someone at CNDLS about these or other teaching issues.