Syllabus Design

A course syllabus is a common reference point for you and your students; it sets the stage for learning. It also establishes the nature and tone of your class. A well-written syllabus should help students understand what they need to do to be successful in your course and should deter any misunderstandings. The following tips can assist you in designing an effective syllabus.

  • A course syllabus, handed out on the first day of class, should give students a sense of what the course will cover, what work is expected of them, and of how their performance will be evaluated. It helps students form an initial impression of the course and also of the instructor.
  • A well-crafted syllabus demonstrates that you care about students’ learning. It is road map, a reference for both the instructor and student, in case problems or questions arise later in the semester.
  • When writing your syllabus, use a learner-centered approach. A learner-centered syllabus puts the students and their learning at the forefront.
  • The syllabus establishes not only the purpose of your course, but also the tone. The tone of your syllabus can affect the learner.  Use “warm” language as students often perceive the instructor as more approachable when warm language is used.
Examples of cold language syllabus phrases and warm language syllabus phrases
Cold Language Warm Language

Come prepared to participate.

I hope you actively participate because X, Y, and Z.

You must complete makeup work to earn credit.

Feel free to complete makeup work to earn credit.

You are allowed to ...

You are welcome to ... 


Mindset and Communication Through the Syllabus


Instructor mindset is conveyed through the class syllabus and other communication. Learn how you can identify what mindset your syllabus is conveying to students and how to make appropriate adjustments.

Dr. Casey Peterson leads this presentation and discussion.



Start Here With Your Syllabus

  • Make sure to note what is required on all NDSU syllabi:
  • Consider using the template provided by the University Curriculm Committee as a starting point:
  • Review the Constructing an Effective Syllabus document PDF  |  Audio MP3
  • Review old course syllabi. Departments generally have a copy of course descriptions as well as old syllabi if the course has been taught before. If it not provided to you, seek this information out.
  • Spend time on your course objective section. Without objectives, there is no measure of whether a class produces the desired learning results.
    • A well-written objective statement (Audio MP3) provides a clear picture of the performance you expect as a result of the lesson. It should be specific, observable, and measurable.
    • When planning, use Backward Design to guide your decision making process.
  • Try to anticipate the general questions that will be in the minds of students and provide answers to those questions. Reflect on past teaching experiences. What did students have questions about before?
  • Consider Googling your course topic + syllabus. There is a wealth of information from other institutions available by doing a simple web search.
  • Ponder the design of your syllabus. A typical syllabus will describe the course, outline course policies and procedures, and provide a list of assigned readings and activities by date and topic. When deciding what to include, keep in mind that more rather than less material is preferred. However, avoid using lengthy prose and stick to bulleted lists or short sentences. Use headers to establish sections and include any relevant charts, diagrams, or pictures to organize the information.
  • Use this Syllabus Review Guide to ensure the effectiveness of your syllabus. 

    Download Syllabus Review Guide >>  Microsoft Word  |  PDF  |  Audio (MP3)



Other Items To Include On A Syllabus

When drafting your syllabus, consider the values you might want to communicate.

  • Use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in Your Class: You may want to consider adding information about the use of AI in your class. Do you allow it, not allow it, or are you somewhere in between. This document provides recommended statements for your syllabus as well as citation expectations and additional resources on AI in the classroom.
  • Inclusiveness:  How can your syllabus help you create an inclusive atmosphere?
    • Every syllabus should include the following ADA Statement: Any students with disabilities or other special needs, who need special accommodations in this course are invited to share these concerns or requests with the instructor and contact the Disability Services Office as soon as possible.
    • Some instructors also include statements inviting participation from all students, honoring student diversity and differing points of view, and / or acknowledging that NDSU is on indigenous land.
  • Honesty:  What are policies and procedures regarding academic honesty and misconduct in relation to materials and assignments for this course?
    • Every syllabus should include the following Academic Honesty Statement: The academic community is operated on the basis of honesty, integrity, and fair play. NDSU Policy 335: Code of Academic Responsibility and Conduct applies to cases in which cheating, plagiarism, or other academic misconduct have occurred in an instructional context. Students found guilty of academic misconduct are subject to penalties, up to and possibly including suspension and/or expulsion. Student academic misconduct records are maintained by the Office of Registration and Records. Informational resources about academic honesty for students and instructional staff members can be found at
    • In addition to the above statement, consider the types of work you are asking students to do. What do you want to communicate about ethics and integrity?
  • Responsibility:  What do students need to know about your expectations regarding assignments, attendance, or classroom interactions?
    • Every syllabus should include NDSU's Attendance Statement: According to NDSU Policy 331.1 ( attendance is expected.
    • You may also want to articulate policies regarding late work and missed / make-up exams.
    • If you are teaching hyflex, consider describing what attendance looks like in the hyflex environment.
  • Expectations for Success:  How can students succeed in your course?
    • Consider including a statement that provides an estimate of student workload. How much time should students plan to spend on reading assignments and homework?
    • Also consider adding a section that outlines strategies for learning the material. What campus resources are available to students (ACE, Center for Writers, Subject Matter Librarians) as they take your course?
  • Communication:  How will communication work in your course? Effective communication is essential. To ensure you are communicating effectively, consider planning ahead and communicating how communication will work in your courses.
    • How and when will you communicate course-related announcements to students?
    • How and when do you want students to communicate with you?
    • How and when will you answer student questions?
    • How and when will you hold office hours?
    • How and when will you provide feedback on assessments?



Getting Students To Read The Syllabus

  1. Syllabus Quiz: Create a short quiz with common questions about the course. Distribute quiz to students along with the syllabus. In groups, have groups work together to complete the quiz.
  2. Annotated the Syllabus Exercise: Ask students to annotate the syllabus. You can facilitate this activity using the VoiceThread tool in Blackboard or Google docs. After students have had a chance to annotate, answer their questions in class or via a FAQ page on Blackboard.
  3. Syllabus Experts Exercise: Organize the class into groups. Give each group a different section of the syllabus to review and master. When finished, groups present their section to the class.
  4. Clicker Tour: Put questions about the class on the board / PowerPoint. Hand out the syllabus and organize the class into groups. Require the groups to navigate the syllabus and respond to the questions with their clickers.
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