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Crafting Your Syllabus

The purpose of creating a syllabus for your course is to provide the context and a summary of the course, as well as describe the expectations you have for your students. Additionally, according to Littlefield (1999), a well-crafted syllabus also sets the tone for the course, acts as a planning tool for faculty, and serves as a contract between the instructor and students. Not only should students know what is expected of them to succeed in the course after reading the syllabus, but students should also know what to expect from their instructor. For these reasons, it is crucial that an effective syllabus is provided to students as soon as the course begins. Below are some of the best practices for developing the most effective syllabus possible.

Best Practices

  • Set clear expectations. Develop your syllabus keeping the course’s goals in mind, as well as your course policies. Students are most likely to succeed in courses that provide them with a clear set of expectations. (Grant & Thornton 2007, Slattery & Carlson 2005)
  • Set high expectations. Not only should you set clear expectations for your students, but you should also set high expectations. Having high expectations of your students will give them something to work for, which in turn will help students strive for greatness. (Grant & Thornton 2007; Ragan 2011; Slattery & Carlson 2005)
  • Summarize the key points of the course. One of the most important aspects of the syllabus is that it summarizes the course. Providing a clear summary of the course allows students to use the syllabus as an informational guide throughout the semester. At minimum, a good syllabus should contain the following pieces of information (Slattery & Carlson 2005):
    • Instructor information, including (virtual) office hours, contact information, and other information about yourself that you want to share with students.
    • Course overview/description
      • This should also include motivation for why the course is interesting, or why students should be excited about the course.
    • Course goals
    • Course schedule
      • This includes course assignments, readings, assessments, and other activities as well as their associated due dates.
    • Course policies and procedures
      • This includes information about late policies, absence policies, conflict exams, etc…
    • Grade breakdown and information about grading
    • Tips for success
    • Expectations
      • This should include information about what is expected of students in the course, as well as what can be expected of the instructor.
If you use Blackboard or Moodle, here's a link to our HTML syllabus template and HTML policies page template.


Grant, M. R., & Thornton, H. R. (2007). Best practices in undergraduate adult centered online learning: mechanisms for course design and delivery. Journal of online Learning and Teaching, 3(4), 346-356.

Littlefield, V. M. 1999. My syllabus? It's fine. Why do you ask? Or the syllabus: A tool for improving teaching and learning. Paper presented at the Society for Teaching and Learning.

Ragan, Lawrence C. “10 Principles of Effective Online Learning: Best Practices in Distance Education”. Faculty Focus.  June 6 2011. EffectiveOnlineTeaching.pdf

Slattery, J. M., & Carlson, J. F. (2005). Preparing an effective syllabus: Current best practices. College Teaching, 53(4), 159-164.