Syllabus Matters

The syllabus serves as the official document for your course and must include mandatory content, specified on the University Policy Library Page. Beyond detailing the nuts and bolts of course policies and procedures, the syllabus is also an excellent place to provide students with useful information about the kinds of writing they will practice in your class, the relevance of writing to your discipline or field, and the resources available to support them. As writing can be flexibly defined as an articulation of thinking that includes an array of modes or forms (essays, lab reports, graphs, figures, charts, problem sets, performance notes, etc.), and as nearly all university courses involve some form of writing, the following guidelines and suggestions are useful to consider when crafting any syllabus.

Hanging wood sign with word spelling welcome

What to Include on Your Syllabus

  1. If your course is designated as Writing-Intensive (W-I), you must indicate this on the syllabus. Students will need to be reminded of this W-I designation because they need to keep track of how they are progressing in meeting their W-I requirement. To make sure your writing-intensive course meets the specified requirements, please review the Campus Writing Board Guidelines.
  2. Describe the role writing will play in meeting course goals. Also, consider including information about the ways that writing is used in both professional and advanced academic applications of the course’s subject matter. For example, this statement from a Biological Sciences syllabus provides students with context for writing in the course and the field:

    Writing is more important in the biological sciences than many people might expect. Scientists write to convey the methods and results of their research to their colleagues and to record their day-to-day work in the laboratory or in the field. They also write grant proposals to win funding for their research, and reviews of each other's work. Writing in biology is an integral part of scientific discovery and analysis, and thus must be clear, concise, and logical. Even when they write only for themselves, biologists must convey information accurately and precisely—often in limited space. In this course, students will document their work in lab notebooks and reports, and they will review each other’s work as scientific colleagues.
  3. Indicate the kinds of writing instruction that you will provide (opportunities to revise with comments; peer writing workshops; models of particular disciplinary forms, etc.).
  4. List all formal writing assignments with a brief description of the task, purpose, and audience for the document. Your assignment should specify the form the writing will take, its approximate word count, and what percentage of the final grade it will comprise.
  5. Name the kinds of informal writing assignments (journals; in-class writings, etc.) students will likely encounter in the class. It is also useful to articulate on the syllabus the rationale for using informal writing. Such statements needn’t be long to be effective:

    In addition to formal assignments, you will perform a variety of other writing tasks, such as reading responses, in-class journal prompts, and online postings. As with discussion, these shorter writing tasks are designed to help you investigate and clarify ideas in the readings and to begin to discover your own positions and the reasons that justify them. 
  6. Specify your grading policy, particularly the general criteria by which you will evaluate formal and informal writing, and other supportive activities, such as submitting rough drafts and engaging in peer response activities.
  7. Include a course calendar with due dates for writing assignments. For those involving revision, you might indicate when the assignment is to begin; when first drafts will be due; when any peer workshops will be held; and when final drafts will be due.
  8. Indicate any special policies related to writing, such as your policy on late papers, scheduling optional conferences with you or teaching assistants, or allowing further revision. While some policies, such as plagiarism, are mandated by the university, other policies may be particular to your course. Here are two examples of writing-related policies that are determined by the instructor:
    • Late or Missed Work: It is important that you complete your assigned work on time since it often affects not just you, but other members in the class as well. If you are not able to finish an assignment on time, please notify me in advance. Legitimate reasons for missing class are listed on the University Policy Library Page ( Otherwise, late essays will be marked down a quarter grade for each day late. Missed peer critiques and/or workshops or written responses to the readings cannot be made up.
    • Revision Policy: In order for you to earn a higher grade on a revised work, you must make a substantial revision. A substantial revision involves rethinking a core aspect of your writing, such as its line of reasoning; its organizational structure; its use of evidence and supporting detail; its cohesion and coherence.

      If you choose to write a second or third version of your work, please include a cover sheet along with all earlier drafts your peers and I have commented on. On your cover sheet, please answer the following questions:

      • Aside from a desire to raise your grade, why have you decided to revise this writing?
      • What were your specific goals for the revision? How has revising the work (at least two times) influenced your view of the work?
      • What is the strongest feature of the piece now? What remains the most challenging feature of the piece?
  9. List resources that may be useful to your students. In addition to listing your office hours and specific handbooks or print/online resources, you may want to list the Center for Writing’s Student Writing Support program, which offers one-on-one support to over 5,000 students per semester. The following statement is recommended by Student Writing Support for your syllabus.

    Student Writing Support (SWS) offers free writing instruction for all University of Minnesota students—graduate and undergraduate—at all stages of the writing process. In face-to-face and online collaborative consultations, SWS consultants from across the disciplines help students develop productive writing habits and revision strategies.

    Consulting is available by appointment online and in Nicholson Hall, and on a walk-in basis in Appleby Hall. For more information, go to or call 612.625.1893.

    In addition, SWS offers a number of web-based resources on topics such as avoiding plagiarism, documenting sources, and planning and completing a writing project.

  10. Design your syllabus to be accessible. This excellent resource offers guidance on how to use text, image, and design on your syllabus to support all learners.