Syllabus Design and Creation


What is a syllabus? 

A syllabus is a document that communicates course information, policies, and requirements to learners ("Syllabus," n.d.). It's an excellent means to communicate expectations, reduce confusion, and establish the tone and culture for a course. 

What is a master course syllabus? 

Whereas the syllabus you use with your learners is sometimes referred to as a "teaching syllabus," a "master syllabus" is a document on file with the university for curricular and accreditation purposes that informs your teaching syllabus. A master syllabus indicates course title, description, and learning objectives. These should not be changed in your teaching syllabus. A master syllabus will also provide suggested course resources, outline, and assessment plan. If you are considering a departure in your teaching syllabus from these suggested elements in the master course syllabus, it is best practice to work with your department contacts because such changes can impact program assessment plans or consistency of course experience for learners. 

What if there is no master course syllabus? 

This may mean the course is in development, by you or another educator. You may find benefit in some of our related web topics, such as instructional design, student learning objectivesassessment/evaluation methods, and grading methods to help craft the content therein. 


If you'd like to review requirements for, and examples of master syllabi at CMU, visit the CMU Master Course Syllabi site.

If teaching online or at a satellite location, get familiar with the required Syllabus Build Tool (SBT): 

Consider some best practices in syllabus construction. Lund Dean & Fornaciari (2013) provide practical tips for modernizing a syllabus and appealing to adult audiences, such as: using inclusive, mutually-respectful language; streamlining content for today's reading habits; focusing on the schedule because it is the portion noted as most necessary to students; designing a layout that is accessible and engaging; etc. Additionally, research suggests that: 
  • Graphical syllabi can assist retention, particularly with at-risk, first-generation learners (Mocek, 2017). Of course, if you pursue a graphical syllabus, you'll want to be certain to safeguard for accessibility so that all learners can benefit from your syllabus. 
  • A syllabus written in a warm, welcoming style can help learners perceive educators as being more approachable, more caring, and more motivating than a syllabus written in a more pragmatic style (Waggoner Denton & Veloso, 2018). 
  • Bringing learners into syllabus construction/refinement can have significant impact in terms of establishing a participatory culture, clarifying course expectations, and providing learners with a useful reference that more effectively meets their needs (Jones, 2018). 

Visual Syllabi Templates


  • To see what events we may be offering related to syllabus design, check out our CETL Events Page
  • Schedule a time with CETL staff to discuss your framework for teaching and related methods. 


Jones, N. N. (2018). Human centered syllabus design: Positioning our students as expert end-users. Computers and Composition. Retrieved from

Lund Dean, K. & Fornaciari, C. J. (2013). The 21st-century syllabus: Tips for putting andragogy into practice. Journal of Management Education, 38(5), 724-732. Retrieved from 

Mocek, E. A. (2017). The effects of syllabus design on information retention by at-risk first semester college students. Syllabus Journal, 6(2). Retrieved from

Syllabus. (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved from 

Waggoner Denton, A. & Veloso, J. (2018). Changes in syllabus tone affect warmth (but not competence) ratings of both male and female instructors. Journal of Social Psychology of Education, 21(1), 173-187.