Syllabus design


Recommendations for a welcoming and inclusive syllabus

This page was created collaboratively by the offices of Advancements in Teaching Excellence and Diversity & Inclusion and the Office of Digital Learning, with contributors from the University of Nevada, Reno main campus and at Lake Tahoe. We encourage you to contact our offices for additional support in inclusive syllabus design and teaching.

As one of the most essential ways instructors communicate with students, a welcoming and inclusive syllabus supports and aligns with the university vision, mission and values related to inclusion and excellence in teaching. Traditionally, a syllabus was short and content-focused. Current research, however, suggests that a more comprehensive and learner-focused syllabus in which we transmit information to all students equitably, leads to the success of more students. On this page we offer guidance on getting started with your syllabus, augmenting your syllabus with inclusive messaging and support resources, refining your syllabus to reach more students and additional resources.

Getting started

Whether you are building your syllabus for the first time or considering ways to improve your syllabus, it can help to review university policies as your starting point. For official syllabus requirements, please see UAM 6501: Syllabus Policy and the Office of the Provost Syllabus Requirements (where each semester a syllabus template is posted with the current dates and essential components, in an accessible format). Core elements to start from include:

  • Course and instructor information
  • Course description
  • Course pre/co-requisites
  • Required texts/course materials
  • Class procedures/structures
  • Student learning outcomes
  • Course requirements
  • Grading criteria
  • Policies related to late work and make-up work
  • Course calendar or topics overview (template includes an example of table format)
  • University statements including, academic dishonesty, student behavior, recording, Equal Opportunity and Title IX.
  • Statements of university services: disability services and academic success services.
  • Optional additional information

Beyond including the core elements above, a welcoming and inclusive syllabus conveys your vision for the course and serves as a roadmap for your students. If the formal description is written in technical terms, try to communicate your vision for the course in student-friendly language by avoiding jargon and pointing out what is meaningful or worthwhile about the course goals. Likewise, communicate to students in clear terms how all assessments and learning activities are directed at helping students learn and show them the path by which all students can achieve success in the course.

Above all, we encourage you to begin to establish a relationship with your students in the syllabus. Rather than focus on what the course will do, place emphasis on the student experience in the course. Use an inviting, approachable, and motivating tone as you discuss the course, your expectations for student involvement and success, and your desire to see every student meet your expectations. Research shows, “When students read a learning-focused syllabus, they have significantly more positive perceptions of the document itself, the course described by the syllabus and the instructor associated with the course” (Palmer et al, 2016).

Consider more specific ways you can craft a syllabus that is welcoming and inclusive of all students by reviewing the sections that follow.


Additional statements and resources to support students

What follows are examples of policy statements and specific student resources you might include in your syllabus to communicate a learner-centered and supportive course. We encourage you to add or adapt these statements and additional resources in a way that feels authentic to your vision for a welcoming and inclusive course.


Student support resources

Let your students know that overall student wellbeing and sense of inclusion in our campus community are both strong predictors of student success. Along with including the required statement on Academic Success Services (please see UAM 6501: Syllabus Policy), encourage all students to utilize free academic success services, connect with community, take advantage of free technology resources and find free support as needed by accessing the campus resources below.

Students support resources


Questions for reflection and ideas for action

Once you've created a draft of the syllabus with essential elements and additional supportive statements and resources, we invite you to take a moment to reflect on the draft from a student perspective. Consider the following questions for reflection and ideas for action as you refine your course syllabus to be more welcoming and inclusive.


References and additional resources

Adams, S., Bali, M., Eder, Z., Fladd, L., Garrett, K., Garth-McCullough, R., Gibson, A. M., Gunder, A., Iuzzini, J., Knott, J. L., Rafferty, J. & Weber, N. L. (2021). Caring for Students Playbook: Six Recommendations. This resource covers many ideas and practices related to creating an inclusive syllabus and course.

Addy, T. Dube, D., Mitchell, K., Sorelle, M. (2021) What Inclusive Instructors Do: Principles and Practices for Excellence in College Teaching. This book discusses key principles and practices on inclusive teaching, with a chapter focused on the syllabus.

CAST, UDL on Campus. Website dedicated to the application of Universal Design for Learning in Higher Education. See specific examples of UDL applied to course design and the syllabus. See also "Universal Design for Learning Guidelines.”

Center for Urban Education, University of Southern California (2017). Syllabus Review Guide for Equity-Minded Practice. Download PDF with examples of welcoming vs. unwelcoming language and a sample syllabus.

Gin, L. et al (2021). It’s In the Syllabus…Or Is It? How biology syllabi can serve as communication tools for creating inclusive classrooms at a large-enrollment research institution. Advances in Physiology Education. Article explains the value of including all essential information students need to succeed in the syllabus.

Palmer, M. Wheeler, L. B., & Aneece, I. (2016). Does the Document Matter? The Evolving Role of Syllabi in Higher Education. Change (New Rochelle, N.Y.), 48(4), 36–47. This article explains the value of using the syllabus as a learning tool.

Richmond, A. (2016). Constructing a Learner-Centered Syllabus: One Professor’s Journey. IDEA Paper #60. Article provides a useful breakdown of the process of constructing a learner-centered syllabus.

Taylor, S., Veri, M., Eliason, M. Hermoso, JC, Bolter, N, and Van Olphen, J. (2019). The Social Justice Syllabus Design Tool: A First Step in Doing Social Justice Pedagogy. Journal Committed to Social Change on Race and Ethnicity. Volume 5, Issue 2. This article addresses the syllabus from a social justice perspective and includes a useful rubric for syllabus review in the Appendix.

Tulane University. Accessible Syllabus. Created by students and faculty, this website features sections on accessibility related to images, text, rhetoric, and policy.

Vanderbilt University. Center for Teaching. Riviere, J., Picard, D., & Coble, R. (2014). Syllabus Design. Website discusses key aspects of a learner-centered syllabus.