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Write a syllabus for yourself

It’s that time of year when faculty are revising syllabi for the classes they teach and students are reviewing those documents in an effort to understand the expectations for the semester ahead. Academia is fueled by the course syllabus that serves to establish intended outcomes, the path by which they will be met, and the consequences of not meeting them.

Unfortunately, the syllabi that we engage with do little (beyond assigned projects) to guide and encourage our academic writing practice. So, if you have academic writing goals that are not tied to a particular course – whether finishing a thesis or dissertation or continuing your academic publishing career – consider writing a syllabus for yourself this semester.

Here are seven things you may want to include to keep yourself motivated throughout the semester ahead.

1) A statement of commitment to success

My course syllabus this semester starts with an overview that includes a couple things you likely want in your writing syllabus. See the excerpt below.

Your syllabus is your road map to success.  You should always keep your syllabus with your class notes AND REFER TO IT OFTEN IN YOUR COURSE.  Please CAREFULLY review this syllabus.  Your syllabus represents a binding agreement between you and your instructor. The instructor reserves the right to change this syllabus, except for the grading scale and attendance policy, anytime during the course.  You will be notified of all changes in writing.

Some notes on the above as you work toward a writing syllabus:

  • This is a “road map to success” – not a to do list or agenda
  • It should be something you refer to often
  • It is a “binding agreement” with yourself
  • You as the instructor have the “right to change this syllabus”, but those changes should be “in writing”

2) A clear description

Most commonly, the course description included in a syllabus comes from a published source at the institutional or even state level to provide clear and consistent direction on the purpose and overall intention of the course. Consider writing a syllabus for each of your writing projects so that your description can be as descriptive and specific as possible.

3) Specific outcomes

“Upon successful completion…” followed by a bulleted list of specific goals for the course helps anchor the content to intended outcomes. Use this model to define specific things your writing is intended to achieve.

4) Required materials

Most classes have a set of required materials for success – textbooks, technology, tools, etc. – that are outlined in the syllabus to ensure that the students are not caught mid-semester without the necessary resources for completion of the course. Look ahead to the completion of your writing project and consider what you need to have in place early in the semester to ensure success in the end.

5) Evaluation methods

Whether a pass/fail designation or a letter grade construct, each course has a defined method for evaluation of individual success. This is also one of the two “fixed” items outlined in the commitment statement. For your writing syllabus, give careful consideration of what it means to “pass” – is that a completed first draft, an edited manuscript, or successful publication?

6) Critical success strategies

My course syllabus outlines four key critical success strategies that I think also apply when drafting a writing syllabus:

  • Course workload – make sure that you understand the time requirements and commitment needed to be successful.
  • Technical skill level – writing skills may only be one of the technical skills necessary to carry out your research and complete your project. Be clear on what is needed before you begin.
  • Prior knowledge – what do you already know about your subject matter? What do you need to know before you can begin the writing stage of the project?
  • Open communication – define your support system clearly. In my syllabus, I am sharing a commitment to my students to be available through various means of communication. In your writing syllabus, clearly define who is available to support your writing efforts and by what means you can communicate with them.

7) Attendance policy

If you don’t show up, nothing gets accomplished. As part of this “binding agreement” with yourself over your writing project goals, set a clear expectation of attendance. You can’t simply show up at the end of the semester and expect to pass. What level of engagement is expected weekly to be successful?

What other items do you include in a course syllabus that would be beneficial in a syllabus for your writing? Comment below with ideas.

Eric Schmieder

Eric Schmieder is the Membership Marketing Manager for TAA. He has taught computer technology concepts to curriculum, continuing education, and corporate training students since 2001. A lifelong learner, teacher, and textbook author, Eric seeks to use technology in ways that improve results in his daily processes and in the lives of those he serves. His latest textbook, Web, Database, and Programming: A foundational approach to data-driven application development using HTML, CSS, JavaScript, jQuery, MySQL, and PHP, First Edition, is available now through Sentia Publishing.