The Syllabus as Establishing Tone


  • Ethan J.H. Knight University of South Carolina


College courses, higher education curriculum, English, Literature, First Year English


A syllabus’s course policies, grade breakdowns, and intensity of scheduled readings and writing assignments communicate more than their content: they also set the tone for the course’s style, intensity, and trajectory. Emphasizing lower-stakes writing assignments and opportunities for revision, rather than focusing on the intense pressure of a final paper or exam, can communicate to our students that studying writing itself emphasizes the content, the process, and critical thinking rather than finding some mystical “answer.” Further, the emphasis on and adherence to the standard syllabus communicates important information, particularly for inexperienced graduate instructors who are learning to utilize these documents.