Syllabi Requirements

First-Year Writing

The First-Year Writing Program Director, Assistant Directors and staff review syllabi for all First-Year Writing faculty.  Once reviewed, current syllabi are kept on file in the English department office.  On the first day that veteran faculty meet their classes, they need to give the English department secretary a paper copy of their syllabi.  New faculty should prepare a draft syllabus for the August seminar; final copies will be due the following Monday.  All syllabi will be reviewed; if there are omissions or concerns, faculty will be contacted.  If you hear nothing, your syllabus is in great shape.

A good syllabus introduces students to the instructor and course, provides practical information and guidance, and ultimately serves as a kind of contract between student and teacher.  You are welcome to use, revised or not, any of the syllabi that you find on the 100, 105 or 106 Teaching Resources pages. Below are some guidelines to use to help you in developing your syllabus.

Please note that for several categories, you can and should refer your students to the prefatory chapters of MSU's custom edition of Diana Hacker's A Writer's Reference rather than duplicating the information on your syllabus.


  • Basic information about you.  Include your name, office location, email address, and office hours.  Also, please include the First-Year Writing web page ( and English Department web page ( and let students know that if your class is canceled that you will notify them via a mass email through Blackboard or through the "Announcements" tool in Blackboard.  It also follows that if you are going to have to miss class, be sure to call the department secretaries as much in advance as possible so that they can notify students who call or visit the department in concern of the class.

  • Required texts.  See Text Selection Guidelines.  MSU’s custom edition of Diana Hacker’s A Writer’s Reference is a required text.  It may be necessary to remind your students before or on the first day of class that MSU’s custom edition is not available for purchase online and must be purchased from the campus bookstore.  Further, students need to be reminded to bring their handbook to class.

  • Purpose of the course.  To develop this section of your syllabus you should look over the description of your course from above, and then adapt into your own language.

  • Course requirements.  Cover such issues as length and number of essays and other writings, expectations for readings; requirements on revision, peer review, attendance, participation, timeliness, etc.  Although you want to be clear about your requirements, you do not need to take on a punitive tone.  See prefatory material in A Writer’s Reference.

  • Writing expectations.  Using the essay criteria from the Student Writing Assessment page (also defined in the prefatory pages of A Writer’s Reference), describe what competencies or writing outcomes you expect your students to achieve in this class.  Outcomes or expectations for individual assignments are better found on individual writing assignments.  Please work to use the language of the program (central claim, development, organization, analysis, clarity of prose) so that students receive a consistent message in all the classes and when they visit the Center for Writing Excellence.  This criteria can be used in peer review and as a kind of rubric in comments and evaluation, and it can help students gain an understanding what it is that they do well and not.

  • Reading and writing schedule. While you may make some changes to such a schedule, students need to have a schedule of reading and writing for the semester, all laid out in black and white.  Include readings, due dates (including drafts) and assignments, and ideally, topics covered.  Be sure to identify the documented essay and a point during the semester when MLA material will be reviewed.

  • Attendance Policy.  This is the official policy of FYW for attendance and must appear in your syllabus. The Program standard is that more than 5 absences will result in failure of the class.  Faculty members have the option of allowing either two or three absences.

    As a member of this class, your input is valued, and your regular attendance is expected.  In-class writing, discussion, and occasional lectures provide information and processes essential to understanding the texts and writing strong essays.  In order to cover any emergencies—illness, family issues, for example, or academic obligations for other classes such as field trips—students are allowed two absences in this class: excuses are neither needed nor accepted.  Every absence after the allowed two results in a half letter reduction of the final grade.  For example, if you achieve a B as your final grade but have an additional absence over the allowed limit, your final grade becomes a B-.  Any student who enters the classroom after class has begun will be marked as late.  Coming in to class late three times equals one absence.  More than five absences will result in a failing grade for the class.  It’s really simple: you are either here or you are not.  You cannot get credit for contributing to a class discussion or activity if you are not here to participate.  Additionally, you are expected to come to class prepared for the day's work (readings completed, proper number of drafts, etc.).  If you arrive to class without the necessary materials to participate and engage in the learning process, your attendance may not be counted for that day. If there are severe circumstances, such as a prolonged illness or another serious situation, please let me know as soon as possible and we can negotiate the situation with the Dean of Students.
  • Grading Policy.  You need to make your grading policy clear.  Although the vast majority of students accept grades that are given to them, a few do dispute grades; it is therefore in your interest (and in your students') to have a clearly articulated grading policy.  Your policy should include a breakdown of how grades are determined (i.e., 15% journals; 10% attendance and participation; 55% major essays,20% portfolio).  You may want to also review the program's Student Writing Assessment and Final Grading Policy while determining your own grading policy.

  • Plagiarism Policy.  All syllabi are required to include the following statement on plagiarism:

    The First-Year Writing Program at Montclair State University values students’ honest efforts in the classroom and as writers. Plagiarism is strongly discouraged and this class will educate you about what it is and how to avoid it.  Should you choose to plagiarize—turning in written work as your own that you have copied from some other source, whether a website, print media, or even another student— [Your professor/I] will submit your plagiarized paper and the source materials from which you have plagiarized to the Student Conduct office and you will face disciplinary action from the University.  [Your professor, I] additionally reserve(s) the right, when plagiarism is proven with documentation, to fail you for the semester.  Should you be accused of plagiarism, you have the right to appeal the decision and also to request a meeting with your professor and the First-Year Writing program director, Dr. Jessica Restaino.  In an effort to avoid this serious offense, please visit the First-Year Writing Program website to learn more about plagiarism and how you can avoid it, and be certain to ask [your professor/me] about any aspects of the issue that you do not understand.

    Note that the prefatory chapter in MSU's A Writer's Reference clearly defines and explains the university's policy, so in addition to including the above in your syllabus, you might consider pointing to these pages (MSU-9 and MSU-10) and consider linking students to the First-Year Writing program's student guide to Academic Integrity and Plagiarism.  The First-Year Writing program's plagiarism policy can be found here.  To avoid problems with plagiarism, speak with students about it at the beginning of the semester, and most important, create original assignments and collect early drafts of work along with final drafts.  If you suspect a student of plagiarism and would like help in dealing with the student, please refer to Dealing with Plagiarism and contact the Director.  In general, the Director recommends that students fail the course, without discussion, and be referred to the Dean of Students’ Office for disciplinary action.

  • Conferences (optional). Some faculty choose to cancel classes for up-to-two non-consecutive weeks, during which time they meet with each student individually.  Typically students are still doing a week's worth of work—perhaps completing a final draft of one essay and bringing a first draft to the conference for discussion.

  • Accommodations (optional).  Many instructors find it helpful to include a statement similar to the following:

    Reasonable accommodations are available for students with a documented disability. If you need accommodations to fully participate in this class, please visit the Disability Resource Center (DRC) to receive a letter for me requesting accommodation.  All requests must be approved by the DRC (Morehead Hall 305, x5431,