By Melissa Turek, December 2015
Hello everyone. I would like to take a minute to talk about how to read and interpret a course syllabus.
So, the first 5 sections of any syllabus give basic information about the course, the instructor, the books needed, and an overall view of what the course is about. Information that is good to have but not necessarily needed. Section 6 and 7 are the sections that you will find most important; the course schedule and grading. While they are both self-explanatory these are the sections you will reference most during the class. The remaining sections have some good information too and you should at least look through it in your first course.
Tips on Discussion Posts
Ok, on to what is expected of you as a student and what the instructors are looking for within a discussion post. When an instructor says “a minimum” of two posts, he/she means, if you want a good grade please go above and beyond. Simply doing the minimum will get you a minimum grade; usually a B or C. Also, the professors LOVE research and citations. Many times they will only require that you cite information from the assigned text. If you want to get those extra points, as well as learn a bit more, I suggest using the library search engines to find evidence based peer reviewed articles that support your position. What instructors DO NOT like are multiple non-relevant posts. For example, simply complementing another student on how much you enjoyed their post, and maybe adding anecdotal fluff from your experience as a nurse does not count as a substantive post. You should add your personal experience only if it enhances understanding of the topic being discussed.
Tips for Writing Papers
Much of what I stated above is also true for papers. First and foremost do not use first person pronouns in research papers, like I, we or our; it’s simply not acceptable per APA. Also, instructors will typically give you a minimum number of sources, or citations they require; usually between 6 and 10. Make sure these sources are peer-reviewed, evidence based, pertinent to your topic, and current (within the last 5-7 years, 10 at the maximum). The Utica library databases are wonderful sources for these types of articles. And if you have a hard time there are librarians online to help you. And I mentioned APA. You will find that some professors are stricter with APA than others. My suggestion is to cite often and correctly. You can never have too many citations, but if you don’t have enough it could be considered plagiarism. Finally, if the professor sets the length of the paper at 10-15 pages, they usually are not including the title and reference pages in that number. So, in other words, make sure you have 10 pages of solid text.
My best advice is, if you are unsure about the syllabus or what is being asked of you, ASK THE PROFESSOR! They are there to help and I have found all of them to be just as interested in your success as you are! They want you to succeed so let them help.
About the Author
Melissa is a 39 year old, soon to be graduate of Utica College. She lives and works in upstate NY, near Albany.