Effect of syllabus tone: Students' perceptions of instructor and course

Richard J. Harnish, K. Robert Bridges

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

70 Scopus citations


It is not uncommon for students to complain that faculty are unapproachable, while faculty complain that students are not engaged. Such perceptions, especially when formed at the start of a semester, can impact what students learn and how instructors teach; therefore, it is critical that these perceptions are prevented if a course is to be successful. A good starting point is the syllabus, which not only informs students about a course and its requirements, but creates a first impression about the instructor and his or her attitudes toward teaching. We conducted an experiment in which the course syllabus was manipulated to reflect a friendly or an unfriendly tone so that we could explore the perceptions students formed of the instructor and class. Results supported the hypothesis that a syllabus written in a friendly, rather than unfriendly, tone evoked perceptions of the instructor being more warm, more approachable, and more motivated to teach the course.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)319-330
Number of pages12
JournalSocial Psychology of Education
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2011

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Social Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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