Writing your syllabus

Bernhard Bieri


{iheiddown} is not only a tool for students to write their thesis in. It can also be of use for teaching activities at IHEID as it harbors a great looking template for course syllabi. This short article will walk you through the workflow of writing your very own syllabus in R.


The installation process is the same than for the thesis template. You’ll need the following software:

  1. Install R and R-Studio
  2. Install a LATEX distribution:
  3. Install {iheiddown} by typing the following command remotes::install_github("jhollway/iheiddown") in the R-Studio console.

Note: typing remotes::install_github("jhollway/iheiddown") again will update the package to the latest released version.

Create your first syllabus

Creating your first syllabus is easy! Let’s look at how it is done. Before we begin, we have to create a new R project by clicking on the file tab in the top of the RStudio window and following the instructions of the prompt that appears. Now that we have created an R project for our presentation, we can open a new R-Markdown file. To do this click on the “plus file” logo in the top left corner and then on “R-Markdown”.

Step 1: open a new project

After you have done this, a little pop-up helper will appear. The first thing we will do is to select the {iheiddown} template for our presentation. To do so, click on the “From Template” option on the left and select the “Thesis {iheiddown}” template. Now give your presentation a name and click on “OK”.

Step 2: select the template

Congrats! You just created your first syllabus! Now, the first thing we will do is to set the correct input: file name in the YAML header. The option is located near the bottom of the YAML header in the output options. Just replace the file name by the one that you chose when creating the syllabus.

Now that we have set the correct name for our syllabus in the output options, we are ready to render our syllabus. This is done by simply clicking the “knit button” while viewing the MySyllabus.Rmd pane. Et voilà! You have already successfully generated your first syllabus with R.

Take a moment to read through the generated syllabus to get acquainted with the {R-markdown} syntax and to get a feel of the possibilities of the {iheiddown} theme. It will help you understand the structure of the file.

Edit your syllabus

This section will focus on giving you an overview of the workflow of creating your syllabus in {iheiddown}.

Set YAML options

The general options are set in the YAML header. You can define the contact information of the instructor and the teaching assistant as well as give a general course description or set evaluation policies.

You can also set bibliographic options such as the .bib file you want to draw your references from (references.bib by default) and the style of the bibliographic entries by altering the .csl file.

Setting the start-date of your course

The second step is to set the correct start date of your course in the main MySyllabus.Rmd file. This is done simply by editing the startdate variable in the first code chunk.

Editing your course description

The third and last step is to edit the main body of the syllabus. To do this, simply write the title of each week’s session, a description if necessary and add citations of the weeks material with the id of the reference in the bib file preceded by “@” e.g. @Darwin1958.