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Handbook Template for Graduate Programs

This document provides guidance and a template for graduate programs to use as they create and edit a program handbook.

During the 2020-21 academic year, the Graduate School conducted a study of graduate education policy documentation on campus and is pleased to present this revised guidance on graduate program handbooks informed by the findings. Guidance was revised to better meet the needs of students, staff, and faculty who use and develop graduate program handbooks.

Navigating Graduate Education Policy Documentation

Program handbooks are just one of several sources of information about graduate education policy, procedures, and resources. The following infographic that is designed for student users describes the varying scopes and relationships of these sources:

Image description: Infographic depicting various policy documents on campus and their relationships. Red box labeled Program Handbook. The program handbook is a detailed reference for your program's unique requirements, policies, procedures, resources, and norms. It is located on your program's website or Guide page. It may refer you to other sources for policy detail. Arrows point from red box labeled Program Handbook to two grey boxes. Gray box #1 labeled Graduate Guide. The Graduate Guide is a master catalog of all graduate programs on campus and the official source for your program's policies and requirements. It is located at It may reference other sources of policy. Arrow points to grey box #2 which is also pointed to by red box. Grey box #2 describes AP&P which is the Graduate School's Academic Policies & Procedures that defines key components of graduate education on our campus. AP&P is available at Grey box #2 also describes the Policy Library, which is a database of university-wide policies. Policy library is available at Standalone grey box labeled Graduate Student Life. Graduate Student Life contains information about life as a Badger graduate student in Madison that will support your overall well-being. It is available at Standalone text: "Not sure where to start?" that points to a standalone dark grey box labeled Find resources curated for prospective and current students, as well as faculty and staff at this website.

Program Handbook (add your hyperlink)

Graduate Guide

Graduate School AP&P

UW-Madison Policy Library

Graduate Student Life

Graduate School at UW-Madison

Handbook Writing Guidelines

General Principles

#1: Reference out whenever possible.

Program handbooks are meant to supplement other sources of policy and procedure such as Guide, the Policy Library, and the Graduate School Academic Policies & Procedures. Handbooks should include content that is unique to your program/department. If referencing Graduate School requirements, university policy, content already captured in your program’s Guide page, or campus-wide resources in the handbook, it should be with a URL to the location on the UW-Madison website of the unit that is primarily and officially responsible for that content. This prevents your handbook content from becoming outdated or inaccurate as changes are made by those who “own” that content, allows those who are dedicated subject-matter experts in particular aspects of graduate education to consistently extend their services to your students, and decreases the need for you to continuously update the handbook when other units make changes to their content. Ultimately, this streamlines the usability of policy documentation on campus.

#2: Publish handbooks publicly.

To increase transparency, handbooks should be made available publicly and online. A hyperlink to your handbook (in any form) can be placed in the contact information box of your Guide page. You can also post the handbook on your public departmental/program website.

#3: Emphasize concision and consistency.

The more text there is, the less likely it will be read. You are strongly encouraged to edit for concise wording and proofread to remove any duplicate content.

Keep consistent formatting whenever possible. For example, each top-level heading should have the same formatting throughout to effectively communicate the organization of handbook content to readers.

Other tips to support concision, consistency, and effective formatting:

  • Use heading styles/levels built into word processors and web editors
  • Use a consistent writing voice throughout
  • PDF handbooks will be read both electronically and in print, so consider:
    • Making URLs active hyperlinks within the text
    • If a URL is especially long, using a shortener such as to facilitate quick reading with screen readers and quick typing when translated from print
    • Consulting DoIT's "Make It Accessible" resources for both print and web-based handbooks
  • Cross-reference to another section rather than repeating content that applies to multiple sections (Note: Anchor tags can assist with this in web-based handbooks)

#4: Review and revise at least once per year.

Handbooks should be reviewed and, if necessary, revised at least once per year. Be sure to update the handbook year/version on the front cover (or top of the webpage) to indicate that the content has been reviewed and deemed applicable to the current year.

We recommend that past years' handbooks are made publicly available on your program/department website or some other shared portal, especially if students are allowed to select whether their studies are governed by policy at their year of entry or current policy.


Our study did not suggest consistent preference for a static PDF document over a more dynamic web-based form. Select a form of handbook that best suits the needs of your program/department. Options to consider include:

Hybrid: Web + PDF
Description Content is written in a word processing program (e.g., MS Word) or desktop publishing software (e.g., Adobe InDesign) and converted to a PDF document. Content is placed on a webpage (subsection of your departmental website, standalone website, or publicly-accessible course page of a learning management system). Content is placed on a webpage. Additionally, either a print-to-pdf option or a link to download the handbook in PDF form is offered on the webpage. Multiple/prior versions of handbooks may also be linked for download on the webpage.

Most recent version is made available for download in the contact information box of your Guide page (at minimum), possibly also in dated versions on a page within your department’s website.

May also be distributed via departmental emails and shared drives.

URL for the webpage/public course page is placed in the contact information box of your Guide page (at minimum).

URL may also be linked to on a departmental website.

URL may also be distributed via departmental emails.

URL for the webpage is placed in the contact information box of your Guide page (at minimum).

URL may also be linked to on a departmental website.

URL may also be distributed via departmental emails.


PDF documents are easily organized within a student, staff, or faculty member’s personal filing system (print or electronic) and interacted with using highlights, notes in margins, etc.

Original content and formatting are preserved.

Readers can bookmark the handbook URL for continuing reference.

Will always contain the most current information as websites can be updated instantaneously.

Content formatting can be configured to adjust to mobile devices for easy reading.

Same as web-based.

Readers can interact with the format that best suits their needs.

Past versions can be preserved and downloaded in PDF forms, allowing users to find the version that applies to them.


Readers may view an old version without knowing a new version has replaced it.

Updates to content will need to be re-published and re-distributed along all of your distribution channels.

Content may not be easily readable on mobile devices.

Some readers may find it more difficult to make notes, highlights, etc. (though these functions do exist through certain webapps). Handbook writers may need to update both the website and PDF forms when changes are made.

You are encouraged to consult with free campus resources, such as the UW-Madison DesignLab, to assist with the effective design (e.g., aesthetic choices) of your program handbooks. WiscWeb may also be able to assist with website development.

Handbook Template

A pre-written and editable template for graduate program handbooks can be downloaded at the following link:

Download Graduate Program Handbook Template

Interacting With the Template

Several sections are optional and may be deleted if your program decides it is best to not include them in the handbook. Sections that are not indicated as optional should remain in the handbook.

Text highlighted in grey, as well as the header on every page, is guidance for handbook writers and should be deleted prior to finalizing and distributing the handbook.

Text not highlighted in grey should generally remain as written unless it inaccurately or incompletely reflects the policy/procedures of your program/department. Contact the section owner (see table below) if you have questions about making edits to this text.

Larger font, Arial typeface, and line spacing were formatted to represent a more ADA-friendly design. We recommend adopting these and/or other ADA-friendly elements (e.g., image descriptions such as the one below the infographic on this page) to enhance the usability of your handbook for all.

The table of contents can be quickly regenerated to reflect edits if you use MS Word's heading styles throughout the document. See here for technical guidance.

Who to Contact For Questions

For general questions about graduate education policy documentation, contact Jenna Alsteen (

As you develop your handbook sections, see below for the persons to contact for additional guidance and consultation on each section:

Point of Contact
Welcome (optional) Jenna Alsteen (
Navigating Policy Jenna Alsteen (
Department & Program Overview Jenna Alsteen (

Questions regarding diversity, equity, and inclusion:
Abbey Thompson (
Douachong Lee (

Questions regarding student involvement:
Alissa Ewer (
Getting Started as a Graduate Student (optional) Amy Fruchtman (

Questions related to international student visas:

Advising & Mentoring Kipp Cox (
Degree Requirements Elena Hsu (
Kipp Cox (
Enrollment Requirements Kipp Cox (

Questions regarding non-pooled program considerations:
Jenna Alsteen (
Satisfactory Academic Progress Kipp Cox (
Personal Conduct Expectations Kipp Cox (
Academic Exception Petitions Kipp Cox (
Funding, Employment, and Finances Abbey Thompson (

Questions regarding non-pooled program considerations:
Jenna Alsteen (
Professional Development (optional) Eileen Callahan (
Amy Fruchtman (
Alissa Ewer (

Keywordshandbook template graduate student program how to grievance procedures learning outcomes policies, admission   Doc ID34123
OwnerJenna A.GroupGraduate School
Created2013-10-04 09:56:04Updated2024-06-04 15:59:06
SitesGraduate School
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