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There are a wide variety of ways to implement content notes, and some may be more or less appropriate depending on course structure and content, teaching style, material format, etc. Below are descriptions of some practices which may be appropriate, with examples.


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Blanket notices

Blanket notices are general warnings indicating that a significant proportion of a paper, lecture series, etc will deal with certain themes. It may be appropriate to include these on a departmental website and/or Tripos handbook alongside course descriptions, within initial communications to students taking a particular lecture series before it starts, etc.

Blanket notices typically require a lower administrative burden, and are very useful where an entire lecture series, paper, etc deals with a particular theme.

Blanket notices may be less useful to students when determining which specific lectures, chapters, etc are likely to present difficulty, so it is preferable to have more specific guidance as well. Where this is not possible, it would be helpful to provide contact details for the course convenor or another appropriate individual alongside the blanket notice, inviting students who need more specific guidance to get in touch with confidence.


This module will cover infectious diseases; see the list of lecture synopses below for a more specific breakdown of content by lecture. Presentations containing graphic images of the effects of disease on the body are flagged with an asterix and a list of the slide numbers containing these images.

This paper discusses themes of gender and sexuality, and will touch on issues of homophobia, transphobia and misogyny, as well as discussions of the AIDS crisis. More specific content notes are listed before each text on the reading list.

Text notices

Text notices indicate the themes covered in a specific text. These should generally be included alongside core and recommended texts in reading lists.

If a particular section of a text is significantly more distressing, it may be worth flagging this specifically. For example:

Content note: themes of intimate partner abuse, including one graphic scene of sexual assault described over pages 50-55.

In certain cases, it may be appropriate to signpost students to alternative texts, or to provide a summary or overview of a particular section of a text so that students who prefer not to read it can still engage with the material as a whole.

A prescribed text on my course includes extremely graphic descriptions of sex, rape, suicide and body horror. These were noted in the reading list for the module and an alternative text was suggested if necessary. I would have been extremely triggered by reading the text without any warning, but I was able to read in a prepared frame of mind, having known to scan the Wikipedia plot summary first to prepare myself.

I then felt much more comfortable engaging in discussion of the text in my seminar. I also appreciated that an alternative text was given, even though I didn't need this myself because the content notes were enough for me.

Student interviewee, Modern & Medieval Languages


Content note: To Kill a Mockingbird discusses themes of anti-Black racism (including racist slurs and graphic depictions of racist violence and murder), misogyny and ableism. It includes depictions of physical and gun violence against Black people, women, children and animals. There is discussion but not depiction of rape. For further details such as page numbers of graphic passages please contact [email].

Content note: Susan Stryker's Performing Transgender Rage contains discussions of gender dysphoria, body horror, transphobia and transmisogyny, as well as mentions of suicide and occasional uses of reclaimed anti-LGBT slurs. There is a description of giving birth on page 6.

Email notices

If an upcoming lecture will include particularly distressing material, especially video- or image-based, it is recommended to flag this in advance via email. Where lectures are uploaded online, please add any relevant content notes in the video description, including approximate timestamps if appropriate.


Content note: the online lecture at 10am on Tuesday 8 April will contain a video-based description of physical child abuse from the perspective of an abuse survivor. This is on slide 5, approximately fifteen minutes into the lecture.

Content note: the lecture at 12pm on Wednesday 5 December covers themes of serious illness and mortality caused by lung cancer.

Verbal notices

It may be appropriate to flag content verbally during a class or lecture, such as noting that an upcoming slide will include particular content, or that the latter half of the lecture will discuss certain themes.

It is important to note that in-class verbal content notes are most effective when a blanket notice or other advance warning has already been put in place.

Students who find certain content triggering may be able to prepare themselves to tackle it with advance warning, but may instead feel cornered if the material is only flagged once the class has begun. They may also feel unable to remove themselves from the class for fear of missing important material or of being singled out or judged.


At the beginning of a lecture: "This lecture contains content relating to sexual trauma. Students are free to leave and return at any time."

Partway through an online lecture: "The next slide contains an image depicting self-harm. Please feel free to minimise the video now if you need to, and I'll note when we've moved on from the slide."


Content notes are still important in exam situations - perhaps even more so, as students are likely to feel stressed and anxious already. However, some of the self-soothing techniques they usually use may not be possible within an exam setting. It is therefore important to accompany content notes with other practices to ensure that students with PTSD are not disadvantaged in exams.

A good general principle is that distressing material should be avoided in exam papers if it is not necessary or inherent to a particular topic within the paper. There are of course many instances where it will be necessary. Ideally, if a topic, passage or question contains potentially distressing material, an alternative option would be provided.

For example, in translation exams for students studying languages, they are generally provided with a number of different passages to choose from. In exams like these, students with post-traumatic stress disorder would benefit from:

  1. avoiding the inclusion of passages that describe or represent potentially triggering material, particularly if they are from previously unseen texts, as opposed to texts already studied within the course
  2. an increased number of options to ensure that triggering content can be avoided without detriment to exam performance
  3. content notes for each passage, so that they can either take to time to prepare and engage with the passage if able, or avoid the passage and choose another


Content note: Passage B contains descriptions of war-time experiences. These include physical and sexual violence against women and children.