Writing a cover letter
Writing a cover letter and a recommendation letter is an important step in the academic journey. And yes, you should write your recommendation letter yourself and have your professors and employers sign it.
How to structure a cover letter
Below is one possible way to arrange the content of your cover letter.
- State why you are writing.
- Establish a point of contact (advertisement in a specific place for a specific position; a particular person’s suggestion that you write): give some brief idea of who you are (a Senior engineering student at UW; a recent Ph.D. in History).
- Highlight a few of the most salient points from your enclosed resume.
- Arouse your reader’s curiosity by mentioning points that are likely to be important for the position you are seeking.
- Show how your education and experience suit the requirements of the position, and, by elaborating on a few points from your resume, explain what you could contribute to the organization.
Your letter should complement, not restate, your resume.
- Stress action. Politely request an interview at the employer’s convenience.
- Indicate what supplementary material is being sent under separate cover and offer to provide additional information (a portfolio, a writing sample, a sample publication, a dossier, an audition tape), and explain how it can be obtained.
- Thank the reader for his/her consideration and indicate that you are looking forward to hearing from him/her.
Questions to guide your writing
- Who is my audience?
- What is my objective?
- What are the objectives and needs of my audience?
- How can I best express my objective in relationship to my audience’s objectives and needs?
- What specific benefits can I offer to my audience and how can I best express them?
- What opening sentence and paragraph will grab the attention of my audience in a positive manner and invite them to read further?
- How can I maintain and heighten the interest and desire of the reader throughout the letter?
- What evidence can I present of my value to my audience?
- If a resume is enclosed with the letter, how can I best make the letter advertise the resume?
- What closing sentence or paragraph will best assure the reader of my capabilities and persuade him or her to contact me for further information?
- Is the letter my best professional effort?
- Have I spent sufficient time drafting, revising, and proofreading the letter?
*From Ronald L. Kraunich, William J. Bauis. High Impact Resumes & Letters. Virginia Beach, VA: Impact Publications, 1982.
How to format a cover letter
- Type each letter individually, or use a word processor.
- Use good quality bond paper.
- Whenever possible, address each employer by name and title.
- Each letter should be grammatically correct, properly punctuated, and perfectly spelled. It also should be immaculately clean and free of errors. Proofread carefully!
- Use conventional business correspondence form. If you are not certain of how to do this, ask for help at the Writing Center.