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.

Opening Paragraph

  • 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).

Paragraph(s) 2(-3)

  • 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.

Closing paragraph

  • 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

  1. Who is my audience?
  2. What is my objective?
  3. What are the objectives and needs of my audience?
  4. How can I best express my objective in relationship to my audience’s objectives and needs?
  5. What specific benefits can I offer to my audience and how can I best express them?
  6. What opening sentence and paragraph will grab the attention of my audience in a positive manner and invite them to read further?
  7. How can I maintain and heighten the interest and desire of the reader throughout the letter?
  8. What evidence can I present of my value to my audience?
  9. If a resume is enclosed with the letter, how can I best make the letter advertise the resume?
  10. What closing sentence or paragraph will best assure the reader of my capabilities and persuade him or her to contact me for further information?
  11. Is the letter my best professional effort?
  12. 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.