Writing Cover Letters
What is a cover letter?
To be considered for almost any position, you will need to write a letter of application. Such a letter introduces you, explains your purpose for writing, highlights a few of your experiences or skills, and requests an opportunity to meet personally with the potential employer.
Precisely because this letter is your introduction to an employer and because first impressions count, you should take great care to write an impressive and effective letter. Remember that the letter not only tells of your accomplishments but also reveals how effectively you can communicate.
The appropriate content, format, and tone for application letters vary according to the position and the personality of the applicant. Thus you will want to ask several people (if possible) who have had experience in obtaining jobs or in hiring in your field to critique a draft of your letter and to offer suggestions for revision.
Despite the differences in what constitutes a good application letter, the suggestions on these pages apply generally.
What to include in a cover letter
Try to limit your letter to a single page. Be succinct.
Assess the employer's needs and your skills. Then try to match them in the letter in a way that will appeal to the employer's self-interest.
As much as possible, tailor your letter to each job opportunity. Demonstrate, if possible, some knowledge of the organization to which you are applying.
Write in a style that is mature but clear; avoid long and intricate sentences and paragraphs; avoid jargon. Use action verbs and the active voice; convey confidence, optimism, and enthusiasm coupled with respect and professionalism.
Show some personality, but avoid hard-sell, gimmicky, or unorthodox letters. Start fast; attract interest immediately. For more information see Business Letter Format.
Arrange the points in a logical sequence; organize each paragraph around a main point.
How to organize 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.
For further information on cover letters contact the Career Advising and Planning Services and take a look at our workshp on Writing Resumes and Cover Letters (NB: this course not offered during the summer).
Cover Letter Assignment
The final portfolio requires a cover letter that describes how your work in the class meets three of the course learning outcomes, found below (and in the syllabus). A "draft" cover letter will be submitted with Essays One and Two add midterm and a revised cover letter that addresses the two essays included in the final portfolio is due with that portfolio. A sample letter can be found below the list of learning outcomes. This cover letter does NOT receive a letter grade in the way the essays doe, but in the end, it will help me and other readers determine whether or not your portfolio meets departmental standards. In short, it matters.
- Brainstorm varied ideas to support a claim of manageable scope for a given assignment.
- Annotate a text in order to effectively analyze and evaluate the ideas in that text.
- Research, analyze, use, and document information and ideas to develop a position.
- Analyze, select, and record relevant, valid details in light of particular rhetorical purposes to support claims
- Respond thoughtfully, precisely, and ethically to texts
- Communicate with an academic audience to illustrate, analyze, or persuade
- Organize ideas in a purposeful and coherent manner
- Demonstrate writing that is a systematic process requiring thoughtful reconsideration and revision.
- Improve prose through instructor, self, and peer feedback
- Generate clear, grammatically correct prose
- Apply conventions of a particular documentation style
- Independently create original work meeting assignment requirements
Click "read more" for a sample cover letter. Click the attachment link to see the sample paragraph.
Cover Letter Sample
Course Prefix and Student ID Number
March 11, 2013
This cover letter addresses three of the course learning outcomes for English 101and provides explanations for each as pertained to my essay The Real Political Powers. The first point I will present is on my use of specific details to support my claims. Then I will give an examination as to how I gathered, used, and documented information to develop my argument. Finally, I will be describing how I used instructor and peer feedback to improve the prose within my paper. It is my hope that by observing these topics, my revisions will be completely apparent throughout my paper.
There were many areas within my paper where I used specific details to help support my claim. I utilized eight different sources to gain information on the manipulation used by people that hold power. One of my primary examples came from a periodical titled Why the Terrorism Scare is a Moral Panic by Jeffrey Victor. He quoted that terrorism played a key role in the reelection of George W. Bush (Victor 10). That one statement was my first concrete piece towards the development of the rest of my paper. By using that I was able to gather further information, providing concrete examples to each point I was trying to make. In each paragraph I explored new points that each related to my main argument. I was able to do this by linking each point back to my thesis.
In order for me to have concrete examples to use, I had to gather information. I did this by creating a springboard passage from the novel Three Kingdoms by Luo Guanzhong and translated by Moss Roberts. I used my chosen passage and the quote from Jeffrey Victor to develop my thesis and main argument. Once I knew what I wanted to write about, I had to do the research to back up my points. I did this by utilizing the database Academic Search Complete in the library section of the Spokane Falls webpage. I was able to find an abundant amount of information which I included within my essay. By documenting these findings within my paper, I was able to give solid examples to my own argument.
In my opinion, my paper traveled a road of success in its development. The revisions that took place in order to finalize my essay were in great thanks to my instructor. The feedback that I received gave me the ability to improve prose within my essay and develop my own thoughts to their full potential. At the beginning of my writing process I was able to draft a solid structure for my paper; however there were a few holes left to be filled and citations that needed corrected. With the assistance of my instructor, I feel that I was able to structure a great essay that focused on the points I was trying to make and followed the assignment process as expected.
While reading my paper and keeping the course learning objectives in mind, it is with greatest hope that it will be seen that I have utilized my resources and documented my arguments in the proper format. I feel that I have followed the assignment guidelines and incorporated examples and explanations that show completed points towards my thesis. Happy reading!