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Section 2: Cover Letter Basics



Section 2: Cover Letter Basics

The cover letter is perhaps one of the hardest documents to create.  It is hard because people have varying levels of writing proficiency, regardless of their skills, education, and experience.

That is why you find someone to help you write your cover letter.  A poorly written or constructed cover letter is absolutely unacceptable, as it is usually the very first document read by a hiring manager.

This next chapter will not provide English writing guidance, but will focus instead on the format and structure of your cover letter.

General Rules

Below are some guidelines to follow when writing a cover letter:

  1. It should follow the same strategic order as the resume
  2. No longer than 1 page
  3. It must contain inside and outside address information
  4. It must ask the reader to look at the resume and request an interview

Strategic order

If you ordered your resume having experience first, education second, and skills third, you should also refer to these areas on your cover letter in that order.  It helps with continuity and will translate well for the reader.

As an exception, do not put your “passion statement” first, as you do in your resume.  Save this for a persuasive hook at the end of your letter.

Address information

If possible, find out who the supervisor will be for the job you are applying.  If this is impossible, find the person’s name who is reviewing the resume. 

Review the cover letter samples provided in this textbook for more examples on formatting the address.  It is fairly straight-forward.

Cover letter outline

Cover letters are best created when you start with an outline.  Here is a paragraph outline to help you write your cover letter:

Paragraph 1.  After you have typed the salutation, you are ready to begin your first paragraph.  This should simply say why you are writing.  Example:

That’s it.

Keep this first paragraph basic.  Don’t allow your great features to get muddled in the first paragraph.  The first paragraph is ONLY an introduction.

Paragraph 2, 3, and maybe 4.  Now move into the strategic order of your resume.  Take a moment to write down how you ordered the sections in your resume (education, experience, skills):

1.   __________________________________________________

2.  ___________________________________________________

3.  ___________________________________________________

Because you have structured your resume in a certain fashion, you already know the order in which you will write the paragraphs in your cover letter. 

Thus, paragraph 2 will contain information about your education, if that is what you listed first on your resume.

Note, you may combine two areas from your resume (example, education and skills) in one paragraph.  It is up to you.

Here is an example of a combined paragraph.:

Notice how some soft skills are included within this experience paragraph. 

Combining your paragraphs is your decision.  If you need to fill white space, you may go with 1 paragraph per area.

Paragraph 4.  Here is where you insert your passion statement.  Keep in mind you won’t cut and paste it in directly, but you will re-word it to fit the style of a business letter.

Paragraph 5This is your final paragraph and your closing remark.  It may be broken into two sections.  Here is where you do three things:

  1. Ask for review of the resume
  2. Ask for an interview
  3. Provide contact information

Here is a sample closing paragraph:

Notice how this “fifth paragraph” is actually broken into two sections.  This is okay!  Depending on the length of your sentences, you may wish to break up the paragraphs.

Final tips

Ask your instructor or research the following English terms to help you use powerful writing tools in constructing your cover letter.

  1. Transitional expressions
  2. Dovetail sentences
  3. Dovetailing paragraphs
  4. Main idea for sentences and paragraphs

And, not to be understated, if you are unsure of your writing skills, have someone help you.