Effective Technical Writing in the Information Age

Sample Cover Letters


As with resumes, great cover letters tend to be based on excellent models, so below is a pdf where you can download a variety of models that you can use. The letters are organized by level of experience, beginning with a letter from a sophomore seeking an internship and moving on through a graduate student seeking a research position. Along the way you’ll also find a letter from a returning adult student with military service and a graduated senior seeking an international sales position outside of her field. Despite this variety, all of these sample letters are successful, for reasons analyzed below.

From a form standpoint, all ten sample letters are kept to one page, in some cases by the writer using size 11 font rather than size 12, and by skipping fewer lines or no lines between letter sections. All of the letters include ample white space with lines skipped between paragraphs so that the material is not crowded, and they all include full addresses with the writer’s address and signature aligned with each other. Note also that the sample letters include a minimum of three paragraphs and in some cases even use one-sentence paragraphs—thus the letter recipient is not daunted by the task of reading. Finally, in one letter emphasizing skills that the writer has to offer, she goes so far as to enumerate and physically underscore her skills, indenting the paragraphs in which they appear as well, so that those skills stand out for the reader. Such an approach exudes confidence without the letter breaking any fundamental rules of form.

As far as content and rhetorical stance, even the first letter by a sophomore includes some specialized material, mentioning CVD reactors, while other letters provide relevant quantitative information ("I have assisted with . . .nearly 100 Unix workstations") and qualitative assessment ( . . . an experience that made me a confident public speaker."). Most importantly, we see these writers showcasing their homework about the companies, noting IBM’s "constant striving to become a six-sigma company," citing part of the company’s mission statement verbatim, and dropping names of company employees. Through these tactics, we realize that these letters have been tailored to the specific job circumstances, and we recognize that we are reading purposeful, informed writing. One of the most impressive sentences in these letters tackles the difficult rhetorical challenge head-on:

"Admittedly, I do not have a specifically business- or technology-related degree; nonetheless I have some proficiency with both as well as a sharp, probing mind and a keen, demonstrated interest."

In her letter, this student goes on to prove her bold claim, and the letter got her the interview, which landed her the job.

Click here to download a pdf of ten sample cover letters.