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Putting Together a Strong Cover Letter

The cover letter is in many ways the anchor of your academic job application.  In it you will lay out the broad range of your candidacy, which you will then support with your other materials.  Like the CV, the cover letter will be read by many people on and beyond the search committee.  The resources we have included below go into great detail about the intricacies of outstanding cover letters, but keep in mind the following tips:

  • Your cover letter needs to describe all facets of your academic career, so do not spend too much time describing your research at the expense of your teaching and vice versa.
  • Give specific examples of courses you have taught, your publications, your service work, etc.
  • Research the institution so that you can determine how to shape the rhetoric of your letter.  If you are applying to a college that privileges its teaching mission, then make sure to discuss your teaching prominently at the beginning of the letter and move the section on your research to the end.  By the same token, if you are applying to a research-intensive university, you should do just the opposite.  One caveat here, though:  in the landscape of higher education today, few institutions draw such clear lines in terms of their mission, so you will often need to exercise sound judgment as to which element should come first.
  • Avoid jargon.  Clarity is your first priority.

Resources:

John K. Borchardt (2006), “Writing a Winning Cover Letter.”

Alain-Phillippe Durand (2011), “Keys to the Cover Letter.”

From Purdue University’s Online Writing Lab:  ”Academic Cover Letters.”

Richard M. Reis (2000), “The Basics of Cover Letter Writing.”