A quick Google search for “how to write a cover letter or resume” returns thousands of articles with dos and don’ts, examples, and other advice—many of which provide insightful information for those preparing to write a cover letter. You can find one example here on our blog.
By combining that advice with insights offered from empirical evidence on what readers prefer, you can write a cover letter that will get you noticed! This post offers specific advice on the type of language and syntax you should use when writing a cover letter. Wait! This isn’t going to turn into a grammar lesson (at least not much of one), and we promise, you’ll be glad you kept reading.
Marshal Myers’ article, “The Million Dollar Letter: Some Hints on How to Write One” in The Journal of Technical Writing and Communication details key pieces of information on cover letters.
One way to get your cover letter to stand out from the dozens of others that hiring authorities will see is to covey energy and enthusiasm in the document. However, merely writing that you posses those qualities probably won’t help you stand out. Instead, use words and sentence structures to communicate an energetic feeling. Compare these two sentences.
- I have worked with hospital administration to improve efficiency in the emergency room.
- Working with hospital administration, I implemented policies to help the ER function more efficiently.
The two sentences contain the same information, but the second one is livelier. The difference results from using more verbals (the words and phrases italicized), which are verb forms that serve as nouns, adjectives, and adverbs in the sentence. Myers notes that because verbals “are verbs in origin, they still, by their very nature, retain the energy and vitality of the verb. Consequently, a sentence with verbals in it has at least two opportunities to energize the sentence: with the main verb and with the verbal.”
Sentences that use verbals are also more likely to be syntactically complex, which research shows readers prefer. Above, the second sentence is more complex than the first one, in part, because it uses verbals. In general, readers tend to view more complex sentences as better and perceive writers who use complex sentences as more experienced. Therefore, by using verbals to help make your sentence more complex you demonstrate your communication skills and convey your intelligence.
By merely tweaking your word choice and sentence structures, you can greatly improve your cover letter and your chances of getting noticed by hiring authorities.
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