Cover Letter Examples

Below, Cheryl and I post our own cover letters to ISU so you can get a sense of the format and language. Please keep in mind, though, that we’ve seen students copy sentences whole-hog from these examples, and that’s not a good rhetorical move. You gotta be YOU 🙂

Katherine’s example from 2004

This letter was written for a research-focused school (so my dissertation paragraph could be more substantial and I’d definitely want to emphasize future research, in all having 3 paragraphs on research instead of 2) that very much values teaching, which I could tell from the mission statement, large number of English Education majors, and faculty profiles and personal webpages. I knew the department also valued the English Studies model, so I should emphasize my interdisciplinary interests and remember that rhetoricians, technical writers, creative writers, linguists, and education specialists would be reading my letter as well as literary scholars.

20 November 2004

Professor Tim Hunt, Chair
Department of English
Campus Box 4240
Illinois State University
Normal, IL 61790-4240

 Dear Professor Hunt, 

I write to apply for the position of Assistant Professor of Eighteenth-Century British Literature, which your department has advertised in the MLA Job Information List.  I received my Ph.D. in May 2004 from Emory University, where I am now a Visiting Assistant Professor of English.  I believe that my interdisciplinary research interests in eighteenth-century British literature and global communication systems, such as print, the postal system, and intelligence networks, would complement the current curriculum of the English department at Illinois State University.  I would bring to your department two in-progress book projects, experience teaching introductory and upper-level courses in eighteenth-century literature and in writing, and a record of enthusiastic participation and leadership in the academic community.     

My current book project, entitled “Fatal News: Information Overload in Early Eighteenth-Century Literature,” is a revision of my dissertation.  The first extended consideration of the literary and cultural effects of information, my dissertation discovers that the term changes meaning between 1678 and 1795.  Though the eighteenth century is frequently cited by media theorists as the origin of today’s information age, no studies have yet analyzed or explained what information was, semantically, and how conceptions of it influenced the period’s knowledge and communication systems.  Beliefs in an “Enlightenment public sphere” and in print technologies as harbingers of a future of burgeoning knowledge inform many current theorists’ historical outlooks on media.  At the other extreme are studies that overemphasize eighteenth-century fears that the sheer quantity of documents in circulation would lead to total communication and community breakdown.  Jonathan Swift’s A Tale of a Tub, for example, begins with the image of an individual nearly suffocated in a crowd, which scholars have agreed represents Swift’s contemporary print culture.  What I find in Swift’s Tale, however, is that the narrator then goes a step further to demonstrate several innovative strategies for coping with the apparent threat of information overload.  For example, the narrator adopts a secretarial model of communication that promotes collective authorship.  My readings of John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, Aphra Behn’s History of the Nun, Swift’s Tale, Daniel Defoe’s Journal of the Plague Year, and James Boswell’s London Journals revise media theory’s historical assumptions about print culture before the nineteenth century.  I have been requested by Routledge to submit my revised dissertation for review as part of their series in Literary Criticism and Cultural Theory. 

My next project, “The Whispering Office: Information and Intelligence in the Literary Eighteenth Century,” continues my work on the relationship between Restoration and eighteenth-century literature and media to focus next on cryptography, intelligence networks, and narrative.  Despite their obvious influences on contemporary philosophies of language, cryptography manuals have remained largely unexplored texts.  I argue that manuals by authors such as John Wilkins, Samuel Morland, John Falconer, and Noah Bridges, and literary works by known intelligence agents Behn, Defoe, and Swift, make visible the emergence of information as a type of knowledge that virtualizes bodies.  In other words, information comes to be thought of as both material and immaterial, as bodiless and yet defined by the human body.  Most interesting to me is the way in which that “informational body” comes to be globally represented by the native or ethnic bodies of New World inhabitants and, locally, by the bodies of female readers.

Professionally, I have presented my research at major conferences in my field, and my article analyzing the relationship between the female body and mechanical technology in James Boswell’s London Journals and his Hyponchondriak essays is forthcoming in a collection entitled Sex and Death in the Eighteenth Century.  Two articles, one on the role of the postal service in Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress and another on informational bodies and media events in Defoe’s Journal, are currently under review by journals.  I have also published online, editing and introducing the late seventeenth-century Gentlewoman’s Companion and nineteenth-century feminist and abolitionist periodicals The Woman’s Advocate and The Women’s Era.    

At Illinois State University, I would be excited to teach survey courses in the century, including your “British Literature of the Eighteenth Century.”  In my upper-class survey, “Reading the Book of Nature in Restoration and Eighteenth-Century Literature, 1660-1740,” students have learned about allegorical, dramatic, and novel conventions with the help of contemporary developments in the graphic arts.  Of particular pedagogical interest to me are courses on the novel and women writers.  “Secret Histories of the Early English Novel,” which I taught when awarded a competitive Dean’s Teaching Fellowship, challenged students to recognize and question the relationship between historiography and the novel form during the early eighteenth century.  In a course on eighteenth-century women novelists and protagonists, which I will teach next spring, students will explore the context and legacy of “The Pamela Controversy.”  In the future, I would like to build from what I learn in this class to design a focus for your “Studies in Women and Literature” course, and I would also like to lead a graduate seminar on “Studies in the English Novel” that provides a more rigorous introduction to novel theory.  In addition to courses in my period, I would also be interested in teaching courses on “Research Studies in Language Arts.”  One of my strengths as a teacher is my approach to teaching research in both literature and writing courses; I work closely with the campus library to help students learn how to negotiate between different archives, electronic databases, and the stacks and how to recognize the investigative, rhetorical, and personal uses of research in their academic and professional lives.

Like my research, my teaching is technologically informed, and I would value the opportunity to work with Illinois State graduate students interested in “Technology and English Studies.”  Platforms like Blackboard, which offer discussion boards, portfolio management, and multimedia lecture and assignment opportunities, have proven especially useful in my Emory classes.  In the Lewis H. Beck Center for Electronic Collections, I have also had the opportunity to brainstorm and design online databases and exhibits: editing Seamus Heaney’s handwritten poems and helping to build a site for the Illustrated London News, for example, have made me more sensitive to narrative, intertextuality, and the physical properties of texts. 

 My service to the Emory Department of English and the Emory College has helped me better understand my responsibilities as part of a university community, and it has also deepened my commitment to research and teaching.  I seek out leadership roles and enjoy creating new opportunities for teachers and students to continue scholarly conversations outside the classroom, and I would be excited to participate in the Center for the Advancement of Teaching.  I also believe in supporting the campus Writing Center.  As Assistant Director of the Emory Writing Center, I trained a staff of twenty-four gifted undergraduate and graduate tutors, designed and taught monthly workshops, and improved faculty understanding of and participation in the Writing Center mission. 

I have enclosed my curriculum vitae and a writing sample, and my dossier will arrive under separate cover from the Office of Career Services at Emory.  Should you require any additional materials or wish to speak with me, I can be reached by phone at 770-923-5365 or e-mail at  I plan to attend the MLA convention in Philadelphia in December.  Thank you for your consideration.


Katherine Ellison

Cheryl’s example from 2006

I’m attaching it because I’ve used Comments (in Word) throughout to explain the different rhetorical moves I’m making. Some of this won’t be as relevant as Katherine’s letter as an entry-level position since I was responding to a job ad for an advanced assistant position. For instance, the dissertation paragraph is replaced here with a research agenda paragraph. Just be aware of the differences. Also be aware that this letter is by no means exemplary, even though it did get me the job. Plenty of things I would change (small changes) about it now, including the font, which at the time matched the font on my CV, which got mailed together.