How can you demonstrate you are an effective communicator in a single page in a letter of intent? We’ve covered mistakes to avoid as well as a general structure for application letters. Now we need to progress on to the kinds of detailed feedback I often give letter writers.
Make an outline. You may not have done this since you were in grade school, but trust me, it helps. You should have an introduction, some key points you want to hit, and a conclusion. You don’t have to use a five paragraph essay, but I would be lying if I said I didn’t use one regularly when writing letters of recommendation. There’s a reason it’s an iconic literary construct.
Make sentences punch. Compare:
- Original I am confident that my dedication to meeting new challenges, commitment, willingness to learn, and positive attitude will make me a valued asset to the team.
- Punchy My dedication to meeting new challenges, commitment, willingness to learn, and positive attitude are characteristics I can bring to the team.
- Original These experiences have fostered my love for building the human-animal bond and as well as recognizing the importance of building positive client relationships, which is something I aim to continue to develop throughout my professional career.
- Punchy These experiences have fostered my love for building the human-animal bond and showed me the importance of building positive client relationships.
- Original While I am excited by the opportunity to refine my skills and expand my knowledge, I know that it will not be without long hours and hard work and I am motivated by the challenge.
- Punchy I know that an internship will often involve long hours and hard work and I am motivated by the challenge.
Use simple language. Compare:
- Original As a veterinary student, I saw that anesthesia offered an opportunity to draw upon a capability in the sciences to solve unique and complex problems with facility and compassion.
- Simple As a student, I saw that anesthesia offered an opportunity to solve complex problems with compassion and facility.
- Original With the advantage of knowing my life’s passion early on, I dedicated my spare time to furthering my knowledge under the tutelage of senior colleagues and board-certified specialists.
- Simple Removed entirely. This sentence doesn’t add anything. It’s saying the applicant spends time learning. Yes, you were in vet school, this is self evident. Also, the language is meandering, obscuring the meaning in overly complex phrasing and word choices.
Don’t get confused. When you start an idea in a paragraph, see it through to the end or scrap the entire paragraph. Don’t try to bundle too much into too little space.
Flow. Make sure a reader can follow your train of thought. Do your conclusions flow from your statements? Are there isolated ideas or concepts not tied to the greater narrative? Get rid of them, make sure there is a consistent narrative throughout which reveals who you are.
Kill your darlings. Although oft-misattributed, this concept is important even to the single-page-letter-writer. Do you have a turn of phrase from your vet school application, or a poignant story you think is perfect? Maybe it is, but maybe you can’t see the problems with it. Seek out advice and, when all signs point to it, do the right thing and cut it. My wife edits all my blog posts and regularly cuts segments which I think are just great, but in the end I agree with her.
Second draft = first draft – 10%. Stephen King introduced me to this idea and I have almost never found it to be wrong. It is easier to trim than it is to create good content. Start more expansively and then begin cutting.
When in doubt, make sure to use simple but not simplistic language. Put the thesaurus away. Be sincere and show them who you are. There are innumerable writing guides on the internet and in book form- go check them out. Your letter doesn’t have to be perfect, but the clearer you can be as a writer, the more effective you will be.