Writing a Cover Letter

We know that we hardly need to offer a group of expert writing-center directors advice about writing a letter, but we’re convinced that the letter that introduces the survey to alumni is important enough for the success of this research to merit some commentary and suggestions. Think for a minute about this communication situation. You’ve got a lot going for you given how positively alumni feel about their experience as peer tutors and given the warm relationship you had with your former tutors. Your letter is likely to be received with lots of good will. But once former tutors open the email or letter, they’ll recognize immediately that you’re asking them to do something that wasn’t on their already overcrowded schedule and might take up to an hour of their time. The cover letter needs both to inform and to invite former tutors to take the time and care necessary to contribute to your research.

As you plan and draft your letter, it might help to think about goals. Here are some we’ve had for our cover letters:

  • To convey the warmth and enthusiasm we feel toward our tutor alumni and our genuine interest in their lives since graduation
  • To explain the purpose for the research and to interest alumni in participating
  • To persuade recipients that their responses will be important, so they’ll make the time to complete the survey
  • To urge recipients to respond soon, while conveying flexibility about the deadline
  • To explain how the results will be used and to satisfy legal and ethical requirements for informed consent
  • To invite / open up a dialogue if they have questions

It’s tricky to establish the ethos you want and to use the voice that your tutor alumni will remember, while communicating information efficiently and satisfying legal research requirements for informed consent. And of course it’s tricky to accomplish these goals in a letter short enough to get read.

You may, of course, have other local goals for your letter–to introduce yourself, for example, if you’re writing to alumni who worked with a different director in your writing center’s past. And if you’re using email, you’ll want to come up with a subject line that won’t make your message look like spam.

Sample Cover Letters

We don’t pretend that our letters are Platonic ideals; in fact, we’re sure that you can do better. If you’d like, you’re welcome to use any of the language in our samples without requesting permission; we’ll be delighted to think that you find any of it useful!

Brad’s cover letter

Paula’s cover letter

Harvey’s cover letter