The Academic Writing Center team gives advice on how to write an effective motivation letter
Motivation letters are crucial for the selection process in many institutions.Easy and familiar at first glance, motivation letters can be a real nightmare. How do you make them stand out and meet all the criteria within the given word limit?
Based on our selection experience at the Academic Writing Center, we’ve made up a list of tips on how to write a winning motivation letter and achieve your ultimate goal. These tips will be mostly useful for those people who’d like to enroll for a writing course at the AWC, but they are also applicable to any motivation letter across all disciplines and institutions.
- Do your homework. Before you tackle any motivation letter regardless of its purpose — a postdoc position or a master’s degree — find out as much as possible about the program, its objectives, teachers, and everything else there is to find out. Then, analyze your needs and compare them with what the program is offering. Is this what you’re looking for? Then make sure to state in your letter clearly what aspects have a particular meaning to you.
- Focus on your strong points. Ask yourself a question — why am I the right person for this course? The program of your interest might be highly competitive, and you need to prove that you will be the right fit. In your letter, focus on your strongest qualifications and past experiences and describe how they will help you succeed in the course.
- How will you benefit from the program? Think of how this course will help you improve your skills and boost your career. Any institution always wants to be sure their program bears fruit. Think thoroughly how it will help you master your skills and kick your career into high gear in the long term and describe it in your letter.
- Organize your text. The rule is simple — keep one idea to one paragraph and develop it with explanations or evidence. Paragraphing is important because it helps you as a writer to stay on track while drafting and revising your paper. Don’t forget about your reader — if the text is well organized, it is much easier to follow your train of thought.
- Make it personal. Avoid starting your letter with “Dear Sir or Madam”. If there’s a way to find out the name of the person you’re addressing, please do so. It always shows that you’ve done your research and you know your reader.
- Be original. As much as it’s tempting to copy some good templates you’ve found online or even borrow from your own previously written motivation letters, it’s always better to start from scratch and tailor the letter to the particular case.
- Style matters. Remember to stick to one style throughout the whole text. If you’re writing in academic style, make sure to choose the right collocations, avoid contractions and sound consistent overall.
- Remember the 3C’s — clear, coherent, and concise. Clarity is one of the core principles of academic writing. It means no ambiguity, no possibilities of other meanings, and no need for the reader to read any sentence twice. Conciseness is economy in the use of words. Choose words wisely and avoid redundancy. The less repetition, the longer the writer holds the reader’s interest.
- Stay within the word limit. Remember about word count and try to stay within the limits. Over-length may lead to irrelevance and repetition; under-length may indicate that you are missing some key points.
All in all, a motivation letter can be a challenge, but you can overcome it if you keep in mind all those tips and write thoughtfully.
If you need additional help, the AWC provides seminars on writing persuasive cover letters and motivational letters. The schedule is posted on https://academics.hse.ru/awc/news/announcements/ and feel free to email firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions or concerns.
Here are some useful links for further reading:
1. How to write a cover letter, Harvard Business Review https://hbr.org/2014/02/how-to-write-a-cover-letter
2. How to write a cover letter people will actually read, New York Times
3. Resumes and cover letters, Harvard Extension School
4. How to write a scholarship motivation letter, Study Portals