Employers and others have come to expect cover letters to be formatted in a standard manner. While some experts say it's fine to use the "personal letter" style to write a cover letter, it's more common to go with business style, also known as block style. This means that each element (return address, salutation, etc.) in the cover letter is aligned to the left margin. There should be two lines (returns) between each single-spaced element or paragraph, with the exception of the space between the date and the body of the letter, where there should be four lines' worth of spacing.
Use a common type face (font), preferably with serifs, in 10- or 12-point type. Times New Roman is a good choice, as is Georgia or Garamond. If your cover letter is accompanying a resume, try to have some consistency in their appearance, such as the same body text font.
Use proper grammar and punctuation, and be sure to run spell-check-but don't count on it to catch all your errors. Also, it's common style in business writing to include the "serial comma" (the one before the last item) in lists; for example: I organized, filed, and updated client lists. An exception might be if you're writing a resume cover letter for an industry in which the serial comma is not typically used, such as journalism or public relations.
Following are the elements of a standard cover letter:
- Return Address
- You can use custom letterhead paper. Or, simply type your address, phone number and e-mail in one, single-spaced block aligned to the left margin. (Or, centered, if you're not using the business-style format.)
- Two lines after your address block, input the date with no abbreviations: September 12, 2008.
- Inside Address
- This is the full name, title and address of the person to whom the letter is addressed. If you don't know the name and can't find out, just input the address. This block should be single-spaced, with returns after each line.
- Two lines below the Inside Address, input "Dear [Mr. or Mrs.] LastName:". Never use a first name, even if you have met the person previously. If you're responding to a "blind ad," put Dear Sir or Madam. Follow with a colon, not a comma. If your letter runs short, you can add extra spaces between the Inside Address and the Salutation to even it out.
- Body of Letter
- Two lines below the Salutation, this part should take up three or four paragraphs of no more than six to eight lines each. Space twice between each paragraph. If you're using business (block) letter style, remember not to indent the paragraphs. (For more on what information to include in the body, see Body of A Resume Cover Letter.)
- Complimentary close
- Two lines below the body of the letter, type "Sincerely," including a comma. Leave three lines below this as space for your signature. Type in your name. Be sure to sign the letter after you print it out! Use blue or black ink only.
- This line is optional. If you're including additional documents, such as a resume, examples of your work ("clips") a price list, etc., you can format the line like this:
Index of Cover Letter Examples