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Grammar Fundamentals for Cover Letters

4 of 10 in Series: The Essentials of Cover Letters

Good grammar is essential in cover letters. Before writing cover letters during a job search, review grammar fundamentals. Many employers see language skills as an important aspect of potential job performance, so take the time to polish this part of your writing.

The following guidelines review common grammar mistakes and how to correct them:

  • Sentence fragments: Sentence fragments signal incomplete thoughts. They neglect essential components. For example: Although I work in Detroit, making $200 an hour.

    Sounds strange, right? This fragment is missing the subsequent subject and verb needed to finish the thought: Although I work in Detroit, making $200 an hour, I would prefer to work in Atlanta to be near my family.

    To test your sentences, speak each one aloud, out of context. Imagine walking up to someone and saying that sentence. Would the sentence make sense, or is something missing? If so, add the missing information.

  • Run-on sentences: Run-on sentences are two complete sentences written as one. For example, I finished writing my cover letter, it’s great, and I'm going to e-mail it to about 50 contacts tomorrow.

    Break it down like this: I finished writing a great cover letter. I'm going to e-mail it to about 50 contacts tomorrow.

    Each sentence contains a complete thought and should stand on its own.

  • Dangling participles: Dangling participles are words ending in ing that modify the wrong subject.

    For example, Running across the water, we saw a huge water beetle.

    This sentence literally means that we saw a water beetle while we were running across the water. Try this instead: We saw a huge water beetle running across the water.

  • Misplaced modifiers: Like dangling participles, misplaced modifiers modify the wrong subject, often resulting in hilarious miscommunications.

    For example, Ben taught the dog, an inveterate womanizer, to bark at all brunette women.

    Revised, this sentence makes more sense: Ben, an inveterate womanizer, taught the dog to bark at all brunette women.

  • Abbreviations: Use abbreviations only if you have previously written out what the abbreviation stands for. For example, don't write UCSD if you have not previously written University of California, San Diego (UCSD). Never assume that your reader knows or will be able to figure out what an abbreviation stands for.

    Some technical jargons commonly use abbreviations. In that case, write to your reader. If your reader will understand the abbreviation, use it.

  • Consecutive numbers: When you use two numbers in a row, avoid confusion by writing out the shorter of the two numbers: six 9-person teams. Or, revise your sentence to separate the numbers: six teams of nine people

    Whenever a sentence begins with a number, write out the number rather than using numerals. Better yet, revise the sentence so that the number doesn't appear at the beginning.

  • Capitalization: Capitalize trade names like Kleenex and Xerox. Avoid using these trade names to refer to a class of things or to an action.

    For example, I need to Xerox some papers is technically incorrect. Instead, write: I need to photocopy some papers.

  • Capitalize titles of departments, companies, and agencies: Any official name of a company, department, agency, division, or organization should be capitalized. For example: U.S. Department of Labor, Department of Safety.

    Don’t capitalize words such as department, company, or organization when used as a general word rather than as part of a specific title. For example, I work for a division of Toyota.

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