Professional Writing

Whether it is writing a cover letter for a coveted internship, an exciting job opportunity, a proposal for a project, or an email to your professor, one of the most important things about professional writing is knowing your audience. If you are writing any of these in a language or for a professional culture you are unfamiliar with, the structure and style may not be what you expect.  In the US, some of the essential qualities of good professional writing are concision, clarity, the use of standard grammar and punctuation, and emphasis on the goal of communication. Here, we will take a look at the conventions of some of the most common forms of professional writing you will encounter. For information on professional writing outside of the US, try some of the links at the bottom of this page. But first, some of the common conventions for the US: 


A résumé is a one-page document that highlights your strengths and qualifications as an applicant relevant to the position you are applying to. Concision and pertinence are key—rather than writing a laundry list of all your accomplishments, you should provide a summarized view of your experience and tailor your résumé to each position and employer you are applying to. This means that you will have to edit your résumé to include key buzz words the employer is looking for as you submit it for different purposes—very few successful applicants only have one résumé!

For more advice on how to write a successful résumé, you can schedule an appointment with Gordon Career Center through Handshake and also ask for their résumé guide.We also recommend exploring Princeton’s résumé guide.

Cover Letters

A cover letter is a one-page letter that introduces yourself to an employer by highlighting a few experiences and accomplishments that are most relevant to the job you are applying for. Unlike the bullet point structure commonly found in résumés, the 3-4 paragraph structure of a cover letter allows you to really expand on the most relevant and important parts of your applicant profile through the use of concrete details and examples. Just as no two jobs or experiences are the same, no two cover letters you write should be identical. However, they should follow a general business letter format which includes a professional greeting, your contact information, the name and address of the organization you are applying to, and your signature at the end. For more advice on how to write a successful cover letter, you can schedule an appointment with Gordon Career Center through Handshake or refer to their cover letter guide.

Email to Professor and Employer

For emails to a professor or employer, it is important to write a clear subject line, introduce yourself if this is your first email, and state your purpose directly with sentences such as “I am writing to...” to convey your message smoothly. In terms of professional etiquette, remember to include salutations followed by the recipient's name and title (Professor, Dr. Mr. Ms.), and end the email with a sign off followed by your name. If you are writing to a professor, remind them of which class and which section of the course you are taking as some professors have over 100 students each semester. It is also advisable to add the recipients only after you've done writing and reviewing the email—that way, you’d be able to reduce the number of emails sent by mistake!

Business writing in different cultures

Whether you are applying for an international position or looking to compare your culture to the US’s writing style, looking at how business writing is done in other cultures can be empowering. For example, by looking at the conventions for China or India, you may more clearly understand the conventions for North America.


Regardless of the document you are writing, remember that you can always make an appointment with a Writing Workshop Tutor or a Gordon Career Center Peer Career Advisors for support.