How to Format a Professional Academic Cover Letter

by M.T. Wroblewski

If you are preparing to write an academic cover letter, you are wise to consider how it should be formatted. After all, while the content of your letter is important, appearances make an impression, too. In style and substance, academic cover letters are very similar to standard business cover letters. Your biggest decision will be whether to use letterhead, create one yourself or write a return address at the top of your letter.

Prepare to use the block format for your cover letter. This means that every line is flush left -- also known as left-justified -- and the body of the letter is single-spaced, except for double spaces between paragraphs.

Choose a readable font for your letter and be consistent throughout. Experiment with serif fonts -- those that contain tiny lines at the ends of letters -- and sans serif fonts, in which the letters are devoid of those squiggly lines. Times New Roman and Century are examples of serif fonts; Arial and Helvetica are sans serif fonts. Serif fonts tend to look a bit more traditional, so if the school you are sending your letter to is conservative or traditional, you may wish to use a serif font.

Type your letter on professional letterhead, if you have it. Absent this resource, you face two choices. The first is to create a modest and readable letterhead in a word processing program by typing your name on one line, followed by your address, phone number and e-mail address on separate lines below. Center this information on the page. You may wish to emphasize your name by placing it in a larger type size, but make sure it does not overwhelm your contact information. Your second choice is to type your name, address, city and zip code at the top of the page, flush left.

Type the date. Double-space and, on separate lines, type the recipient’s name; title; name of school; school address; and city, state and zip code. If the recipient is a Ph.D., use “Dr.” before the name. Otherwise, address male recipients as “Mr.” and female recipients as “Ms.” or “Mrs.” If you are uncertain about the latter choice, go with “Ms.,” for you will not be incorrect in doing so.

Double-space and write your salutation in the same manner as above, followed by a colon. Double-space and write your letter, remembering to double-space between paragraphs.

End your letter with a formal closing, such as “Sincerely” or “Sincerely yours,” followed by a comma. Space four times and then type your name. Sign your name in the space between.

Type “Enclosures” below your typed name if you are including any with your cover letter.


  • If you are creating your own letterhead, you may wish to choose a font that is different from the font you use for the body of your letter. The two fonts should complement each other, so choose them carefully. Do not use more than two types of font in your cover letter, because doing so can create a visual distraction.

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