On this page I’ll be posting some of my favorite assignments.
One of my absolute favorites is the Presidential Cover Letter, in which students craft job application letters for past presidential candidates. I’ve used it for a few years now with a wide variety of students. Along the way, many have told me that they appreciate the real-world applicability of learning to write in this critical genre. At the same time, I really enjoy pushing them to draw direct connections between the past experiences and accomplishments of their candidates and the skills needed for the job of President. Below is the assignment sheet I hand out to the students when I explain the assignment. Typically this also includes a list of generic cover letter advice, a template for them to use when formatting the letter, and a sample of a good letter from my previous classes.
Finally, I should add that I’ve long considered broadening the assignment so that the students would have the freedom to write about people other than presidents. However, I haven’t yet thought of a solution for the anarchy of everyone writing letters for different jobs. In addition, the jobs of many very interesting historical figures can be fairly hard to define. What does one write in the letter when applying to be an abolitionist, for instance? If you’ve got thoughts on how to improve this assignment or if you use it yourself and want to report on the results, please do get in touch.
United States History I and II
Presidential Cover Letter Assignment
For this writing assignment you will create a cover letter for a presidential candidate from any time during the period covered by this course (the election of 1788 through the election of 1864 for U.S. History I and 1868-2000 for U.S. History II). You need not choose someone that actually won their election.
For those of you who have yet to experience the joys of the professional job market, a cover letter is a very formal letter that you send along with your resume to a business or organization at which you hope to get a job. The Career Services office here at TAMU-CC has some advice and examples of cover letters linked from their website (http://career-services.tamucc.edu/).
If you aren’t familiar with cover letters, I’d advise you to read about them elsewhere on the web or in job hunting books so that you can get a good handle on what they should look and sound like. Don’t worry; You don’t need to make a résumé for the candidate.
For the purposes of this assignment you should consider the job posting in question to be Article Two of the U.S. Constitution. That part of the Constitution describes the Executive Branch of the Federal Government. Thus, your letter should speak to the ways in which the candidate is qualified to perform the duties described there.
In addition, you should consider the context of their election. If a particular issue or set of issues was important to the nation at the time, then you should discuss how your candidate would address them. Be careful not to make a campaign speech. You are aiming for the proper tone and content of a cover letter.
There are two goals for this assignment: to give you some practice writing a cover letter and to allow you to do some secondary source research to learn about a candidate of your choice.
You will be graded not simply on the information offered about the candidate but also on the efficacy of the cover letter as a whole. Thus, the letter should be professional, accurate, engaging, and absolutely flawless. When employers put a job listing on the web or in a newspaper, they get inundated with hundreds of cover letters. Whether you think it is fair or not, the reality is that they narrow down the list of candidates by giving the letters a very quick and very harsh read. Spelling mistakes, grammatical errors, and difficult to understand prose will quickly convince the reader that they should waste no more time considering you for the job.
To meet the second goal, you should do a small amount of outside research about the candidate in question. You’ll want to go beyond Wikipedia and venture into the vast resources provided online and on campus by our library. Wikipedia is a good place to start to learn a bit about the people you are considering. But it is not the type of source you want to rely on for your letter. The best sources will be biographies and histories written by professional historians and biographers (preferably published within the last 40 years or so).
Since citation is very important to academic writing but there is no place for it in a cover letter, you should attach a separate “works consulted” page to the letter. We’ll just have to assume that everyone will adhere faithfully to the code of academic conduct. There will be more focus on proper citation in your second writing assignment.
The grades you get on this assignment will reflect the following criteria
A’s – The letter is professionally presented, easily readable with no grammar or spelling mistakes, and accurate in terms of its content. It also successfully conveys how the candidate is qualified for the job and how their previous experiences prepared them for the job. This letter would get the candidate an interview.
B’s – The letter is professionally presented, readable with few unclear sections, grammar and spelling errors, and mostly accurate in terms of its content. It also successfully conveys how the candidate is qualified for the job. This letter would not get the candidate and interview but might be filed away for future reference if another job comes available.
C’s – The letter is not professionally presented. It is hard to read, or it has a number of grammar and spelling problems, or it is not accurate in terms of its content. It may not successfully convey how the candidate is qualified for the job. This letter would simply be thrown away by a prospective employer.
D’s and F’s – The letter is not professionally presented. It may have severe readability, grammar, or spelling issues or may not be accurate in terms of its content. It does not successfully convey how the candidate is qualified for the job. This letter would be brought around to the other people at the company so that everyone could have a good laugh before it was thrown away.
Finally after you receive my comments and a grade on your letter, you will have the opportunity to rewrite it. Final scores for the assignment will be the average of the original and the rewrite.
Below you will find a template for the letter, a sheet of generic cover letter advice, and an example of a letter from a former student who did well on the assignment.