Introduction

Before we begin with this lesson, I want to review the previous lesson titled “Motivational Letter — Part I.” As part of that lesson, you recalled important personal experiences where you demonstrated three to five key strengths. You researched motivational interview questions on the internet to learn how interviewers might ask questions. Knowing that you have the benefit of asking and answering your own questions, you are well prepared to begin writing your first series of drafts.

First Series of Drafts

In these first series of drafts, you will create your drafts for yourself. What the heck does that mean? It means that these first drafts are for your eyes only. Do not worry what others might think of your drafts because they will not see them. Instead, you are writing to yourself for yourself. This last point is key.

In school, you were likely taught to create an outline for your letters and essays. Once the outline was complete, then you began filling out the letter or essay. For most of us, that approach completely sucks the life and imagination out of our writing. So we are not going to use that approach.

Instead, we are going to follow a different approach:

  • an introductory paragraph saying why you are writing
  • three to five paragraphs elaborating on your three to five key strengths or attributes
  • one paragraph on why you chose that university or dance company or other institution
  • thank you paragraph for reviewing your application and, you hope, for their acceptance

When you write your very first draft, I do not want you to pay attention to length. You can even more paragraphs to explain yourself. When you get closer to the end, however, your structure should look closer to approach shown above. The complete length should be somewhere between one and two pages. Use no more than two pages, preferably much closer to one page.

Past Examples

Before you begin to start writing, I want to show you a few examples of finished or nearly finished letters. You might find some letters that relate closely to your own situation. Feel free to borrow ideas, but not complete text. This is your exercise. You need to find your own voice. Your letter needs to be authentic.

Going back to the examples, I suggest looking at the first post in the thread to see where the other person began his or her letter. And then, go to the end of the thread to look at the finished letter or nearly finished letter. In some cases, the final changes were minor and were never posted to English Forums. You should see, however, a dramatic difference between the first post and the last version posted.

We will be reviewing these posts again in greater detail, so do not worry about them for now. What I want to emphasize is that positive attributes are supported by life experiences. And look at the specificity as well as the amount of detail. There is enough detail to demonstrate the key strength or attribute but not so much detail to overwhelm or bore the reader. It is a fine balance.

As mentioned, we will be returning to these examples again later. So just have a quick look for now:

  1. German student's successful letter to a university
  2. mechanical engineering student
  3. finance student
  4. Erasmus Programme student
  5. physics student
  6. business student
  7. automation and information technology engineer
  8. neuroscience student

The first example by a German student shows a nearly completed letter. There are very few changes remaining. As you look the next examples, you can compare the opening letter to this nearly finished example. And, you should look at each example, even if the area of study is much different than your own. The field of study is not the important part. The important part is to see how the person structured and wrote his or her letter.

Repeating the earlier suggested structure, you neeed to write a quick introduction paragraph as to why you are writing. Then describe in your own words your three to five key strengths or attributes. Do not worry about length—just write. You will most likely write a few pages. The key point of this part of the exercise is to transfer all your thoughts and feelings from your brain to your paper or computer screen, whichever you think is best.

Initial Revisions

Once you are done, you will have several pages. Now, go through your letter and remove as many mistakes as you can. Try to make your letter flow smoothly. Remove anything you do not like. Although your draft is likely too long, do not worry about the length at this stage.

Here are some things to think about as you revise your rough draft:

  • Generally, all single digit numbers should be written out in English (dates are an exception).
  • Don’t use contractions; instead, do not use contractions.
  • Make sure your tenses are correct.
  • Eliminate slang.
  • Do not write in a stilted or educated manner.

Now, that last point is likely confusing to you. Are you not writing to a university, that bastion of higher learning where they expect you to use big words? Yes, you are writing to an institution of higher learning. But no, they do not expect you to use one hundred dollar words when a one dollar word will do. In fact, letters that are filled with big fancy words are ugly and difficult to read.

You do not believe me, do you? Okay, fine. Here is proof from a Wall Street Journal article titled “Students Struggle for Words: Business Schools Put More Emphasis on Writing Amid Employer Complaints” on March 3, 2011 about MBAs (subscription might be required).

M.B.A. students often have to unlearn bad behavior, such as using complicated words over simple ones, says Carter Daniel, business communication programs director at Rutgers Business School. Students might use the word "edifice" instead of "building," for example.

One of the shortest writing assignments at Northeastern is one of the most frequently bungled. For the Marketing and Customer Value class students must write, in fewer than 150 words, a compelling email convincing executives to implement a marketing and pricing strategy.

Students rarely get to the point, says Bruce Clark, writing coordinator for the M.B.A. program. "The first sentence should begin with, 'The single most important issue here is.' You'd be amazed how few students do that," he says.

If you want to read the WSJ article but are unable to view it because of the paywall restriction, please check your library to see if it has access.

Two key points from this short excerpt: One, use simple, easy to understand words; and two, be brief and concise. However, for our first series of drafts, we are going to relax the concise requirement. In Part III, we will return to creating a concise letter.

Getting back on track to our initial series of drafts, your initial draft might be five or more pages. That is fine, for now.

Now, here comes the hard part. I want you to put your letter away in a drawer for four or five days. Do not look at it. You have told the reader all about your strengths. At this point, you should feel good about your efforts. When I said leaving your letter alone was the hard part, I was serious. Most of us want to keep going. Why stop here for a four or five day pit stop? The reason for stopping is to allow your brain to keep working on it while you are busy doing others things. When you return to your letter, you will view your letter with a fresh set of eyes. Those fresh eyes are invaluable. So do yourself a favor by putting your letter away for several days.

Summary

In summary, the purpose of Part II is to create an initial series of drafts. You will have your initial and final paragraphs to introduce your letter and to thank the reviewer. In between, you are going to write with wild abandon about your three to five key strengths or attributes. At this point, do not worry about length. Instead, focus on transferring thoughts and feelings onto paper or computer screen. Next, revise your draft until you think it is reasonably smooth and flowing. Remember not to use big, complicated words and phrases. Then, take a well deserved break for a few days.

You have a lot of work ahead of you. I will see you in Part III.