Your final assignment for this semester will be the cover letter that will introduce the pieces in your portfolio and allow you to reflect on your development as a writer over the course of this semester. This letter should be typed as a single-spaced letter in block format (paragraphs aligned at the left margin, with an extra line between paragraphs) that is addressed to the members of the Portfolio Committee who will be reading your portfolio.
You may want to begin the essay with an introduction to who you were as a writer as you came into this class, maybe something brief about your background and how you assessed your strengths and weaknesses, maybe something about what your assumptions had been about the class or about college writing in general.
The body of your letter should discuss the three essays you’ve included in the portfolio (the logical way to set this up would be one paragraph per essay). Explain why you chose each essay and how each illustrates your abilities as a writer. In essence, the letter should at least in part be an argument that you’ve achieved the course objectives of English 11. (You may want to check the syllabus here.) Be sure to consider and discuss the applicable criteria of focus, development, organization, mechanics, and research skills that the committee will be evaluating. Be sure to refer to specific parts/places in each essay. For at least one of the essays (perhaps the one that gave you the most difficulties), trace the essay’s evolution through the stages of generating topic and details, drafting, revision, and proofreading.
Your conclusion (a final attempt to sway your readers) might include any recognitions you’ve made about yourself as a writer and any changes you’ve made (or plan to make) in your writing process.
An important reminder: Your letter itself should also serve as evidence of your writing competence in its focus, development, and organization.
Length guidelines: I expect that a well-developed letter would be at least 500 words or so.
Student samples from previous semester:
Strong Cover Letter
December 12, 2001
Humboldt State University
Arcata, CA 95521-8299
Dear Portfolio Reader:
In this portfolio I included a variety of pieces in order to display a wide breadth of my abilities and interests. I tried to show the presence of awareness of my audience and rhetorical purpose by providing several different styles of writing. [Comment on paragraph one.]1
I chose to present "Voyeur" first2 because I feel that it provides the reader with an introduction and insight3 into my character and interests in a personable manner. Although I feel this piece stemmed from worthwhile introspection and used vivid descriptionssuch as that of riding through a Mexican border town in a "shiny white rental car smelling of new plastic and a faint tinge of the prior occupant's cigarettes" past ancient grandmothers who "sit listlessly on the dust packed earth with their faces wrinkled by a thousand years of sun, tears, and age,"4 I consider it my weakest piece because I was experimenting with writing a subjective narrative in first person, a style that is new and unfamiliar to me. because I was not writing an objective essay or a research paper, it forced me to abandon writing strategies that I had found adequate and successful for the requirements of previous classes. It forced me to write about emotions as opposed to logic and straight facts. Facts tainted by emotion are harder for me to portray because I often don't trust my writing to convey their meaningfulness. For example, when I wrote, "When I came back, I returned with a sense of confidence,"I did so because I felt I could not even begin to convey the magnitude of my new found sense of self worth and the absence of ostracism from my peers that I felt at that point.5
Because I wasn't comfortable with this paper, I had many people read over it for me as I made my revisions. Some of these people suggested that I name the destinations of my travels. I purposely did not do so because I only sought to convey the incredible impact traveling can have upon me; thus, I felt the locations were irrelevant and possibly distracting.6
Despite my concerns about the strength of "Voyeur" in comparison to the others, I think it enhances my portfolio because it does succeed in telling the reader about me and some of the definitive influences on my character. [Comment on paragraph four.]7
The second piece I chose to include in the portfolio was written in response to the events of September 11th. I wrote a letter to an elected official because I felt its value would be twofold: I could fulfill a class requirement while simultaneously informing an elected official of my opinion on such a serious situation.8 I feel that the latter is highly important because if one believes strongly in something, and she doesn't tell her representatives her opinion, then they cannot be held accountable for their actions or inaction.
Although when I wrote it felt passionately about the situation, I tempered my vocabularybecause if I had used over-emotional language my opinion would have been easier to dismiss or discredit. It was also purposely written to be concise. I wanted to make my point and move on, and not overload it with facts, so that it would actually be read and not just skimmed over.9 I know I made unsubstantiated generalizationslike, "For even as unprincipled as terrorism is, the desperation and craziness of those who commit these crimes stem from real situations of injustice in the world," but for the sake of brevity I did not find this unreasonable.10 I also feel that in a letter to an elected official one need not justify her views but merely state them, for it is not the official's job to evaluate his constituents' views, only to represent them.
Finally, the third piece of writing I included was my research paper11 on the philosophical beliefs of North Coast Earth First!ers. I thought it would be a strong piece to end with as it demonstrates my skills to research a topic at length, analyze it, and also compare it with other topics for clarification. For example, I showed the philosophies of the New Age Movement and Animal Rights proponents to contrast with a deep ecological philosophy.12 This helped to support my assertionsabout their beliefs as well as dispel some of the misconceptions surrounding them.13
The tried and true methods I used to write this paper made it one that I felt quite comfortable including in my portfolio. For example, I outlined this piece by using a method for writing research papers suggested to me by a previous instructor. As I concluded my research, I simply wrote down any relevant points and quotes that I wanted to use on index cards. On the back of these cards I wrote the bibliographic information of my sources in MLA format. Then, when I felt I had enough in formation to begin writing, I laid out the cards in the order in which I wanted to present the information they held which instantly provided me with an outline. Writing my works cited page and bibliography were then a cinch because I didn't have to return to any of my sources or even reach for my MLA handbook. [Comment on paragraph eight.]14
Fortunately, I entered this semester with a strong background in English which allowed many of my revisions to focus on style, purpose, and trying to make my voice heard. And although much of this semester's work validated the effectiveness of strategies that I had used in the past, I learned the areas in which my writing is weakest and needs the most work. I now know that to improve my overall writing abilities I need to continue to practice writing subjectively and also vary the sentence structures I use to add depth to my work. I also learned that it is okay—and ultimately necessary—for one to experiment outside her comfort zone in order to achieve a higher level of success.15
The writer opens with her goals for her portfolio; although this is certainly not the only way to open the cover letter, I respond positively to he sense of purpose.
This author remembers to identify each of her submissions by title--not be genre--and she formats the title appropriately. She also remembers to discuss her rationale for ordering her submissions as she does.
Herein lies an example of one minor concern with this cover letter: it is a bit wordy. I wouldn't use both "introduction" and "insight."
Not only does this author support her assertions about "vivid descriptions" with specific examples, she does so by gracefully integrating (and correctly punctuating) her quotations into the cover letter's text.
This writer makes excellent decisions concerning how many quotations to include. She offers brief, specific examples without making the whole portfolio redundant.
Here the author discusses one of her writing decisions--a very smart strategy. Not only does she reveal her control over her writing, she also casts this section of her paper as a strength rather than as an oversight or mistake.
This paragraph feels redundant to me. I would have deleted it.
I like that this writer exposes her writing motivation; in this way, she reveals her appreciation for the role writing plays in the world, for the power of writing.
Again, the writer highlights in this paragraph her decision-making process; again, she casts this element of her paper as a strength rather than as an error.
The author wisely identifies a generalization--providing a specific example--and explains her decision.
The author slips a bit here by identifying this submission by genre rather than by title.
Again, this author makes her decision-making process transparent, effectively revealing her behind-the-scenes work.
I don't find sufficient support for this generalization. I find myself wondering HOW these comparisons "support [her] assertions about their beliefs as well as dispel some of the misconceptions surrounding them."
As an evaluator, I am reassured by these process revelations. They increase my confidence that this author is in control of her writing, that she has mastered skills that will continue to serve her in her college career and beyond.
I like that this author offers herself advice for continuing to improve her writing. This kind of awareness will most likely result in continuing improvement.