Professional Writing


Many people engage in specific types of writing, particularly non-academic and technology-based writing, that they might not even think of as "writing." But these specific types of writing--such as emails and web-based writing--require writers to meet certain guidelines in order to be effective. This section provides resources for writing emails, writing for the web, and writing for the job search.

Also see: Writing in the Disciplines for specific types of academic writing in Business, Humanities, Social Sciences, and Sciences | Conducting Research for resources on how to write a research paper | Writing with Technology for information on free online tools, Microsoft Word, and Microsoft PowerPoint.

Note for Montclair State University Students: MSU's Center for Career Services & Cooperative Education also offers assistance with writing related to career and graduate school applications. See their in-person workshop schedule and online workshops. Also, check out their video on writing an e-resume and their free resume assistance program, Optimal Resume.




Email is one of the dominant ways people communicate at home, work, and school. Even though email is used for both formal and informal communications, one needs to consider the setting and audience when composing a message. In other words, it may be appropriate to use a casual tone in an email to a friend, but that tone may be inappropriate when making a formal request of a professor. These resources address such issues involved in email etiquette.

Effective E-mail Communication (The Writing Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)
Thorough guideline for writing effective, professional email that includes examples you can use.

Email Etiquette (Purdue OWL)
"Although instant and text/SMS messaging is beginning to supplant email for some groups' primary means of Internet communication, effective and appropriate email etiquette is still important. This resource will help you to become an effective writer and reader/manager of email."

Email Tune-up (
Posted on YouTube | April and November 2008
A series of video podcasts for ESL students who want to improve their business email writing skills. Here is a list of several of these 9-10 minute videos.

Email Writing (Texas A&M University Writing Center)
Includes audio, a transcript, and tips for writing an email based on the email's intended recipient.

How to Practice Email Etiquette (Tracy Goodwin,
Posted on YouTube: September 25, 2008
Series of short (1 - 1 1/2 minute) videos on email etiquette in a business environment. Here is a list of segments in this series:

3 Ways to Boost Gmail Netiquette (University of Iowa) "Here are three tools that could save your life, give your emails a professional, unique look, and possibly save you some minor embarrassment."



General Tutorials on Web Content, Writing for Web Sites "The tutorials below cover how visitors read content on the Web and how to write effectively for the Web. See also below for specific topics: Writing 'About Us' Content for the Web and Writing Headlines and Titles for the Web."

Writing for the Web (Nielsen Norman Group, Dr. Jakob Nielsen) A list of articles related to "Writing for Web."

Writing for the Web: The Blog of Writing for the Web (4th ed.) Blog posts related to Writing for the Web, 4e by Crawford Kilian.

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General Resources

Action Verbs

  • What is an action verb? (Purdue OWL) An explanation of why we should use action verbs when writing professionally and applying to jobs.
  • Categorized List of Action Verbs (Purdue OWL) “This categorized list contains only a few action verbs you can use to compose concise, persuasive, reader-centered resumes, cover letters, or other types of workplace documents. The examples are illustrations that overview the uses of action verbs in professional writing.”
  • List of Action Verbs for Resumes & Professional Profiles (Wake Forest University) (PDF) A list of action verbs categorized according to skill sets.

Determining Audience (Purdue OWL) “This handout provides information on how to tailor your employment documents to a specific audience.”

Example Employment Documents (Purdue OWL) (PDF)This PDF contains “examples of resumes, CVs, and cover letters for a variety of disciplines.” It is annotated with comments on organization, grammar, layout, language, and other useful tips.

Identifying Your Strengths Worksheet (Florida Gulf Coast University, Career Development Services) (PDF) A worksheet that prompts you to assess your transferable skills and personal qualities and provide examples of them. This type of self-evaluation prepares you for writing your cover letter, writing your resume, and answering interview questions.

Job Interview Worksheets (The Resource Center for Technology) (PDF)A collection of worksheets that can assist job seekers in defining their objectives, collecting information for their resumes, writing their cover letters, filling out application forms, and acing their interviews.

Job Skills Checklist (Purdue OWL) “The following is a sample list of skills found in a cross section of careers. Circle every skill that applies to you. Jot down examples of situations in your working life that demonstrate this skill. Then try to incorporate these skills into your resume and/or cover letter.”

Reading and Using Job Ads (Purdue OWL)This resource discusses the organization and language used in job ads, along with strategies for critically reading and understanding ads.

Resources and Tools (Center for Career Services, Montclair State University) A variety of online resources and tools for students and alumni.

Tailoring Documents (Purdue OWL) “This handout provides information on how to tailor your employment documents to a specific audience.”


Cover Letters

A Cover Letter Is (Montclair State University Center for Career Services & Cooperative Education)
This link describes the purpose and form of a cover letter. It also includes a link to sample letters in Optimal Resume.

Cover Letters 1: Quick Tips (Purdue OWL Workplace Writers) "This page provides a down-and-dirty guide to writing cover letters. Here you will find brief answers and lists of what you should include in a cover letter, how to order and format such a letter, and what to do before sending it out."

Cover Letters 2: Preparing to Write (Purdue OWL Workplace Writers) "Before you start to write a cover letter, you should gather information about yourself, the company, and the job. This page will help you learn what kind of information to find, where to find it, and how and why to use that information to 'sell yourself' in a cover letter."

Cover Letters 3: Writing Your Cover Letter (Purdue OWL Workplace Writers) This page includes information on writing your heading, addressing your cover letter, and writing your introduction, body, and closing paragraphs.



Guide: Curriculum Vitae (Writing@CSU) A step-by-step guide to writing your CV. Use the navigation bar on the right to view different categories.

Resume and Cover Letter Writing: Curriculum Vitae (Marquette University, Career Services Center) Describes how a CV differs from a resume and how to compile information for your CV.

Resumes (NC State University Career Development Center) Here you can watch an introductory video to writing resumes.

Resumes and Vitas (Purdue OWL) "These OWL resources will help you compose effective résumés and Curriculum Vitae for your job search. This section includes resources on page design (which includes using white space, headings, and fonts), as well as resources on tailoring your résumé for specific employers. This section also contains links to other OWL resources geared for working class positions."

Sample Curriculum Vitae ( Here are some CV examples, formats, and templates for academic, IT, medical, and international positions, among others.

Writing Curriculum Vitae ( Includes information on when to use a CV and how it differs from a resume.

Writing the Curriculum Vitae (Purdue OWL) “This handout provides an overview of strategies for writing an effective curriculum vitae. This topic is particularly important for graduate students who are entering the academic job market for the first time.”



100 Potential Interview Questions (Thad Peterson, “While there are as many different possible interview questions as there are interviewers, it always helps to be ready for anything. So we've prepared a list of 100 potential interview questions. Will you face them all? We pray no interviewer would be that cruel. Will you face a few? Probably. Will you be well-served by being ready even if you're not asked these exact questions? Absolutely.”

Interview Questions (Live Career)
"A great interview boils down to one thing: sound preparation. With the right amount of research, practice, and persistence, you’ll be ready to give the best answers to even the toughest interview questions. To get started, have a look through our list of sample interview Q&As and professional tips. From example responses to salary negotiation guidance, we’ve given you the helpful advice you need to ace your next interview."

Preparing for a job interview (CBS) Posted by CBS News on January 12, 2012 | length: 4:21 “Ed Muzio, CEO of Group Harmonics, unveils a three-step model on how best to prepare for a job interview.” He describes how to extract information from the job description, provide evidence of your skills, anticipate interview questions, and prepare questions to ask the prospective employer.

Interviewing Skills Guide (Virginia Tech, Career Services) The guide provides a comprehensive review of interview skills including the following topics: ethical issues | standards of conduct, types and locations, DOs and DONTs, employer information sessions, skills & demeanor, interview attire, typical interview questions, questions to ask the employer, practice interviews, and after interviews. 


References and Recommendations

Asking someone to be your reference or write you a letter of recommendation:

Applicant Request for a Reference (Purdue OWL) Here are some suggestions for contacting people you wish to serve as references for you.

How to Ask for a Reference (Alison Doyle, Here are some suggestions for asking someone to serve as a reference for you and creating your reference list.

Letter of Recommendation: How to Ask for It (Peterson’s Company) Tips on choosing your recommenders, asking for the letter, and sending a thank you.

Letters of Recommendation – Letters of Reference: Personal and Professional Letter Samples and Templates (Savetz Publishing) “155 letter of recommendation templates you can download and print for free. We have tips on writing letters of recommendation and as well as templates including letters of recommendation and letters of reference for employment, college and graduate school, adoption, apartment rental, and other personal and professional situations.”

Sample Reference Request Letter (Alison Doyle, This is a very basic template for writing a letter/e-mail asking someone to serve as a reference for you. You might also want to describe the position you are applying for and attach your current resume to the e-mail.

Serving as a reference or recommendation:

Guidelines for Writing Letters of Recommendation (Linda Kaiser of the University of Missouri; Retrieved from Clemson University, Center for Career and Professional Development) (PDF) A two-page handout on what to include in the opening, body, and conclusion of a letter of recommendation. The PDF also contains a sample letter.

How to Write a Letter of Recommendation (California State University, Long Beach, Center for Scholarship Information) Suggestions from Harvard College and for writing letters of recommendation for your students, employees, coworkers, and friends.

How to Write a Recommendation Letter (Susan M. Heathfield, Useful tips on what to include/not include in a letter of recommendation.

“If your reference says this, you’ll get a job” (Amy Levin-Epstein, CBS) This article explains what you can do to prepare your references to speak about you or, if you are serving as a reference for someone, what you can say to help the person sound like a top candidate.

Top 10 Sample Recommendation Letters (Karen Schweitzer, “Writing a recommendation letter for someone else is a huge responsibility and getting everything just right is important. If you are seeking inspiration, the following sample recommendation letters should help. These sample recommendations are the most popular samples on the site.”

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Correspondence with Prospective Employers

Acceptance Letter (Purdue OWL) General guidelines for what to include in a letter/e-mail when you are accepting a job offer.

Follow-Up After No Response to an Interview (Purdue OWL) General guidelines for what to include in a follow-up letter/e-mail when you have not heard back from a company after an interview.

Follow-Up to an Interview (Purdue OWL) General guidelines for what to include in a follow-up letter/e-mail after an interview along with a model letter.

How to Write a Letter of Interest for a Job (Randy O. Williams, eHow) The transcript of an interview with Charles Purdy, editor of Monster, about how to write a letter of interest to a prospective employer.

Inquiry about Cover Letter and Resume (Purdue OWL) General guidelines for what to include in an inquiry letter/e-mail when you have not received a response to your job application. This site also provides a model letter.

Letter of Interest Sample (Alison Doyle) An example of a letter/e-mail you would write to a company that has not advertised specific openings. This letter allows you to inquire about potential openings, emphasize your interest in the company, and highlight your skill set.

Letter When You Receive a Rejection (Purdue OWL) “Consider writing a letter even when you receive a rejection. Sometime later when you have had additional experience or training, you may want to apply to the firm once more. The letter shows that you were extremely interested in working for the particular company and states your interest in applying for another position at a later date.” This site offers suggestions about what to include in this letter/e-mail.

Model for Writing a Request for Further Negotiations (Purdue OWL) An example of how to professionally and politely discuss a job offer you would like to negotiate.

Rejection of Job Offer (Purdue OWL) General guidelines for what to include in a letter/e-mail when you are not accepting a job offer.

Phone Skills (Virginia Tech, Career Services) "In your search for an internship or job, your resume and cover letter alone are not the only tools to success. Employers will be evaluating you on all forms of communication and how you handle and present yourself. Be a pro on the phone."

Three Simple Rules for Emailing Potential Employers (Peter Weddle, CareerCast) An article about how to converse with prospective employers that includes three key tips: use formal language, pay attention to your tone, and think about how you’re representing yourself.

Writing Professional Letters (University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, Career Services) (PDF) This document discusses the structure and content of different correspondence between you and your prospective employer. Some topics include an interview confirmation letter, a post interview thank you letter, and job offer acceptance/declination/clarification letters. Sample letters are located at the end of the document.




Book Proposals (Purdue OWL) Includes guidelines, pre-writing strategies, and tips to make your proposal stand out.

Planning and Organizing Proposals and Technical Reports (Richard Johnson-Sheehan, Purdue OWL) (PDF)An extensive guide to planning for a proposal, from identifying your purpose and audience to drafting your conclusion. This resource includes charts you can fill in while you’re preparing to write. The second half of the PDF (p. 18-end) provides tips for writing a technical report.

Resources for Proposal Writers (University of Wisconsin – Madison, The Writing Center)“This page lists some useful books and websites for graduate students working on research proposals.”

Sample Academic Proposals from the Purdue OWL (Purdue OWL) (PDF) Includes sample proposals for conferences, articles, and book chapters.

The Art of Writing Proposals (CGU Writing Center) "Some Candid Suggestions for Applicants to Social Science Reserach Council Competitions." 

Submitting the Conference Proposal (Purdue OWL) Tips for formatting, saving, and sending a conference proposal.

Things to Remember When Writing Your Conference Proposal Abstract (University of Notre Dame Writing Center) (PDF) A handout that discusses the most important components of a conference proposal.

Writing Academic Proposals: Conferences, Articles, and Books (Purdue OWL) A guide to writing conference proposals.

Writing the Academic Conference Proposal (Jennifer Sano-Franchini, GradHacker)An article about writing an effective conference proposal by considering your audience, discipline, and conference theme. It also includes examples of how to articulate the ways your research challenges, complicates, or takes a different approach to existing work in the field.



4 Editing & Proofreading Techniques for Your Novel (Courtney Carpenter, Writer’s Digest) “Joseph Bates, author of The Nighttime Novelist, shares tips for editing and proofreading a novel or book.”

The 10 Dos and Don’ts of Writing a Query Letter (Brian A. Klems, Writer’s Digest) “While query letters vary a little depending on who the agent is (and their guidelines) and what type of book you’re writing (novel, nonfiction, poetry, etc.), there are many elements that remain the same. That’s why I’ve developed this list of dos and don’ts to help you navigate what’s really important to include in your pitch and, also, what should be avoided at all costs. By sticking to these 10 specific dos and don’ts of writing a query letter, you’ll give yourself the best opportunity to find success and land an agent.”

10 Proofreading Tips for Self-Publishers (Anna Lewis, PBS) “No matter how many times you’ve read through your work, it’s amazing how often errors can sneak through to the final stages. The problem: You’re so familiar with the text that you see what you think you have written rather than what you actually wrote. For this reason, at the very least, it’s good to ask a few friends to help you proofread. Don’t forget to carefully proofread the cover, copyright, and title pages as well as any indices, tables of contents, and dedications — mistakes in these areas happen surprisingly often. So, short of hiring a professional proofreader, what else can you do to make sure your book is as close to perfect as possible? Here are some tips.”

Anatomy of a Query Letter: A Step-by-Step Guide (Writer’s Relief Staff, Huffington Post) “When submitting book queries, your letter has precious little time to grab the attention of the literary agent reading it. If you don’t get to the meat of the book right away, your query might end up in the recycling bin. The following guidelines will help you compose a letter that will keep agents’ attention long enough to give your manuscript a fighting chance.”

Author’s Permission Guidelines (The University of Chicago Press) Most of the information regarding permissions on this site is not particular to The University of Chicago Press. This page can help any writer who wants to know more about copyright, fair use, public domain, and when permission is needed for previously published materials.

From Manuscript to Printed Page: How to Get Published (Betsy Lampe, Rainbow Books Inc.) (PDF) This handout describes the different types of publishers and offers tips for writers looking to submit their work.

How to Write the Perfect Query Letter (Brian Klems, Writer’s Digest) Here you’ll find an example of a successful query letter, followed by an agent’s comments.

Preparing Articles for Publication in Peer-Reviewed Journals (Siobhan Bowler, American College of Preventative Medicine) (PDF) “This paper focuses on preparing articles for publication in peer-reviewed journals. Four areas of article preparation are covered: (1) what you should be thinking about when selecting a journal for your paper and at what stage you should start thinking of journals; (2) style guides and the most important things you need to follow in journal style guides; (3) simple ways in which you can improve clarity when writing papers; [and] (4) what happens to your paper once you send it to the journal and the various types of responses you can expect to receive.”

Preparing Manuscripts for Publication in Psychology Journals: A Guide for New Authors (APA) (PDF) “This guide provides an overview of the process of preparing and submitting a scholarly manuscript for publication in a psychology journal. Drawing on the experiences of authors of scholarly writings, peer reviewers, and journal editors, we seek to demystify the publication process and to offer advice designed to improve a manuscript’s prospects of publication. To exemplify the process, we describe specific publication procedures for journals of the American Psychological Association.”



Abstracts (UNC at Chapel Hill, The Writing Center) “This handout provides definitions and examples of the two main types of abstracts: descriptive and informative. It also provides guidelines for constructing an abstract and general tips for you to keep in mind when drafting. Finally, it includes a few examples of abstracts broken down into their component parts.”

Abstracts (University of Wisconsin – Madison, The Writing Center) Structured as a Q&A, this page addresses the definition, purpose, content, and form of an abstract.

Abstracts: Examples (University of Wisconsin – Madison, The Writing Center) “Here are some very successful sample abstracts from a range of different disciplines written by advanced undergraduate students.”

Writing Abstracts (Indiana University Bloomington, Writing Tutorial Services) This site includes tips for writing and polishing your abstract and describes the components of informative and indicative abstracts.

Writing Report Abstracts (Purdue OWL) “This handout discusses how to write good abstracts for reports. It covers informational and descriptive abstracts and gives pointers for success.”



All About Grants Podcast (NIH, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services) The Office of Extramural Research (OER) talks to NIH staff members about the ins and outs of NIH funding. Designed for investigators, fellows, students, research administrators, and others just curious about the application and award process, we provide insights on grant topics from those who live and breathe the information. Episodes are available as mp3s for download here, or via RSS feed.”

The Foundation Center “We help grantseekers, grantmakers, researchers, policymakers, the media, and the general public better understand the field of philanthropy. Our web site is designed to guide you quickly to the information you are looking for—instruction on funding research, help with proposal writing, tools for locating prospective funders, news and research on the field, or a library or training class near you.”

Grant Writing (Purdue OWL)  “This resource provides a general introduction to grant writing and provides information on how to ensure clarity in grant proposals.” The page is divided into three subpages:

Grants and Funding: Grants Process Overview (NIH, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services) “Any successful project requires planning, development, implementation, and follow-through. Obtaining NIH funding for your research idea is no exception.  The Grants Process Overview below provides an overview of the steps required for an application to proceed from application planning and submission through award and close out.  Look to the related resources on each page for special guidance from NIH experts that can help maximize your understanding of the grants process and help you submit a successful grant application.” ( Search for federal grants and learn about the process of applying for federal grants.

GrantSpace “GrantSpace, a service of the Foundation Center, offers information and resources that are specifically designed to meet the needs of nonprofits worldwide in need of know-how for securing funding and operating effective organizations.”

Grantwriter FAQs (Puget Sound Grantwriters Association) Responds to many frequently asked questions about grant writing, from how to become a freelance grantwriter to how to find corporate and government grants.

Grant Basics (NIH, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services). "Before getting started, learn why it is important to understand the structure of NIH and how we approach grant funding, what types of organizations and people are eligible to apply, what we look for in a research project, and the types of grant programs we offer."

About Grants (NIH, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services) "Read on for an orientation to NIH funding, grant programs, how the grants process works, and how to apply."

What is in a Grant Proposal? (Grant Writing Resources, Inc.) Outlines the standard components of a grant proposal.