Creating Cover Letters for Technical Documents

Instructor: Scott Tuning

Scott has been a faculty member in higher education for over 10 years. He holds an MBA in Management, an MA in counseling, and an M.Div. in Academic Biblical Studies.

A technical document cover letter is quite different in format and purpose when compared to a typical job seeker's cover letter. This lesson describes the structure and function of the technical document cover letter.

Cover Letters for Technical Documents

When you hear the term ''cover letter,'' you probably think about a job search cover letter. The purpose of a job seeking cover letter is to get your resume put into the ''next step'' pile. The structure and purpose of a technical document cover letter is a bit different. Cover letters to technical documents provide context by giving background to the document, explaining the document's purpose, and providing a landing spot for material that didn't fit nicely into some other section of the technical document or report.

A technical document cover letter might accompany a maintenance bulletin issued by an aircraft manufacturer to the mechanics who service their products.
Commercial Aircraft

Mandatory Elements of a Technical Cover Letter

Take a look at this passage from a technical document cover letter titled ''Report On The Investigation Into Russian Interference In The 2016 Presidential Election'' and see what kinds of structural features pop out at you.

''This report is submitted to the Attorney General pursuant to 28 C.F.R. § 600.8(c), which states that, '(a)t the conclusion of the Special Counsel's work, he ... shall provide the Attorney General a confidential report explaining the prosecution or declination decisions (the Special Counsel) reached.''

Let's break down some of the things you might have observed about the cover letter. Each statement we examine is a mandatory element of any and all technical cover letters.

Statement Structural Element
This report is submitted to the Attorney General pursuant to 28 C.F.R. § 600.8(c) A clear statement about the purpose of the report
...shall provide the Attorney General a confidential report A statement indicating next-steps or the result of the steps already used to produce the document
...explaining the prosecution or declination decisions (the Special Counsel) reached An explanation or description of document to which it is attached

Regardless of the technical document's nature, the 3 universally-mandated elements are:

  1. A statement about the document's purpose
  2. A discussion about the utility of the report (How should the data in the technical document be used?)
  3. A brief explanation of the document to which the cover letter is referencing

Special Considerations Regarding Formatting

Unlike a job seeker's cover letter, a technical document cover letter can take many forms. The alternative options for formatting have a lot to do with the document's consumer. Reports being circulated exclusively in the internal space may have a brief, almost memo-like format. Externally circulated documents will normally follow the standard business letter form.

The Signature Block

The signature block is also subject to a few differences when compared to a standard cover letter. In a job seeker's cover letter, a complimentary closing (i.e. sincerely, yours, respectfully, etc.) is general followed by a single signature of the letter's author. In such a scenario, there is little need for more. However, in a technical cover letter, a signature block may include multiple signatures. The purpose of multiple signatures is varied, but in most cases the multiple signatures are included to increase the credibility of the report. Obviously, in many cases, as the complexity and scope of the report increases, the need to have credible support from multiple subject-matter experts increases as well.

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