Empower Your Motivation Letter

Hassan Jawad explains how the ancient rules of rhetoric employed by legendary orators across history can empower your motivation letter.

Empower Your Motivation Letter

Applying for master’s degree might be even more daunting than applying for a bachelors. This is because you are at this stage of life where you studied long and deeply enough to know your own limits and how much more growth you need to experience. In general, this is a good quality to have as it showcases you have not fallen victim to the Dunning-Kruger effect, or the terrible flaw of being overconfident in your limited knowledge. That knowledge of your limits however can be used in the production of one important document that universities ask from applicants to their master programs, the infamous motivation letter.

A motivation letter can be described as a document explaining why you are the perfect fit for the master’s program (or job) you are applying to. It is a document which you use to offer recruiters a more personalized view of your candidacy and make them feel that you are the right person for whatever available position you are applying to as opposed to simply analyzing your CV and seeing a bunch of achievements and skills. There exists many guidelines and videos online explaining the format, length, structure and content of the motivation letter, the most important advice is that you should keep your motivation letter to one page maximum. This article however will not be dealing with widely available technical advice but will instead be dealing with the motivation aspect of the letter and how you can influence the reader (1).

In our first year of Political Science, we were fortunate enough to take a course on the fine art of rhetoric and the techniques used by ancient legendary orators like Cicero, Demosthenes, Mark Anthony, and Julius Caesar. We were tasked with analyzing the orations of these fabled thinker and identify the elements they used to influence their audience to their causes. We learned that Rhetoric is based on three components, Logos, Ethos, and Pathos.

Logos is the oratory skill of being able to appeal to your audience’s reasoning and logic, in the context of a motivation letter you use this skill to highlight why you chose a particular master’s program or job position, how your previous experience and skills you have acquired justify your choice, you are essentially portraying how your own knicks and cracks, experience and mental abilities and tools will fit the puzzle offered by the master’s program or job position, and how once you are in your place, productivity, fulfillment and growth not only for yourself but also for your company or field of study will be achieved.

Ethos is the oratory skill of being able to project trustworthiness and a good professional and personal ethic to your audience, this skill is very subtle and perhaps the most difficult given that your audience or the receptor of the motivation letter does not know who you are, unless you have managed to make yourself notable in a particular way. Achieving this effect is possible if you have managed to participate in volunteering activities or charity work. This could be in NGOs like the Red Cross, or even volunteering for public service position such as an elections observer. Volunteering shows that you have values that drive you into acts that serve the public and that you have leadership qualities and a sense of initiative. Doing and listing your volunteering experience would serve to establish your ethos to your reader and audience.

Finally, the last oratory skill which would be of use for your motivation letter is pathos. This skill is very important even though it might not have necessarily a direct link with your academic or learning experience. Every one of us is subjected throughout his life to varying levels of challenges that could be financial, emotional or even as grave as the death of loved ones, these challenges naturally affect our performances academically and professionally, at the end of the day we are not emotionless machines, we are people who go through ups and downs and are capable of triumphing, and this is what your motivation letter should also be showing, by highlighting the personal challenges you went through and how you managed to overcome them you are demonstrating to your audience what type of metal you are made off. It can create sympathy and rapport with you and add a necessary individuality to your profile, making you stand out. For these reasons do not be afraid to be vulnerable but also be careful to balance this vulnerability well with your Ethos and Pathos and avoid oversentimentality.

To improve your ability to utilize these three skills requires practice and reading, do not hesitate to browse and analyze other examples of motivation letters with a particular look at how Ethos, Pathos and Logos have been used by their authors. Utilizing these tried and tested skills will no doubt aid you not only when sending out resumes and motivation letters but also in your professional and interpersonal life just as it did empower and help the great ones of history.


1. Write a Successful Motivation Letter for Your Master's

Text by

Hassan Jawad