Dos and Don’ts When Writing a Motivation Letter

Last updated on 29 Jan 2022
Dos and Don’ts When Writing a Motivation Letter


Photo by Kinga Cichewicz via Unsplash

Oleh Mia Angeline

Motivation letter is one of the most significant requirements in your university or scholarship application.

You probably realized that almost all universities in Europe ask for your motivation letter a.k.a. application essay or personal statement.

And you may have read that motivation letter is your one chance to really show yourself.

You may ask yourself how am I going to write the motivation letter without too showing off or underrating yourself?

Every time you try to write one, you probably browse examples of motivation letter online, get overwhelmed, and start to think: "I need someone, who had successfully admitted to that high-ranking university, to give me advice about motivation letter."

Do not fret since we are here to help you.

We have compiled tips on how to write a motivation letter from several scholarship awardees.

Things You Should Do

First, we have Abdul Rahman Ismail, Master of Science (MS), Engineering / Industrial Management (2017 – 2019) at Uppsala University, Sweden, and a Swedish Institute Scholarship (SI) Awardee. Swedish Institute Scholarship is known as very concise, they only give you 150 - 250 characters to explain about yourself (yes, it includes spaces and punctuations).

Abdul Rahman explained to get started, you should type your motivation letter in Microsoft Word, where you can see the characters’ total count. Start by typing like you usually do, in the end, you can paraphrase the long sentences into shorter one. Always paraphrase into a simple and concise sentence, and make sure to use active sentence rather than passive. Since you only have limited characters, make sure to get to the point right from your first sentence.

Click here to read the full story from Abdul Rahman Ismail

Second tips come from Affan Giffari, Master’s Degree from Tilburg University, The Netherlands, also a StuNed Scholarship awardee. Affan said a great motivation letter should be well-connected from the beginning to the end.

A good motivation letter should have a great structure. For example, you should explain your background in the first paragraph. If you mention you are from Indonesia and describe limitations from the major / program you want to pursue, then it will give a clearer perspective about who you are. While in the second paragraph you can mention about current activities in relation to your program. You can state the reason why you choose a certain university in the third paragraph, and lastly, explain your future plan in the fourth paragraph.

Write those four paragraphs comprehensively and remember the consistency and continuity of each paragraph.

Click here to read the full story from Affan Giffari

Next tips are from Christine Lora Egaratri, Master of Arts Social Policy for Development at International Institute of Social Sciences (ISS) of Erasmus University Rotterdam, also a StuNed Scholarship awardee.

According to Christine, when writing a motivation letter, you should be honest and just be yourself. Describe your feelings, your background experiences, and your life vision. Of course, these three things should have a strong relevancy with your chosen major. When you explain your background experiences, it is better to describe what you have done to achieve your vision and goals. Also, remember to have a feasible and realistic vision.

Click here to read the full story from Christine Lora Egaratri

We also have tips from Shantya Shafa Paramitha, Master’s Degree in Food Science and Technology, Product Innovation and Management at Wageningen University, a StuNed Scholarship awardee. A motivation letter should be realistic but also should put a spotlight on you - show your uniqueness above the rest of the applicants. Everything you write should make sense, don’t use too many filler words.

Shantya also added that you should do some research. For example, she wanted to study food technology, so she added several data from her research. This will show that you are aware and well-informed about the global issue.

Click here to read the full story from Shantya Shafa Paramitha

Lastly, we also have tips from Dikky Indrawan, a Ph.D. student at Wageningen School of Social Science, Business Economics Group, and an LPDP Scholarship awardee. Structure in a motivation letter is the important aspect that you need to pay attention to. Your motivation letter must consist of What, Why, and How.

The first thing you should write is what makes you interested in that university and with that program. And then explain why your skill and experience are related to the program. Finally, describe how can the program / university helps you in achieving your goals.

Click here to read the full story from Dikky Indrawan

In summary, all our awardees said the same thing about what you should include in a motivation letter:

  1. Past experiences
  2. Current activities or passion
  3. Your skills or achievements related to the program
  4. Your future plan, expectancies, or life goals
  5. Reasons you choose the university or program
  6. Benefits to Indonesian society and the university after you finish your study

For more information about studying in Europe with Erasmus+ Scholarship programmes, click here.

Things you should NOT do when writing a motivation letter

1. Don’t read your motivation letter repeatedly without a break.

Give yourself a break, leave them for a day and then you can reread it again. If you keep reading your draft, then you won’t find anything wrong about it. Whenever you give yourself a proper break, you will have a different perception and you can see your writing objectively.

2. Don’t focus on your weaknesses.

We understand that you try to be objective. However, motivation letter is your ONE CHANCE to sell yourself. Focus on your strengths instead.

3. Don’t use too many filler words.

Or flowery sentences. They will know if you use overdramatic words or unrealistic explanations. Just keep it simple and concise.

4. Don’t write in one sitting

Spend your time brainstorming the idea, do a small research, and wrote in a daily progress. If possible ask another person to read your letter to get feedback.

5. Don’t copy others

We don’t recommend you read others’ motivation letter, because you tend to copy the other person’s style of writing. Just be confident, be original, and be yourself.

6. Don’t be vague

Don’t just write “I feel extremely passionate about the subject,” instead focus on why you are passionate about it and how you are going to feed that passion. Don’t write something that millions of people would write.

7. Don’t use irrelevant facts

Before you write anything in your motivation letter, always apply the ‘so what?’ rule. If it will help explain why you should be given a place in the program then you can write it down.

We only have the dos and don’ts in this article, click here if you want to read the full guide about motivation letter.

Nothing worth having comes easy. This saying also rings true with your future education plan. If you think seriously about your motivation letter, then your chosen university will think seriously about you.