Writing an Elegant Resignation Letter

By Dana Loewy

Our students may not be in a position to write resignation messages anytime soon. After all, many are just beginning their professional careers. However, students benefit from examining well-written business documents closely and with guidance.

Help your students understand the strategy by walking them through this excellent contemporary resignation letter written by Alex S. Jones, outgoing director at Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University. We’ve included both an annotated version of the letter and the original. Below is a suggested strategy for sharing this example of a real-world business document in your classroom.

How to Introduce the Assignment

A useful strategy is to ask questions to activate prior knowledge and to stimulate critical thinking. The following questions may be suitable for both purposes:

  • When might you write a resignation letter?
    A worker may have found a better job or wants to go back to school, for instance. Students may add other examples.
  • Why write a letter? Can’t you just talk to your supervisor?
    Yes, you will want to speak to your supervisor first, but it’s a good idea to create a record of giving notice verbally. A letter is appropriate in this situation because it’s a formal document that may end up in your personnel file. As a public figure, Mr. Jones faces much scrutiny. His farewell must be well-conceived.
  • Why should a resignation message be graceful and tactful?
    Smart workers don’t burn bridges. They are considerate and professional, which also means that they give sufficient notice as a courtesy to the employer. In an age of social media, rude behavior may follow a worker around. Conversely, professionalism is showcased in unprecedented ways online. Besides, past employers will be more willing to act as references when the separation is amicable.
  • Why does Alex S. Jones write such a long letter? Are all resignation letters long?
    As director, Mr. Jones owes it to his organization to write a detailed and extensive resignation letter. His executive position demands it. Also, he knew that his remarks would be made public. He clearly wanted to part on excellent terms and elicit goodwill.

Not all resignation letters are long. Most letters of resignation may be brief and basic. They might confirm the date of resignation, offer help to prepare for the resignation, remind the employer of contributions and accomplishments, and end with thanks and a forward-looking statement.

How to Proceed in Discussing the Model Documents

First show the plain resignation letter. Read the document paragraph by paragraph with the class. Solicit students’ feedback after each section. Encourage students to use their gut feeling and common sense.

Even a budding business communicator can tell whether the tone is friendly and positive or rude and negative, for example. The key is to train students to identify how the writer achieves that tone—which means he uses.

After reading and discussing the entire document, you may want to show the annotated letter. Discussing the comments will reinforce the work the class as a whole has accomplished.

Please share with us how the assignment worked for you and your students.

Resignation Letter–Plain

Resignation Letter–Annotated

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