Writing and Rewriting the C.V.

Ellen Mayock goes through the steps.

January 23, 2015

Keeping a "course of the life" (curriculum vitae) is no easy task. Nevertheless, once you have a solid C.V. started, you will be in great shape. Here are a few items for you to keep in mind and a few simple instructions to follow as you craft your C.V.

Know Your Field

If you have ever been a grant reviewer or served on a pre-tenure or tenure committee in a different department, you will have noticed that not all fields have the same expectations for the C.V. and that not all C.V.s in the same field are alike. Examine a variety of C.V.s in your field to discern general practices. You can surf the web to find these and ask colleagues for a copy of their C.V.s. Many professional guides also include sample C.V.s.

Ask yourself these questions: What do people in your field place first on the C.V.? How do they order the chronology of events? How long are their C.V.s? What items are deliberately absent? Does the C.V. appear to be tailored to a specific audience?

Structuring the CV

These suggestions will help you to write a strong first draft of a CV, but keep in mind that you will want to modify the document to ensure that it fits the needs of your specific field and the type of job you are seeking.

1. Place your name in bold at the top of the document, and then write “Curriculum vitae” below your name. I find it helpful to know when a person's C.V. was last updated. You might choose to add in brackets under “Curriculum vitae” an indication of when you last updated your C.V. (e.g., [December, 2014]).

2. Include pertinent contact information:  professional address, telephone, e-mail address, website (if applicable).

3. Create labels for your sections. These can include “Teaching” (or “Work Experience”), “Research” (or “Publications”), “Outreach,” “Honors and Awards,” “Service,” and “Professional Affiliations.” You might also include “Languages” and/or other items of specific interest in your field. Some people include “Works in Progress” on their C.V.s. This can be useful for others to get a sense of your scholarly direction, especially if it's not yet clear from the list of publications itself.

4. As your C.V. grows longer over time, you will want to add subsections. Under “Teaching,” you might specify the courses you have taught according to the stages of your career. In addition, you can highlight theses/dissertations supervised and/or any other unusual teaching activities and accomplishments. Under “Research,” you should think about creating subsections of “Books,” “Articles in Reer-Reviewed Journals,” “Book Chapters,” and “Book Reviews.” If you have been active in other areas (e.g., creative writing, translation, editing), create sub-categories for those as well. Make sure to include a section for presentations, including conference presentations.

5. Decide upon a numbering or bullet system for the items in your lists. At the top of the list should appear your most recently completed item. Include clear time indications for each of your entries. Readers of your C.V. want to know what you have done and when you did it so that they can get a sense of your career trajectory. 

6. Place only works that have been published or accepted for publication on your “Publications” list. Include dates or projected dates (e.g., “Forthcoming in May of 2015”). If you have work under review, that's great, but it is not published work. If you must include it on your C.V., then place it under “Works in Progress.”

7.  It is best not to include on your C.V. the name of every panel you have ever moderated or every visit to an elementary school you’ve done. Too much detail detracts from the important life events you need to emphasize.

Getting Feedback and Revising the C.V.

It makes a lot of sense to ask two or three colleagues to read over your C.V. and make suggestions. This will give you a sense of how well you are getting your message across, if the order you’ve established is logical, and if pertinent items are missing. Of course, if there are common threads among your colleagues’ suggestions, then these are the items that you most need to address on the C.V.

Update your C.V. with each new accomplishment.  At the end of each term, you can add the new courses you have taught, any publications or acceptances of scholarly or creative works, and scholarly talks. 

Periodically you should consider updating the look of your C.V., just to keep things fresh for you and your audience. If you change the format, make sure to go back through the steps outlined here.

The C.V. vs. the Faculty Activities Report

Many institutions require faculty members to complete an annual report of “faculty activities,” which is usually a detailed account of teaching, research, and service work done over one calendar or academic year. At many colleges and universities, these annual reports serve as the cornerstone of the tenure and promotion file, and administrators use them to make decisions about merit-based pay raises. 

The faculty activities report can contain much of the detail that you omit on your C.V.  This is the venue for the list of panels you have moderated and community service activities you have performed.  The C.V. should be the bigger picture, while the faculty activities report gives real detail and texture to the work of the faculty member.  Keep both of these documents up to date, and then you will never experience a crunch moment when you’ve got to produce one or the other on the spot.

Tailoring the C.V. to Your Audience

Keep one steady version of your C.V. to which you are always adding the latest line items of the work you have done. Of course, you can also always do a “save as” on your core C.V. document to tailor a C.V. to a specific audience. For example, if you are applying for a grant on a specific topic, you might shorten your C.V. and eliminate the detailed list of courses you have taught and/or publications that are not pertinent to the grant proposal. Or, if you’re sharing your C.V. with community agencies, you might put your outreach work more front and center.

Keep your C.V. Up to Date

This is an obvious bit of advice, but you will be surprised to see how many people — either on their own websites or the university website — do not keep their C.V.s up to date. This sends the wrong message to outside audiences because it implies either that the work has stagnated or that it’s not worth mentioning. A clear, thorough, current C.V. sends the best message about your ability to get the job done.


Ellen Mayock is Ernest Williams II Professor of Spanish at Washington and Lee University. She recently co-edited with Karla Zepeda, Associate Professor of Spanish at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, Forging a Rewarding Career in the Humanities: Advice for Academics (Sense, 2014). 


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