How to Write a Letter of Recommendation
A letter of recommendation, or a recommendation letter, is a kind of business letter in which a writer (generally someone in a supervisory role) assesses the skills, work habits, and accomplishments of an individual being recommended to perform a particular function or task (admission to graduate school, applying for a job, etc.). The terms “a letter of recommendation” and “a reference letter” are often used interchangeably, which is not entirely correct. Recommendation letters are specific in nature and are always addressed to a particular person. Unlike them, reference letters are more general and addressed “To Whom it May Concern.”
It is important to carefully select a relevant person to request to write a letter of recommendation for you. Ask only those who know you well, comprehend your motivations and can evaluate your abilities as a student or professional. Make sure that your letter of recommendation does not duplicate or conflict with the rest of your applications (resume, transcripts, personal statement, etc.).
- Be specific and objective.
- Include the information about the candidate’s personal characteristics: composure, reliability, patience, dependability, creativity, and others.
- Mention the applicant’s professional skills: knowledge of the subject area, ability to manage other people, problem solving abilities, capability to get along with colleagues, etc.
- Follow the formal style of writing. Jokes, slang and other spoken language are not acceptable and may harm the applicant’s chances.
- Mention any weaknesses the applicant has.
- Write anything that could be interpreted as calumny.
- Exaggerate and put the applicant on a pedestal.
- Include personal information which is not relevant to the application, such as the candidate’s race, nationality, religion, political beliefs, age, marital status, health, etc.
- Use platitudes, generalities, and such vague and overly-used words as: beautiful, good, meaningful, etc.
- Say “I hope…” or “I believe…”. Instead it is better to say “I am sure…” or “I am confident…”
Guidelines – How to Write a Letter of Recommendation
- Structure the letter. It usually should be no longer than one page and include three parts: an introduction, body, and conclusion.
- In the opening, state your own qualifications and explain your relationship to the applicant: how long and how well you know each other.
- In the body, you should create an overall picture of the applicant: their personal characteristics, experience, performance, strengths, capabilities, professional promise. Discuss their potential in their chosen field.
- Emphasize the candidate’s exceptional strengths, for example, excellent communication and presentation skills, related experience in coaching, extracurricular activities, or research projects.
- To put the applicant’s achievements into perspective, include comparisons. This will give the receiver some basis to comprehend why you are recommending the individual.
- Give some concrete examples to support your words.
- In the conclusion, you are supposed to provide your judgments of the applicant’s skills and qualities.
- Avoid spelling, grammatical or typographical mistakes. A letter of reference is hugely important to the applicant, so you should make it look professional.
In order to be effective, a letter of recommendation should be specific and demonstrate what makes the candidate special and what distinguishes the candidate from the rest of the applicants, who may have skills and experience similar to that of the person you are recommending. Unsubstantiated and vague statements saying how brilliant the candidate is, will not help you to obtain the desired result.