Writing Letters of Recommendation
Letters of recommendation are required to support most applications
for scholarships, graduate schools, law schools, medical schools, and
on occasion, jobs. Due to the increasingly competitive nature of internships,
recommendations are also becoming necessary for January and summer internships.
Writing a quality letter of recommendation requires that both you, as
the writer, and the student for whom you are writing the letter, are
prepared to present the very best case for his or her candidacy. Below
are some tips for writers, as well as a recommended form for candidates
developed by the Office of Career Services to help you collect the information
you will need from the candidate to write the best letter possible.
Be Sure of Your Ability to Write the Letter
The most important rule in writing letters of recommendation is to just say
no if you aren't sure you can't write a glowing letter. It is difficult to
say no to an eager graduate school applicant or job-searcher, but it is better
for the searcher to know that you can't effectively endorse him or her. If
you can't write a glowing letter because the person's performance has been
less than stellar, it's important for him or her to know. One way to break
this news may be through a statement like this one: "John, I don't think
that I am the best person to be a reference for you at this time. Have you
thought of someone else you could ask?"
Use specific examples to support your statements. Specific examples will enhance
the value of positive comments and will protect you from legal action. If
you choose to include unfavorable information, you must include specific
examples to illustrate your point.
Beware of Ambiguity
Letters of recommendation tend to be overwhelmingly positive. Because most
letters are inflated, ambiguity is often viewed as suspect by selection committees.
Any equivocal information might be interpreted in a negative light, even
if you did not intend so.
To the reader, your letter is you. Its grammar, spelling, format, and logical
structure must indicate to the reader that you are someone who is intelligent
and well-educated - otherwise, the reader is unlikely to trust your opinion.
Organize the Letter
An effective letter of recommendation is structured and comprehensive. Below
are a few components to consider including in your letter:
- Begin your letter by indicating for whom you are writing, what he
or she is applying to, and set an overall tone for the letter.
This letter serves as a recommendation for Jane Doe, an applicant
for fall admittance to your LSDAS-participating law program.
- Describe your qualifications for comparing the applicant
to other applicants.
I have been teaching for fifteen years and have advised
over four hundred and fifty students interested in health
- Try to quantify the student's strengths or
rank him or her vis a vis other applicants
that you have observed.
Ms. Doe ranks among the top 10% of
her class. Her language skills far exceed
those of her peers, a characteristic
that has been demonstrated through her
receipt of all three annual publication
awards in this year's edition of our
campus literary magazine.
- Discuss how
well you know