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How to Write a Letter of Recommendation

Recommendations from Faculty or Staff

  1. Tell the student how strong a letter you feel you can honestly write for them; give them a chance to ask someone else if you cannot write a strong letter.
  2. Ask for as much information from the student as possible (application form, due date, copies of work done in course, etc.)
  3. Use a letterhead that matches your relationship with student: Department stationery, House stationery, etc.
  4. Explain how long, how well, and under what circumstances (course, House affiliation, chance) you have come to know the student. Why are you qualified to comment on him or her?
  5. Give the recipients of the letter information about the aspects of student performance THEY care about; step into their shoes. Include those special features that will interest them.
  6. Address aspects of the student's performance you know first-hand. Eyewitness accounts are more convincing than hearsay.
  7. Support your generalizations with SPECIFIC details or anecdotes; help the reader to imagine the student as you describe them. A purely general description is not useful.
  8. End the letter with a summary paragraph recapping your main points; if possible, compare the student with others you have known.
  9. Ask the student to let you know what happens to their application (you made the effort, you deserve some feedback).
  10. Keep a hard copy of every letter you send, and a soft copy (plus backup) in a "Recommendation File" on your computer hard drive. Also note WHEN you send letters. This will (a) avoid your having to write the same letter again and (b) remind you what you sent.

Copyright © 2002-2004 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. Permission is granted to non-profit educational institutions to reproduce this document for internal use provided that the Bok Center's authorship and copyright are acknowledged. Adapted from “Writing Your First Letter of Recommendation,” retrieved from http://bokcenter.fas.harvard.edu/docs/TFTrecs.html on January 4, 2005.

Recommendations from an Employer, Coworker or Friend

As an employer, coworker or friend, you may at some point in your career be called upon to write a letter of recommendation. If you are unsure about how to go about it or simply don't know what to say, here are some tips about what to include and how to structure a typical letter of recommendation. This advice may also be useful if you request a letter of recommendation from someone who is not familiar with how to write one. Be sure to tell your employee, coworker, or friend how strong a letter you feel you can honestly write for them; give them a chance to ask someone else if you cannot write a strong letter.

First Paragraph

Start out by specifying in what capacity and for how long you have known the person whom you are recommending. If the person is an employee or coworker, indicate the term of employment, the responsibilities of the position, and any significant projects undertaken by the individual. You may wish to include a sentence about the nature of your company and its activities. Here, you can also give a one-sentence summary or overview of your opinion of the recommended individual.

Second Paragraph

In the next paragraph provide a more detailed evaluation of the person as an employee. Describe his or her performance on specific assignments and list any important accomplishments. What are the individual's strengths or shortcomings in the workplace? What was it like to interact with him or her?

Third Paragraph

To sum things up you can make a more broad characterization of the individual and his or her demeanor. Overall, was the person responsible, polite, warm, disagreeable, lazy, or spiteful? Finally, indicate the degree to which you recommend the individual for the position she or he is seeking: without reservation, strongly, with some reservation, or not at all.

Before writing the letter, you may want to ask the person for a list of his or her projects, since you probably will not be aware of all the work they've done. Finally, if you have not had much contact with the person, you should respectfully decline to write the letter of recommendation, rather than putting together something vague and dispassionate.

Retrieved and adapted from “Monster Resume Center,” http://resume.monster.com/articles/recommendation/ on January 4, 2005.