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Writing Letters of Recommendation
In simplest terms, a letter of recommendation is a letter that makes a statement of support for a candidate. Preferably, the
person writing the letter of recommendation has been in an academic or working relationship with the applicant. A letter of
recommendation should also present a well-documented evaluation and provide sufficient evidence and information to help a
selection committee in making its decision. It should address the specific purpose for which it is written: to discuss both scholarly
capabilities and personal character, although the balance between the two will vary, depending upon the nature of the
application. For example, at one end of the scale, a letter for an applicant for graduate study should focus primarily on the
scholarly, while at the other end, a letter for an applicant for a non-academic position should discuss a broader range of
qualities and experiences, including extracurricular or work experience as well. It should give an overall picture of the
candidate's: personal characteristics, performance, experience, strengths, capabilities and professional promise. Letters of
recommendation can also be used to explain some weakness or ambiguity in a student's record. If appropriate and after
consulting the student, you might wish to mention a family illness, financial hardship, or other factor.
The letter should be about one page in length and generally consist of three parts: opening, body, and closing. The presentation
and professional appearance of your letter often impacts the individual’s candidacy. Please be sure that the letter is typewritten
rather than handwritten. Proofread it carefully for typographical and grammatical errors. Be sure that your affiliation to the
individual is clear. Indicate how you can be contacted for additional information and list time frames that the contact information
is accurate. You should include address, phone number and email address if applicable. It is not uncommon for students to
provide you with both a form and stamped, addressed envelope for you to use to mail the letter directly to the school, program
or job for which the student is applying.
If, after doing a careful review of a candidate's strengths and weaknesses, you cannot write a supportive letter, it is important to have
a candid discussion with the student letting them know of your decision. In addition, it is suggested that you provide information to the
individual as to why you have declined to serve as a reference.
As you arrange a meeting with a student, you should also ask the student to bring the following items:
Resume or curriculum vitae
Copy of transcript and/or list of courses completed
Copy of a graded paper or an exam written for a course
Explanation of the student’s career goals or type of job or graduate school he/she hopes to enter
A list of the student’s accomplishments
Any suggested topics the student has on what s/he would like to be addressed in the letter
Deadline for when the letter is needed
Copy of the application essay or fellowship statement of purpose
Any literature that describes the fellowship, program, job for which the student is applying
Specific recommendation forms or questionnaires (if they are provided for the letter writer) to complete in advance of
the date the recommendation is due
Address and preferably an addressed envelope where the letter is to be sent
Phone number and address of where the student can be reached
Graduate schools often ask students to waive their rights to view a recommendation. If the student has any questions about this
decision, you might point out that there are important benefits in maintaining the confidentiality of letters. Selection committees,
for example, tend to view confidential letters as having greater credibility and assign them greater weight; also, some letter
Writing Letters of Recommendation
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