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How to Write a Letter of Recommendation

Information & samples for writing letters of recommendation - special tips and persuasive writing techniques.

What many people don’t stop to think about when writing a letter of recommendation is that the shorter a letter is, the more likely it is to be read. People will put off picking up a letter that looks like a lot to read until “they have more time” – which is often never. It’s like there is this calculator inside your mind that carefully weighs your interest against the effort you think it will take to read something.   If it doesn’t measure up, you don’t read it!

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Step-by-Step Instructions for Writing a Powerful Letter of Recommendation

Sure, if you are on a beach on vacation you will make the time for a good book, but few people read recommendation letters on vacation; their time is precious. They are busy. And if your letter of recommendation looks like it may take a while to plow through, they may never bother to actually read it.



And even if they do read it, will they take away the most important points you want to make.


It pays to get to the point and make your letter short and sweet, but most people don’t. Unsure as to what the ready is looking for and unable to prioritize their candidate’s many fascinating traits, they just vomit it all on the page, inundating the reader with data, hoping something somewhere will stick. This is rarely an effective approach.



Our society is awash in information, and no skill is in greater demand than brevity. And nowhere is that more important than in writing letters of recommendation.



As a benchmark, your letter should…


  • Be no more than two pages, one page preferrable .
  • Uses an easy-to-read font (Arial and Calibiri are standards)
  • Use nothing smaller than a 10-point font, 12 preferred
  • Make two or three key points that are relevant to the specific ready

Some more tips...

Assemble data.
Ask for a current resume and as complete a description as possible of the position or program to which the person is applying. Assemble and review all other relevant information you may have about the person for whom you are writing letters of recommendation. It is often easy to overlook some important accomplishment.

Be choosey.
In most cases, agree to writing letters of recommendation only if you can honestly write something supportive. If you cannot portray an individual positively, decline to write the recommendation.

Be positive.
Writing letters of recommendation is about recommending people, not analyzing them. Present the person truthfully but in a decidedly positive light. A recommendation that focuses on negative qualities may do more harm than intended. Focus on strengths. If you can't, then refuse to write the letter.

Be specific.
Don't just give a general recommendation - highlight specific characteristics that stand out and make the candidate worthy of your recommendation. Present the individual's general qualities relevant to the position along with one or two detailed examples. Including vivid detail will make the recommendation much more effective.

Connect yourself in.
Begin writing letters of recommendation by describing how you know the individual you are recommending and the specific contexts upon which you are basing your evaluation. In what situations have you known the individual? For how long? How closely?

Provide proof.
Naked characteristics (or traits) don't carry much weight either. Give specific examples of things the person did to give you that impression. Don't just say your candidate is a quick learner; give a specific example of when she learned something quickly.

Tailor the recommendation to the opportunity. A letter recommending an individual for a job as a camp counselor should contain different information from that in a letter recommending the same individual for a job as a computer programmer. Focus on what you believe will be the reviewer's hot buttons.

Your candidate is likely to be competing with other candidates - often a great number of such competitors. It is important to make your candidate stand out somehow. Say how this person is unlike other people: his or her specific strengths that are somehow unique.

When writing to someone who shares context with you, name names. ("The best student I've graduated since little Al Turing." "The best engineer I've seen at Astro Chemicals in twelve years.") Rankings in class are another example of a helpful comparison.

Qualify yourself.
The reviewer needs to know why you are writing letters of recommendation. Say how well you know the person, and for how long. This should come at the beginning of the letter. State your own credentials. Give the reviewer an idea of the caliber of candidates you typically see. If most of the people you deal with are world class, then you need to make that clear.

Be plausible.
Don't make the person out to be perfect. A recommendation that paints an unrealistic picture of a candidate may be discounted. Often shortcomings are just ignored, but it can also be reasonable to note some, particularly if the person has started to overcome them. We all must rely on our strength to overcome our weaknesses. How does your candidate accomplish this?

Don't be too brief.
One or two short paragraphs is the kiss of death. If you don't know the candidate well and don't have much to say, then highlight the element of the candidate's resume that impresses you most. This won't fool most people, but will soften the blow of a short letter.

Don't ramble.
Short letters get read. In most cases, a letter of recommendation should consist of five or six paragraphs and one or two pages in length.

Free Letter-Writing Template

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Step-by-Step Instructions for Writing a Powerful Letter of Recommendation

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