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How to Write a Letter of Recommendation (Template + Tips)
Learn how to write a letter of recommendation, including tips on what to include and when to say no.
A letter of recommendation is a letter written on behalf of an applicant by someone who can vouch for that person’s educational or professional performance. This letter is typically sent to an admissions officer or hiring manager considering a candidate for admission, employment, or a scholarship.
Letters of recommendation help round out an application. They do this by offering insight into an applicant’s personal qualities like integrity, intellectual curiosity, or leadership potential. Writing a strong letter of recommendation as a teacher, counselor, manager, or co-worker can help give an applicant an edge over their competition.
Letter of recommendation template
Use this template to get you started on writing a properly formatted recommendation.
Letter of recommendation sample
Here’s an example of a strong recommendation letter written using the template above.
How to format a letter of recommendation
Different organizations have different recommendation letter requirements. Be sure to ask the requester about any specific guidelines. In general, a letter or recommendation can be broken down into the following sections:
Greeting: Address the recipient by name if possible (Dear Ms/Mr).
Personal introduction: Begin the body of your letter by introducing who you are and your relationship to the applicant.
Recommendation: What makes the candidate a good fit? Offer specific examples of skills or qualifications that match the role.
Anecdote or example: Include a personal anecdote about what it’s like to work with the candidate. Include any workplace or people skills you’ve observed them to possess.
Closing: Give an overview of why you’d recommend this person.
Contact information: Provide your email address and phone number so the recipient can follow up.
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Tips for writing a strong letter of recommendation
If you’re writing a recommendation letter, you likely want the candidate to have the best chance of getting a positive result. Here are some tips for writing a good letter that may stand out to admissions officers, potential employers, or anyone else reviewing the letter.
Do your research.
Find out what exactly the candidate is applying for. Ask them to provide:
A copy of the job description or academic program requirements
Any particular skills, achievements, or qualifications they’d like you to highlight
This will help you focus your letter on the skills or qualifications that are specific to the role the candidate is applying for.
Please feel free to use a template (like the one above) to guide your writing, but remember to make it personal. Use examples and specific details to illustrate why this person is the best candidate. Choose strong, accurate adjectives over general terms or cliches.
Think about what the person reading the letter might want to know. Include details or insight that wouldn’t necessarily show up on a resume or application. Your letter should help the recipient get to know the person you are recommending.
Read more: How to Ask for a Letter of Recommendation (Template + Tips)
Your recommendation should confirm that this candidate is a strong contender for whatever they’re applying for. Demonstrate honest enthusiasm, and avoid any comments that could be construed in a negative light. If you can make a superlative comparison between this person and others you’ve worked with (e.g. “she’s one of the best student aides I’ve had the pleasure to work with in my career as a professor”), do so.
Keep it formal and concise.
Use a business letter format using a twelve point font size in either Arial or Times New Roman. Write your letter on your business or organization letterhead if possible. The recipient likely reads dozens if not hundreds of letters, so keep yours concise and to the point. Aim for at least one page but no more than two.
Don’t be afraid to say no.
If you feel like you’re unable to offer a glowing recommendation for a candidate, it’s okay to say no. A mediocre endorsement can often do as much damage as a negative one. While it may feel uncomfortable, it’s perfectly acceptable to respectfully decline a request.
Follow the instructions.
You’re vouching for this person. Be sure to follow any specific submission guidelines carefully, and get your letter in on time (or early). If your letter makes a good impression, that will carry over to the candidate you’re endorsing.
How to ask for a letter of recommendation
Chances are that you’ll be asked to provide letters of recommendation as part of an application you’re submitting sometime during your education or career. This is particularly true when you’re applying for graduate programs. One or more letters of recommendation are almost always part of the application process.
This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.
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How to Write a Letter of Recommendation
If somebody—a current or former student, colleague, intern, employee, or mentee—asks you to write them a letter of recommendation, take a moment to be proud of yourself. You’ve made an impact on them, and they trust you enough to ask you to help them move forward in their career, educational or otherwise.
After you give yourself a pat on the back, get to work on writing the kind of letter of recommendation that will make them stand out as an ideal candidate for the position they’re seeking. That’s the key to writing an effective letter of recommendation: It’s not enough to express that they’re a great person; you need to demonstrate that they would be an asset to the company, school, or program for which they are applying.
Here’s a tip: Want to make sure your writing shines? Grammarly can check your spelling and save you from grammar and punctuation mistakes. It even proofreads your text, so your work is extra polished wherever you write.
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What is a letter of recommendation?
A letter of recommendation is an honest testimonial about an individual that recommends them for a specific role, grant, or acceptance into a program. Although the goal is to present the letter’s subject in the best light possible, you need to present the information in a factual manner.
Types of letters of recommendation
There are a few different, common reasons why an individual might ask for a letter of recommendation. The goal is the same for every letter of recommendation: to present the candidate as an ideal match for the position or program they’re seeking. But the right topics to cover in your letter vary between the different types.
Academic letters of recommendation
If you’ve been asked to write a letter of recommendation for a student, your letter should speak specifically about their academic performance as well as the character traits that make them a strong candidate for the spot in the program or grant they’re seeking. There can be various application scenarios where a student might ask for a letter of recommendation:
- Undergraduate college
- A specific academic program within a college, such as the honors program or a particular major
- Graduate, medical, or law school
- A grant or scholarship
- An internship or fellowship
Whenever possible, tailor your letter of recommendation to the specific institution or program where the student is seeking acceptance.
Professional letters of recommendation
Professional letters of recommendation are another fairly common type of letter of recommendation. Many candidates ask former employers and mentors to help them with their job searches by recommending them for positions.
Here’s a key difference between an academic letter of recommendation and a professional one: In a professional letter of recommendation, the focus should be almost exclusively on the candidate’s professional performance and fitness for the specific role they’re seeking.
Home rental referrals
Another kind of letter of recommendation is for home rentals. Often, landlords ask prospective tenants for recommendations from previous landlords about their experience with the tenants. If you’re asked to write this type of letter of recommendation, keep the new landlord’s concerns in mind and highlight the experiences that made your relationship with the tenant a positive one, like their promptness in paying the rent and the care they took of the property.
Recommendation letter format
Your letter of recommendation shouldn’t be more than a page long. Keep it to approximately the same length as a cover letter : a few tight, focused paragraphs that express your point without fluff.
Tone-wise, a letter of recommendation should be professional. Write it in the same tone you would use to write an email to a professional contact or a reference letter . It shouldn’t be in the same formal tone that you would use for a piece of academic writing, but it also shouldn’t assume familiarity with its recipient or read like a casual letter. Using an inappropriate tone for your recommendation letter can reflect poorly on the person you’re recommending, so be sure to get your tone just right .
In most cases, your letter of recommendation should adhere to the following format:
In the first line of your letter, greet the recipient directly. Don’t try to get creative here; a simple “Dear Mr./Ms./Mrs./Mx./Dr. ____” is the best choice. If you don’t know the recipient’s name, start your letter with “To whom it may concern.”
In the next line, clearly state the name of the candidate and the position for which you are recommending them. You can also introduce yourself in this section. Here are a couple examples of effective introduction lines:
“I am writing to recommend [Candidate’s first and last name] for acceptance into [University’s name] . I have had the pleasure of teaching [Candidate] for the past three years at [High school’s name] .”
“It is my pleasure to recommend [Candidate’s first and last name] for the Copywriter position with [Agency name] . [Candidate] and I have worked together at [Company] for the past six years.”
In this section, clearly state the attributes that make the candidate the ideal choice for the position they’re seeking. Depending on the type of recommendation you’re making, this could be a mix of personality traits and skills, or it could be strictly focused on the candidate’s skills and accomplishments.
Elaborate on the traits you discussed in your overview with personal stories that highlight the candidate’s traits and skills. Be as specific as possible here—if there was a particular project where the candidate took the lead or there are stats you can share about their work, include them here.
Bring your letter to a close with a statement reiterating your recommendation. This statement can include a personal testimonial, such as the following example:
“After renting to [Candidate] for the past two years, I can confidently recommend her as a responsible, conscientious tenant.”
Finish out your letter with a signature.
Much like a professional email signature, your recommendation letter signature should include more than your name. Although you likely mentioned your relationship to the candidate in your letter, include your professional title beneath your name.
The letter’s recipient might want to contact you to discuss the candidate further, so make it easy for them to reach you by including your contact information in your signature. Usually, a phone number and email address are the best choices to include, along with your work hours.
Tips to keep in mind when you’re writing a letter of recommendation
Keep it relevant.
Maybe the candidate rescued a family of lambs from a burning barn. That’s heroic and adorable, but unless they’re applying for a job with the local livestock fire department, it’s probably irrelevant to your letter.
Just like a cover letter , your letter of recommendation should be concise. It should highlight the key reasons why the candidate is the ideal choice for the position they’re seeking, and any details you choose to include should support these reasons. Discussing the candidate’s character can be helpful, but tie it to their fitness for the role they’re seeking—if they’re applying for nursing school, discussing their commitment to ethics is an important detail to include. If the application is for a grant to conduct archeological research, make sure you mention the research projects they spearheaded while working with you.
Include specific anecdotes, facts, and statistics
The more specific facts you have about the candidate’s work, the more compelling your letter of recommendation will be. For example, if you’re writing a letter for a colleague who’s seeking a digital marketing position, mention specific conversion rates they achieved while working with you. Similarly, if you’re recommending a high school student to a university, make sure you include anecdotes about their performance on specific assignments and/or extracurricular activities in your letter.
Use a positive, friendly, yet professional tone
As we mentioned above, the right tone for a letter of recommendation is one that’s professional, yet approachable. Your relationship with the candidate and your regard for them should be evident in your writing’s tone.
If you can’t write an effective letter of recommendation, don’t
You might find yourself in a situation where you can’t write an honest, effective letter of recommendation for somebody who asks for one. This might be because you simply don’t know the person or their work well enough, or it could be that you found their work to be underwhelming or unsatisfactory.
In either case, the professional way to decline the request is to simply tell them that you aren’t familiar enough with their work to discuss it effectively, or don’t believe you would be the best person to write them a letter of recommendation. Depending on the situation, you could direct them to another person in your organization who’s more familiar with their work and is thus more capable of writing an effective letter of recommendation. If this isn’t feasible, simply let them know that you’re not able to write them a letter of recommendation and leave it at that. This isn’t the time to denigrate their work or tell them why you aren’t impressed with it.
Mistakes to avoid
Take a look at these two testimonials:
“ Luis was a great student. He is very smart and a hard worker, and because of these traits, I know he’ll succeed at Rutgers University.”
“When he took my Chem I and Chem II classes, Luis consistently put 100 percent into his assignments. He demonstrated his innate intellect and dedication to his schoolwork through his thoughtful and often creative responses to critical thinking questions and assignments. Because of his passion, drive, and capacity to handle rigorous coursework, I know he’ll succeed at Rutgers University.”
In the second example, the letter writer discusses specific courses Luis took and how he worked hard in those courses. There are lots of great students out there (and they’re applying for the same limited number of university spots), so it’s crucial that your letter communicates exactly what makes the candidate an ideal choice.
Just like you shouldn’t send a generic write-up of the candidate’s achievements, avoid embellishing them. Compare these two examples:
“Nobody has ever been a better salesperson than Alicia.”
“Alicia exceeded her projected sales figures every quarter.”
In the first example, even if it’s true, reads more like a description of a comic book character than a testimonial of an actual person’s work. Using hyperbole in your letter of recommendation undermines its credibility, which can hurt the candidate’s likelihood of being accepted or hired.
Not introducing yourself
In your letter, you’re personally vouching for the candidate. For that vouching to have any impact, the person who reads your letter needs to know who you are and why you’re qualified to recommend the candidate. A quick introduction and a sentence or two about your relationship with the candidate are sufficient.
Letter of recommendation examples
You can find great recommendation letter samples all over the internet. Just search for the type of letter you’re writing and you will find numerous examples of letters that work.
Take a look at this academic letter of recommendation .
In it, a former supervisor discusses a candidate’s fitness for a graduate school program. This is an important point to keep in mind—even if you knew the candidate in a professional setting, your insight to their work could be just as valuable as an academic contact’s recommendation when they’re applying to college or graduate school.
Here is an example of a professional letter of recommendation .
See how this letter makes its candidate stand out by discussing specific examples where he went above and beyond? If you have those kinds of anecdotes to share, include them in your letter.
Letter of recommendation FAQs
A letter of recommendation is a written testimonial of an individual’s abilities, achievements, and capacity for continued growth.
How should I start a letter of recommendation?
Start your letter of recommendation with a greeting that acknowledges the letter’s reader. Whenever possible, address them by name. When this isn’t possible, use a formal, professional greeting like “To whom it may concern.”
What should go into a letter of recommendation?
A letter of recommendation should include the following:
- An introduction that states the candidate’s name and the position they are seeking
- A clear statement of your relationship with the candidate
- An honest testimonial of their work
- A clear recommendation of the candidate
- A signature that includes your contact information
How should I end a letter of recommendation?
End your letter of recommendation with a signature that includes your job title and contact information. By including these, the letter’s reader can easily contact you to discuss the candidate in greater detail.
Write confidently when you’re recommending the best
Even the most glowing letter of recommendation will make its subject look like a poor candidate if it’s riddled with spelling and grammar mistakes. Before you send your letter to its subject (or their prospective new supervisor), have Grammarly give it a once-over to catch any mistakes you might have missed and make suggestions you can use to write a more effective letter of recommendation.
This article was originally written by Kimberly Joki in 2017. It’s been updated to include new information.
How to Write a Letter of Recommendation
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Whether applying for a job or to an advanced degree program, you will probably need a letter of recommendation. This document should be written by someone in your life who can attest to your excellence and expertise. Often, these letters are written by current or former employers, professors, or colleagues who know your commitment to learning and your passion for your field. Letters of recommendation are particularly valuable for individuals who do not have the strongest resumes or prior credentials and are looking to strengthen their applications.
This guide provides tips about how to write a letter of recommendation -- either for yourself or on behalf of somebody else who may ask you for one.
Five Tips for Writing a Letter of Recommendation for a Student
When selecting someone to write a letter of recommendation, students should first look to current or past employers or supervisors. These individuals are familiar with a student's work ethic and ability to handle tasks under pressure. Professors and academic advisors are also great resources, especially for students applying to a more advanced academic program.
The most important thing about choosing someone to write a letter of recommendation is that the person writing the letter must know the student well enough to accurately describe their abilities and passions while describing them in the best light.
If a student asks you to write a letter of recommendation for them, here are a few tips to keep in mind.
- Describe your personal relationship with the student. Before you dive into strengths and traits, first state how long you have known them and how you became acquainted. This provides credibility regarding your relationship.
- Provide specific examples of the student's abilities and work ethic. Recommendations are valuable because they give the reader a chance to learn about the student beyond their test scores and achievements. Recalling specific times when the student excelled in a particular role or class helps the reader get a clearer understanding of them.
- Stay away from vague wording and phrases. Your goal is to make this recipient stand out from the crowd. Avoid cliches and describe the student's traits and abilities through thoughtful examples and personal anecdotes.
- Take the specific job or school into account. If a student is hoping to attend a school that specializes in engineering, focus on skills that relate to that discipline.
- If you do not feel qualified, it is okay to turn down a recommendation request. Recommendations are meant to individualize the student by speaking to their unique skills and qualities. If you do not know the student well enough to provide specific examples, be honest with them so they can find a better option.
Five Tips for Writing a Letter of Recommendation for Yourself
When approaching a supervisor, mentor, or professor to request a letter of recommendation, the last thing you might expect is that they will ask you to pen the first draft. However, whether it is due to a time constraint or because they believe you can write the letter more effectively, this request is actually pretty common.
For some, this request may result in confusion and anxiety. Listing out your own skills and abilities can be difficult and uncomfortable. However, the trick is to see this as an opportunity. You can make sure that your recommender touches on all of the achievements, skills, and qualities you need highlighted, rather than leaving it to chance. After all, who knows you better than you do?
Be open to edits. Your recommender asked you to write a draft, not the final version. You should not expect them to sign off on the letter automatically. Expect questions, comments, and changes before the letter is ready to be submitted.
When writing your own letter of recommendation, keep these tips in mind.
- Do not sell yourself short. Modesty is the last thing you need in a recommendation letter. Make a list of relevant skills and qualifications and include as many as you can, providing specific examples to back them up.
- State the recommender's relationship to you. This can be challenging when writing from your recommender's point of view, but it is important to include for credibility. Describe your relationship and explain how long you have known or worked with one another.
- Only include relevant skills and examples. Your recommender can only speak to skills and qualities they have observed in their professional setting, so make sure you only write about things they would know.
- Write in the third person. This may seem obvious, but you have to remember that you are writing from your recommender's point of view. Proofread carefully to ensure you did not slip up and write in first person. It is also worth re-reading to check for major style and tonal changes.
Example of a Good Letter of Recommendation
Dear Mr. Evans,
It is a great pleasure to recommend Sarah for the marketing position with Cooper Agency.
I was Sarah's instructor for multiple marketing classes during her MBA program at the University of North Carolina. During our time together, Sarah displayed creativity, wit, and passion toward her work, and she will be a valuable asset to any team.
Sarah's knowledge of advertising and marketing strategy exceeded classroom expectations and carried over into practical settings. Alongside a group of other graduate students, she was pivotal in developing a marketing strategy for an upcoming local restaurant, which proved to be a great success.
With a focus on how social media advertising influences consumer behavior, she led her team in developing a strategy that emphasized the importance of eating local. The campaign outlined the positive community effects and the health benefits of eating locally grown food. During this time, Sarah displayed natural leadership skills and her ability to work in team settings.
Along with her creativity and leadership skills, Sarah is a delightful coworker. While working through her thesis, she constantly rearranged her schedule in order to accommodate mine and always came prepared with questions and insights to ensure our time was spent effectively. Sarah is organized and thoughtful in her approach, and she brings an infectious energy to her work. With these qualities, I am highly confident that Sarah will be a great asset to your team at Cooper.
If you need more information, please do not hesitate to contact me at 555-555-0150. I'd be happy to expand on my recommendation.
Sincerely, Katherine Winslow Professor and Marketing Director University of North Carolina
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How to Write a Letter of Recommendation
Last Updated: September 20, 2023 Approved
This article was co-authored by Shannon O'Brien, MA, EdM . Shannon O'Brien is the Founder and Principal Advisor of Whole U. (a career and life strategy consultancy based in Boston, MA). Through advising, workshops and e-learning Whole U. empowers people to pursue their life's work and live a balanced, purposeful life. Shannon has been ranked as the #1 Career Coach and #1 Life Coach in Boston, MA by Yelp reviewers. She has been featured on Boston.com, Boldfacers, and the UR Business Network. She received a Master's of Technology, Innovation, & Education from Harvard University. wikiHow marks an article as reader-approved once it receives enough positive feedback. This article has 29 testimonials from our readers, earning it our reader-approved status. This article has been viewed 14,755,150 times.
Writing a letter of recommendation can be intimidating, especially because the person you’re writing it for is counting on you to pull through for them. Fortunately, there's a general formula you can use to write a letter of recommendation that is both professional and effective.
Writing the Letter
- Place your address on the top right, followed by the date—spelled out.
- Below that, on the left, place the recipient's name (if known) and address.
- Open the letter with a formal business greeting. Ex:
- Dear Ms. Smith,
- Dear Sir or Madam, (if you don't know the recipient's name)
- "It makes me extremely happy to recommend Michael for the position of Director of Development at XYZ Corporation."
- "Any company should count themselves lucky to have an employee as bright, friendly, and dedicated as Gina."
- "No matter what she does, Helena Bonham does it well."
- "As VP of Application Development, I was Michael's direct supervisor from 2009 through 2012. We worked closely together on several key projects, and I got to know him very well during this time.
- "I was both Gina's adviser and teacher throughout her time at Hamilton College. I watched her shine both in the classroom and in office hours, and had the joy of watching her meet and then exceed expectations with her thesis."
- "As the Dean of Students, I deal with many young people throughout the day. However, I was lucky to spend several hours a week with Ms. Bonham in her role as Committee President. In my 32 years as Dean, I have rarely been so impressed."
- "Michael's sophisticated grasp of database architecture, combined with an innate feel for UX design and a warm, personal approach to his in-company client base dramatically improved the productivity of our company's merchandising, creative, and editorial departments. His approach to managing application support, maintenance, and training was highly professional and greatly respected, both by end users and by the executive team."
- "Gina was always inquisitive but never pushy. Despite being able to answer almost any question, Gina would rather sit back and help others find the answer for themselves. Countless students, who I thought were doomed to struggle, happily told me how tutoring sessions with Gina helped them turn the corner. And I had many conversations, both as her professor and a peer, that I will remember happily for years."
- "When Ms. Bonham hears the word "no," you can almost see the gears start to turn. She is mover and a shaker -- interfacing with students, faculty, staff, and even outside agencies to find solutions to any problem."
- "Michael's output of completed projects has exceeded the combined results of all other development efforts I've witnessed during my 8 years at UVW Company."
- "The best students are ones that genuinely love to learn. A student that pushes themselves ever day to learn more and be better, and enjoys every minute. Gina is that kind of student.
- "I can say with confidence that my job working with the Student Committee was never easier, nor more enjoyable, than when I got to work with Ms. Bonham."
- "Despite coming in as a novice, Michael has worked hard to improve his documentation and commenting of scripts and processes, making it easier for those filling his shoes in the future to work effectively."
- "Gina is always on the move -- tutoring, taking classes, joining clubs, etc. -- and though her schedule is perhaps too tightly packed, she somehow manages it all with a smile on her face."
- "Of course, Ms. Bonham's determination and drive occasionally led to butting heads and conflicting opinions. However, though she is never one to shy away from conflict, Ms. Bonham passion was never mean-spririted or rude."
- Don't say "Over the course of the last couple years, I have been pleased to watch the ongoing development of Michael's talents." Say instead, "Michael's skills have grown rapidly in the last couple years."
- "Gina exhibits the drive and dedication of the best students. Her writing is clear and concise, a rarity among many young people but effortless for her."
- "Ms. Bonham fights for what she believes is right, even if it doesn't mesh with her own preferences. This clear-eyed and selfless attitude will catapult her far in life."
- For example, say, "For all of these reasons, I think Michael will make a fine addition to your team. Should you have any questions, I invite you to contact me at the number or address, above."
- "Gina is the kind of person I would love to hire to work for me, and I know she will be an incredible asset for you."
- "I have no qualms about giving Ms. Bonham the highest recommendation for the position. If you have any questions, please contact me."
- "Best regards,"
- "Thank you,"
Starting to Write
- Your qualifications, how you know the candidate, general recommendation.
- Why they will be effective, productive workers. Examples of successes.
- Why they will be a great addition to work and office culture.
- Reaffirm your willingness to recommend them, offer contact information.
- For example, if the letter is part of a job application package, it should focus on the professional qualifications and conduct of the candidate.
- The more you know about the position, the better you will be able to tailor your letter to suit the needs of both parties.
Tip: You put your own reputation on the line when you write a letter of recommendation. If you feel you do not know the person well enough, or they are somebody you cannot in good conscience recommend, decline their request.
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- If you ask a candidate to write their own letter of recommendation, recognize that many people find it difficult to write about themselves in this way. Read the letter and make sure that you agree with what they have written before you sign it. Thanks Helpful 4 Not Helpful 0
- Type the letter. It is more formal and businesslike—and your recipient won't have to decode your handwriting. Thanks Helpful 3 Not Helpful 0
- The first time you name the candidate who is the subject of the letter, use his or her full name. After that, use either the first name or a title (Ms., Mr., Dr.) and the last name, depending on how formal you want to be. Whichever you choose, be consistent. Thanks Helpful 3 Not Helpful 2
- A letter of recommendation should focus on the key knowledge, skills, and abilities of an individual. Don't spend your time inflating your letter of recommendation with excessive positive tones, as this is generally overlooked by recruiters. Thanks Helpful 12 Not Helpful 5
- Decide carefully whether to give a copy of the letter to the candidate, particularly if you express reservations. A recommendation may hold more sway if the recipient knows that the views in it are candid, and not written for the gratification or flattery of the candidate. Thanks Helpful 6 Not Helpful 3
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- ↑ https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/subject_specific_writing/professional_technical_writing/basic_business_letters/index.html
- ↑ https://homes.cs.washington.edu/~mernst/advice/write-recommendation.html
- ↑ https://career.sites.clemson.edu/documents/faculty_writing_guidelines.pdf
- ↑ https://www.forbes.com/sites/lisaquast/2014/07/14/job-seekers-use-recommendation-letters-to-give-yourself-an-edge/#9b81b868e9e3
- ↑ https://professionals.collegeboard.org/guidance/applications/teacher-tips
About This Article
The best way to write a letter of recommendation is to start out with a formal greeting, or using "To whom it may concern" if you don't know the recipient. Follow the greeting with 2-3 sentences of praise for the person you’re recommending. Then, explain how you know the person and why you’re qualified to recommend them. Include specific examples of the person's qualifications and successes in the body of your letter, then end with a sentence affirming that you recommend the person for the job or position. For more tips, like why you shouldn’t exaggerate, read on! Did this summary help you? Yes No
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How to write a letter of recommendation (with examples)
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What’s a letter of recommendation?
Format of a letter of recommendation, tips for writing a letter of recommendation, letter of recommendation examples, how to write a letter of recommendation for a friend, start writing.
Sometimes, a former colleague pops up in your inbox to ask you for a favor. This time, it’s a letter of recommendation. If you loved working with this coworker, you’d jump at the opportunity to help them out.
There’s only one problem: you’ve never written a letter like that before. You don’t even know where to begin — it’s time to learn how to write a letter of recommendation.
Writing an effective letter of recommendation takes time, thoughtfulness, and insight into the person’s background and character.
If you’re willing to write a letter for this person, you’re likely overflowing with praise for them. But how do you balance your high regard with professionalism? This article discusses what a letter of recommendation is and how to write an effective one. It also includes valuable examples to get you started.
A letter of recommendation highlights a person’s skills, knowledge, and experience to bolster an application. Someone who knows a candidate writes one of these letters to vouch for them, expressing why they’re the best person for the opportunity.
A professional letter of recommendation is usually addressed to a hiring manager, admissions committee, or potential employer. You might also need to write one for someone applying for any of the following:
A new home or apartment
Scholarships, grants, or awards
A new job
Graduate or professional school programs
As the letter writer, your communication skills are tested since you’re responsible for painting a positive picture of this person. Someone you once managed might be changing careers ; they need you to highlight their transferable skills .
Your letter could include positive comments about how they have strong public speaking skills and experience juggling multiple deadlines simultaneously.
Research has shown that people referred for a job are 4x more likely to be offered it than those without a referral. While a recommendation isn’t necessarily an internal referral, these letters show that someone credible vouches for the letter’s subject to have this position. A good letter of recommendation can make or break an application.
Letter of recommendation versus letter of reference
Let’s not confuse a letter of recommendation for a reference letter. While a letter of recommendation focuses on skills, knowledge, and experience, a reference letter describes a person’s character. It’s when you describe their work ethic and personal qualities. Both letters require specific examples and details, but they address different aspects of a person.
A reference letter:
Used for generic reasons
Doesn’t have to be for professional reasons
Provides an overview of a person’s character and qualities
A letter of recommendation:
Used for specific positions or opportunities
Includes details and examples
Written by someone in an authoritative position, like a former manager or professor
You could be a little rusty when it comes to formatting a letter — or maybe this is completely new to you. One CBS poll found that 37% of Americans said it's been over five years since they've written a personal letter , and 15% had never done it at all. Don't fret if you relate. It’s never too late to learn a new skill.
Writing a letter of recommendation requires you to flex your organizational skills . If that’s something you struggle with, you might benefit from a letter of recommendation template. We've got you covered.
Here are five sections you should include in your letter:
Greetings: Keep this section short and sweet. This is where you address the recipient of the letter. Make sure you know how to spell their name and title properly, or write a general greeting like "To whom it may concern" or “Dear [University Name] admission committee.”
Introduction: In your introduction, explain who you are, your relationship to the candidate, and why you recommend them for the opportunity. Consider briefly explaining why you're writing this letter and hint at what you'll discuss further down.
Body of the letter: This section contains the most important information. It'll include an overview of the person's past experiences, skills, and industry knowledge. Make sure to share short personal anecdotes with details that illustrate their abilities. For instance, you might describe the person's communication skills by using an example of when they were part of a large research project you worked on together and had to communicate effectively with team members.
Closing statement: A good letter needs a solid closing statement. It's your chance to summarize your points and highlight why you're giving this person a strong recommendation. Be succinct and thorough, but avoid repeating details.
Your signature: It's time to finish your letter. Add your signature and contact information at the very end to signal it's over.
Understanding how to structure your letter will help organize the writing process. Make sure you’re thoughtful with your words and pay attention to the details .
Here are five tips to consider when writing a letter of recommendation:
Collect all the necessary information before you begin writing
Keep a positive voice, but avoid clichés
Tailor your tone to the situation
Focus on highlighting the most important details
Proofread your letter several times
The things you include in a letter for someone hoping to gain admission into graduate school differ from someone trying to secure a job offer. Each letter follows the same format, but the details are different.
You may find that getting the first few words down is the hardest, and that's understandable. But once you start your introduction, the rest of the letter will follow suit.
Here are three examples of how to start letters of recommendation for different scenarios, plus a few things to keep in mind for the rest of the letter:
1. Recommendation letter for a job
It's my pleasure to recommend [Person's name] for the Data Scientist role at X Company. I was [Person's name] supervisor from 2011-2021 and valued their deep knowledge of software programs, time management skills, and prior experience.
Above all, their innovative problem-solving techniques helped our team excel on projects. I've watched their skills grow immensely and think they'd be an ideal candidate for the job.
Next, share detailed examples of the person's problem-solving techniques and expand on how much they've grown throughout the years. Finish the letter by telling this employer how lucky their company would be to have this candidate based on your examples and their skills.
2. Recommendation letter for graduate school
I highly recommend [Person's name] for admission to the [program] at X University. I am a psychology professor at Y University and had the pleasure of teaching [Person's name] in [course code] during their bachelor's degree in nutrition.
[Person's name] stood out from the other students because of their ability to research topics with exceptional depth and use feedback to strengthen their knowledge on how best to present nutritional studies. They thrive in collaborative environments because of their superb teamwork skills and communicate effectively with peers and colleagues.
Consider finishing the letter by expanding on the candidate's research topics and explaining some of the reasons why they have good teamwork and communication skills. It will help to know more about the program they’re applying to and which strengths to emphasize.
Each admissions committee will have different criteria, so tailor your examples to reflect the skills they’ll need to succeed.
3. Recommendation letter for a scholarship
I highly recommend choosing [Person's name] for your annual marketing scholarship. I'm a former coworker of [Person's name] from 2015-2022 and saw firsthand how skilled they execute marketing strategies and intuitively understand data to predict future trends.
[Person's name] started as an intern and has since secured a full-time paid position. In their time at X Company, they demonstrated exceptional leadership skills and a high level of professionalism, which is why they'd be an ideal candidate for your scholarship. They would represent your scholarship and their school with dignity and integrity.
The body of your letter should include references to specific projects the person worked on and how they’ve become a great leader in the workplace to show the selection committee why they best meet the scholarship’s criteria.
If a friend has asked you to write them a personal letter of recommendation, it won’t be as professional in tone as a letter a former employee or manager requests. It will act more like a reference letter by leaning on their character while highlighting strengths and accomplishments.
Here are a few things to consider when writing a letter of recommendation for a friend:
Ask for details: It would be tough to provide specific examples without details about what you’re recommending them for. Asking your friend for details on where they’re applying will help you structure your letter and pack it with the most valuable information.
Explain your relationship: This doesn’t have to be long but describe how you know the person. Explain if you have a professional working relationship or if you’ve known each other since childhood. This gives you credibility as a letter writer.
Share your contact information: Include ways for people to contact you for a potential follow-up. Consider using your work email address or LinkedIn profile.
You could encounter a situation where you don’t want to write a letter of recommendation for a friend. Whatever your reason is, don’t feel pressured to write a letter. Learning how to say “no” helps you solidify your boundaries and honor your values.
Learning how to write a letter of recommendation tests your organizational and communication skills. You need to be precise and articulate with your praise — and that’s not easy, especially if you’ve never written a letter of recommendation before.
These letters are for various purposes, like landing a job, getting into a school, or signing a lease agreement. No matter the purpose, these letters should meet the same guidelines. You’ll always benefit from being detailed, asking the person questions for greater clarity about the application, and including all necessary sections.
Remember that writing a letter of recommendation requires your authentic self . You have to be honest with your recommendation and reasons for offering it. After you’ve written it, be proud of yourself. You’ve taken the time to do something kind for someone else, and kindness never goes out of style.
Writing a resignation letter that’s effective and professional
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Personal Recommendation Letter Samples
What is a Personal Recommendation?
Who to ask for a recommendation, how to ask for a personal reference, what to include in your letter.
- Writing Recommendation Letters
Personal Recommendation Letter Examples
- Personal Reference Letter Template
After You Send the Reference
Maddy Price / The Balance
What's a personal recommendation letter? When do you need personal recommendations, and when and how should you write them? Writing a personal recommendation letter or character reference can be a challenge. After all, these letters are generally required for big life events, such as a new job, a home purchase, or admission to a program or school.
A personal reference is someone who knows you personally, rather than from working with you or knowing you professionally.
Personal recommendations and character reference letters can be written by teachers, neighbors, business acquaintances, clients, vendors, and other recommenders who can attest to an applicant's skills and abilities.
If you’re the person requesting a reference, be sure to provide the writer with clear instructions on what information you need them to include and give them a resume or list of your skills and experiences. You might send a letter sample to the writer to help guide their own letter.
Here's advice on how to ask someone to give you a reference .
A personal reference letter should provide information on who you are, your connection with the person you are recommending, why they are qualified, and the specific skills they have that you are endorsing. It should also include specific examples of times they demonstrated these skills. Review this template for ideas and suggestions on what to write and how to provide a compelling reference:
When writing a character reference letter, include a salutation (Dear Dr. Jones, Dear Ms. Matthews, etc.). If you are writing a general letter, say "To Whom It May Concern " or don't include a salutation and simply start with the first paragraph of the letter.
The first paragraph of the character reference letter explains how you know the person you are recommending and why you are qualified to write a recommendation letter to recommend employment, college, or graduate school. With a personal letter, you are writing a recommendation letter because you know the person and their character, rather than because you have direct experience with their work or education.
The second paragraph of a reference letter contains specific information on the person you are writing about, including why they are qualified, what they can contribute, and why you are providing a reference letter. Use specific examples of times the employer demonstrated these skills or qualities. If necessary, use more than one paragraph to provide details.
This section of the reference letter contains a brief summary of why you are recommending the person. State that you "highly recommend" the person or you "recommend without reservation," or something similar.
The concluding paragraph of a reference letter contains an offer to provide more information. Include a phone number and/or email address within the paragraph and include the phone number and email address in the return address section of your letter, or in your email signature.
Signature (hard copy letter)
Your Name Title
If you're sending an email recommendation, list your contact information in your signature.
Tips on Writing Personal Recommendation Letters
A recommendation letter should be tailored to both the person being recommended and to the position or responsibilities involved.
It's important to tailor your letter to fit the particular person you are recommending and incorporate the information he or she asks you to include. Be sure to focus on how the person is qualified. Sharing examples is a good way to show what the person can accomplish.
Your letter should describe how you know the person and explain why you’re recommending them.
- Think carefully before saying yes. Only say you will write the recommendation if you can recommend the person without reservation. If you're asked to write a reference and don't feel comfortable giving one, it's appropriate to politely decline the request for a reference.
- Follow a business letter format. Use the official business letter format when writing your letter. If time is of the essence, you might consider sending a recommendation email instead of a letter. Review this list of the information that should be included in a recommendation letter.
- Focus on the job description. Ask the person for whom you’re writing the letter for a copy of the job description. This way, you can focus on the requirements of the position. Try to include language from the job description in your letter. Even if you are writing a more general recommendation, you can still ask the person about the types of jobs they will be applying for.
- Explain how you know the person , and for how long. Begin your letter with this basic information. If you have known the person for a long time, be sure to emphasize this.
- Focus on one or two traits. In the body of your letter, focus on one or two qualities in this person that make him or her a good fit for the job. Provide specific examples of ways in which the person has demonstrated these various traits in the past.
- Remain positive. State that you think this person is a strong candidate. You might say something like, “I recommend this person without reservation.” You want to help this candidate stand out from the other applicants.
- Share your contact information. Provide a way for the employer to contact you if they have further questions. Include your email address, telephone number, or both at the end of the letter.
- Follow the submission guidelines. Ask the person for whom you’re writing the letter how to submit it. Make sure you follow any requirements, especially about where and when to send it and its requested format (for example, PDF, physical letter, etc.). If there is a submission deadline, be sure to submit it prior to the due date.
Also review how to write a reference letter for a friend , if you're writing a personal letter.
Here are sample of personal reference letters you can use as a starting point for your own correspondence:
- Character Reference Letter
- Character Reference Letter For a Babysitter
- Personal Reference Letter for a Friend
- More Personal Reference Letter Samples
Be sure to ask permission before you ask someone to give you a reference. Here’s a sample letter you can use for your request:
- Letter Ask for Permission to Use a Reference
Personal Reference Letter Template
This is a personal reference letter example. Download the personal reference letter template (compatible with Google Docs and Word Online) or see below for more examples.
Personal Reference Letter Sample (Text Version)
Elizabeth Smith 1 Oak Street Anytown, CA 99999 555-555-5555 email@example.com
March 10, 2021
Jane Jones Human Resources Acme Corp 10 Main Street Anytown, CA 99999
Dear Ms. Jones,
It’s my pleasure to offer my unreserved recommendation for Megan Brown for the position of intern at Acme Corp.
I’ve known Megan for over 20 years, having lived next door to her since she was a child. She’s always demonstrated responsibility and entrepreneurial spirit. When she was a teenager, she started a snow shoveling business in our neighborhood and wound up managing a team of five other kids from the street. I’m fairly certain they pulled in enough money to buy their own plow… if any of them had been old enough to operate it.
Since then, I’ve watched with interest as she’s pursued her education and interest in business. Of course, you know from her transcripts and professional recommendations that she’s been unusually successful throughout her early career, but what you might not know is the joy she gets from solving problems and making business ideas work. It’s truly inspiring to see her tackle something and make it a success.
Megan would be an asset to any organization, but I know that she has a particular passion for your company. I’d be happy to answer any questions or discuss my recommendation further. Please feel free to call me at 555-555-5555.
Elizabeth Smith (signature for hard copy)
Let the person know when you've submitted the reference. Once you've mailed, emailed, or uploaded your reference letter, let the person you're writing it for know that it's been submitted.
Finally, don't forget to send a thank you not or email to your reference providers.
CareerOneStop. "References." Accessed March 10, 2021.
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How to write a letter of recommendation
By michael ernst ([email protected]) october, 2002.
Ukrainian translation , Russian translation .
(Also see my advice on requesting recommendation letters , and Shriram Krishnamurthi's advice to graduate school recommendation letter writers .)
At the beginning of the letter, say how well you know the person, for how long, and how you became acquainted. Also give an overview or summary of your recommendation.
Be specific. Don't just praise the person with generalities (such as “quick learner”), but give specific stories or anecdotes about things the person did to give you that impression. A letter that praises a person without being concrete comes across as a tepid recommendation. Rankings in class are another example of a helpful specific.
Differentiate. Say how this person is unlike other people: his or her specific strengths.
Compare. When writing to someone who shares context with you, name names. (“In the top 5% of the class” is OK, but much better is “Equivalent in promise to my former students Donny Knuth and Al Turing, but a notch below Johnny von Neumann.”)
Be plausible. Don't make the person out to be perfect. Often a letter just ignores shortcomings, but then the letter lacks credibility; writing such letters will hurt people you recommend in the future. If the person has shortcomings, admit them or note some ways the person can improve, particularly if the person has started to overcome those problems. Don't make up faults nor magnify real ones.
State your own qualifications. How many other people have you seen who are of the caliber expected by the reader? (For a recommedation to a top-10 school such as UW, the recommendation will carry more weight if the recommender has spent time at a top-10 school. Only someone with first-hand experience can give a truly accurate assessment.) These qualifications are probably best-suited to a postscript, though sometimes they are written as the first paragraph to establish credibility.
Justify your recommendations. Don't write a statement like "The applicant is definitely qualified for your institution/award/program" ( especially with "your institution" verbatim as in a form letter, not substituted by an actual name). This weakens rather than strengthens the letter, because the reader will assume that the form letter was sent to many places, and the statement cannot be true of every recipient.
Don't be too brief. One paragraph, or two short paragraphs, is the kiss of death. (If you don't know the student well, and don't have much to say, add a short paragraph explaining what the course is and why it's good that the student excelled in it. This won't fool most people, but will soften the blow of a short letter.) However, don't ramble: make it succinct and to the point. Whoever reads your letter is probably reading hundreds of other letters. If the key points of yours do not pop out, or the reader wearies midway through your letter, then your letter will net be effective.
For situations where the letter has a disproportionate impact (e.g., for faculty applications), or if you are new to recommendation-writing, treat your letter like any other important piece of writing: get feedback from others.
If you are requested to provide a letter in PDF, provide the original PDF that was created by your word processor or typesetting program. Don't scan the document, which degrades the visual quality and makes it much harder to read. No one really cares whether your original signature is on the letter, so you can insert a scanned signature into the PDF or even use a typewritten signature. You don't want eyestrain (or anything else) to lessen the impact of your letter. For similar reasons, don't use "watermark" letterhead that puts a large, dim image (for example, of your university crest or logo) behind your text. You may think this looks cool and sets your letter or institution apart, but in fact it makes your letter harder to read without impressing anyone.
Mayfield Handbook: Writing Letters of Recommendation
(The Mayfield Handbook is compilation of suggestions and style tips useful for all types of writing. The following is from its “Writing Letters of Recommendation” section.)
Write letters of recommendation to provide relevant information and to present an individual truthfully and positively.
Guidelines for Writing Letters of Recommendation
Before writing the letter:
- In most cases, agree to write a letter of recommendation only if you can honestly write a supportive letter. If you cannot portray an individual positively, decline to write the recommendation.
- 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 you are recommending. It is often easy to overlook some important accomplishment.
Writing the letter:
- Present the person truthfully but positively. A recommendation that paints an unrealistic picture of a candidate may be discounted. A recommendation that focuses on negative qualities may do more harm than intended.
- Tailor the recommendation to the position. 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.
- Begin the letter 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?
- 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.
- In most cases, a letter of recommendation should consist of three or four paragraphs and not be over one page in length.
A bad recommendation letter
Here is a real example of a letter of recommendation that I received for a PhD applicant. An eminent faculty member first sent a content-free recommendation letter, so I asked for more information. This was the response. You can see that this letter, though positive on its face, violates nearly every rule about writing a recommendation letter. It saddens me that lack of thoughtfulness on the part of the advisor meant that we had to reject the student's application (though it's possible that the advisor truly thought the student was unworthy and was signaling this obliquely via the letter).
Back to Advice compiled by Michael Ernst .