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How to Write a Letter of Recommendation

A good letter of recommendation can take a decent amount of time (and thought) to write. They should be a two to three paragraphs in length and give the person receiving the letter a general sense of your feelings towards the individual.

This guide is designed to help demystify the process of writing a reference letter.

How to Write a Recommendation Letter

It should go without that saying that you should never agree to write a letter for someone you do not know well enough to discuss. Make sure you feel comfortable writing the letter and also make sure you have time to write the letter. The individual who has asked you to provide this recommendation probably has a lot riding on it -- make it a good one!

The first step in writing a reference letter is to determine what kind of recommendation you are giving. There are three general types of recommendation letters.

  1. Employment references - A professional recommendation letter given for employment reasons is best done so by a boss or supervisor. They should provide an overall analysis of the abilities of the individual. This letter should save the future employer the time and trouble of calling to do a reference check.
  2. Character references - A reference letter given by a close friend, relatives or other associate. These letters help vouch for an individuals personal qualities. They are useful for a variety of needs and can focus on moral and ethical values of the person.
  3. Academic references - A reference letter give by a teacher, professor or trainer. These types of letters should speak towards ones aptitude, curiosity and ability to perform in an academic setting. An academic recommendation should include things about the individual that are not necessarily gained by looking over test scores and transcripts.

General Considerations

The more personalized the letter of recommendation is, the more effective it will be. Personalization does not necessarily mean creativity though. There are certain expectations that a reference letter carries.

The recipient of the reference letter typically has very little time to review it. The reader will be looking to make sure that your credentials are meaningful, that you know the candidate well enough to recommend them, insight into the candidates personality and a general sense of whether or not you are vouching for the candidate.

There are no set rules on the length of a recommendation letter. In general, it's probably best to keep it as short and at most three paragraphs.

A Quick Walk Through for Writing a Letter of Recommendation

To show your credibility, consider using formal company letterhead. Make sure you include your title on your signature as well. Somewhere in your opening paragraph, mention your relationship to the individual and how long you have known them. Make your opinion of the individual known in both the first and last paragraph of the letter as well. In the main body of the letter, discuss the personal qualities that make this individual shine.

Your opening sentence can often communicate volumes. If you are pleased, or even honored, to be writing a letter of recommendation for the individual -- say so! A generic, bland opening sentence might show a disinterest in writing the letter. When closing your letter, reiterate your overall recommendation of the candidate. Invite the reader to contact you if they have any further questions.

Specific Instructions for Writing a Recommendation Letter

While the content of your letter is entirely up to you, here are some general recommendations for what topics to address and where.

  1. 1st Paragraph - This is your opening statement. Your first sentence should state your purpose. Your second sentence should be who you know the individual and how long you have known them for.
  2. 2nd Paragraph - In the second paragraph give detail description of the person/employee and evaluate his/her achievements and performaces. Also describe individual strengths (and/or weaknesses). The body of your letter should include specific examples and traits related to the individual. The more relevant you can make these examples to the position being pursued, the better.
  3. 3rd Paragraph - In third and last paragraph, sum up what you have said in second paragraph and make broad characterization of the person. Your closing statement should express the character of the person. Like whether the person is responsible in nature or not, is polite or not, enthusiastic or not. Show your confidence in the individual and reiterate any final points you feel necessary.