Writing Letters of Recommendation - Pace University
writers actually feel less inhibited in their praise of students in confidential letters. While making these points, be sure to make it
clear that it is up to the student to decide.
One other factor that greatly facilitates letter writing is if you can write a letter as soon as possible after you have
taught/worked with a student, while your impressions are still vivid and fresh. You might consider encouraging students to make
their requests early, rather than waiting until senior year or beyond. These early letters can be maintained in your own files for
FORMAT/WHAT TO INCLUDE
Start by describing how long you've known the person and in what capacity. Include dates of courses the student has taken with
you or dates of employment with your company and details on how you have interacted with the person. Continue by describing
the person's skills and performance and what makes them an ideal candidate for a potential new employer or for graduate
school. End by summarizing why you are recommending this person.
For the content of a well-documented letter, the following are tips to keep the following in mind:
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?
Promptly identify yourself and the basis of your knowledge of the student: Was s/he a student in your class, seminar, a
teaching assistant? Did you supervise this person in a working environment or were you a peer colleague? Has your
acquaintance been sustained over a number of years? Writing the letter on department/company letterhead is a further
form of identification.
In evaluating a student's intellectual capabilities, try to describe the student in terms that reflect that student's distinctive
or individual strengths. How well does the applicant organize his/her thoughts and communicate them? What evidence is
there of his/her judgment, reliability, organizational ability and analytical skills? Whatever strengths strike you as
particularly salient, be prepared to back up your judgment with concrete examples - papers, exams, class presentations,
or performance on a project.
Present the individual's general qualities relevant to the position along with one or two detailed examples. Be objective
and realistic in describing such things as strengths, “on-the-job” or “in-the-classroom” performance, planning and follow-
through abilities, flexibility, professional qualities, teaching/professional skills, interpersonal skills or other skill areas.
In discussing a student's character, proceed in a similar fashion to the intellectual evaluation, highlighting individual traits
and providing concrete illustrations. Including vivid detail will make the recommendation much more effective.
Ranking the student may be requested or desired by graduate admissions/grant program selection committees. Having
concentrated on the student's individual or unique strengths, you might find it difficult to do so. Ranking is of course less
of a problem if a student is unambiguously among the top five or ten percent that you have taught, or so outstanding
that he or she would safely rank high in any group. Many of the students who come to you for a letter, however, will not
fall within that small unambiguous group. If you wish to offer some comparative perspective, you might be more readily
able to do so in more specific areas: Is the student one of the most articulate? original? clear-thinking? motivated?
intellectually curious? Some schools or fellowships have forms which ask for rankings broken down into specific areas.
Avoid the misconception that the more superlatives that you use, the stronger the letter. Heavy use of stock phrases or
cliches in general is unhelpful. Your letter can only be effective if it contains substantive information about the student's
If you lack sufficient information to answer some questions posed or suggested in an application, it is best to maintain the
integrity and credibility of your letter, and say only what you are in a position to say.
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
Give your professional opinion of the potential for success of the candidate. Be sure to explain the incident or
circumstances upon which you base this opinion.
Your letter should conclude with a brief summation, giving the main thrust of your recommendation for the candidate.
Common problems that can detract from the overall usability of a letter of recommendation
It contains school-specific references or is otherwise inappropriate for multiple audiences
There is an incorrect spelling of the student’s name or multiple spellings of the name within the same letter
Multiple names are listed in the body of the letter, indicating a cut and paste effort from a previously written letter
Writing Letters of Recommendation - Pace University PDF
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