Writing Letters of Recommendation

General Guidelines

Why write a letter of recommendation?

As a faculty or staff member, you should feel honored if a student or alumna approaches you to write a letter of recommendation because often times this is an indicator that she has had such a positive experience under your guidance and supervision, whether as a professor or employer.  Writing letters of recommendation will be an important skill throughout your career and will help the student or alumna in achieving her academic and professional goals.

When should you not write a letter?

If, after approached by a student or alumna to write a letter of recommendation, you cannot gather enough positive feedback to provide to a potential employer or graduate program, you should not feel obligated to write a letter.  In fact, if you write a letter with less than positive and glowing remarks, you may in fact negatively affect the student or alumna’s chance at making a good impression.  So, if you cannot write a supportive letter, you should have a candid conversation with the student or alumna expressing your concerns in a constructive and honest way.  Although it may be awkward at first to deny writing the letter, it is best for everyone involved.

What information do you need to have to write a letter?

Before writing the letter of recommendation, please be sure to gather some important material and information from the student or alumna including her résumé, cover letter, application and other supporting documents.  If you are writing a letter to support a candidate’s application for employment, ensure you have received a complete job description for the position.  If you writing a letter in support of a graduate or professional school application, be sure to ask for detailed information regarding the program as well as a copy of the candidate’s personal statement.  You may also want to ask for the website of the organization to which the letter will be written since websites can also provide very valuable information.

What should not be put in a letter?

Letters should not include any sensitive or personal information regarding the student or alumna including information that may reference ethnic background, religion, national origin, age, handicap, citizenship status, sexual orientation or marital status.  Avoid any information that could potentially be used to discriminate against the student or alumna.

What style and format should you use for a letter?

The style and format for a letter of recommendation should follow general business letter formatting guidelines.  A typical letter of recommendation is one page in length, but some may be up to two pages.  Letters longer than this may actually be counterproductive.  Letters should always be typed documents using word processing software on the computer.  Letters that are handwritten or typed using a typewriter are generally not seen as being as professional.  Letters should always be on official College letterhead, preferably department letterhead.


Sample Letters and Additional Online Resources: