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How to Write a Better Letter of Recommendation by Brian Konradt

If you were asked to write a letter of recommendation, would you be elated or would you feel deflated? On one hand, your elation comes from the honor and privilege of endorsing someone for something very important. On the other, that feeling of deflation results from mixed emotions. For one, you're up-to-the-task but you're currently pressured by the demands of home and work. Another's that you'd like to write a winning recommendation but you just don't know how.

If the intention to help is there and it's only the writing which limits you, then consider it done! There are ways to write a better letter of recommendation. For writing made easy, here are some steps we propose:

Step 1: Find out its purpose.

Before you go to the letter itself, find out what its purpose is for. That's because you first have to check whether you have the qualifications and credentials to vouch for a certain candidate.

As to qualifications and credentials, let's consider them one by one:
  • Is the prospective employer asking for an employment reference? This requires a professional recommendation from you as a previous boss, manager, or supervisor.
  • Is the university asking for an academic reference? You're qualified to write this if you were the subject's former professor, teacher, or mentor.
  • Are you one of the subject's character references? You could write this letter if you're a close associate, relative, or friend.
Step 2: Establish your credibility.

Prior to the use of words, there are ways by which you yourself can establish your own credibility.

For example, if you're a top executive, utilize stationery having the company letterhead. At the end of the letter, go beyond your complete name and signature. Below your name, indicate what your title or position is. Hands down, this already makes your letter look official!

Step 3: Follow the usual format.

The opening paragraph is your opportunity to introduce who you are and why you're writing. Follow through by stating your relationship to the candidate, whether you were the previous boss, a former professor, or a current friend. It helps if you also indicate how long you've known each other.

Proceed to the bulk of the body wherein you discuss the candidate's exemplary qualities. If you're a relative or friend, focus more on the personal qualities which you've encountered. For a teacher, you can discuss your former's student's individual attitude and academic performance in class. As an employer, you'd have more authority in sharing information about your former employee's work ethics, job performance, and rapport with other members of the organization.

Afterwards, wrap up the last paragraph in a way that confirms your opening statement. Reiterate your recommendation and extend your regards to the reader.

Step 4: Review your first sentence.

If you hope to write a letter of recommendation that's better, Step 4 would tell you to review your letter and revise if necessary.

Pay attention to your first sentence in particular. Study and analyze its tone. Does it sound warm and friendly? Do you sound detached? Or worse, do you sound indifferent?

Just by the tone of your letter alone, a well-experienced personnel officer would know how you feel about the candidate. So early on, it's truly not advisable if you ‘coerce' yourself to write a letter of recommendation for someone you don't sincerely believe in. Reserve this option for another letter-requester who comes highly and strongly recommended!