Whether you are writing a letter of recommendation for a scholarship, job, internship or entrance to graduate school, a letter of recommendation must accomplish several purposes. It must give the recipient confidence that the person for whom the letter is written has the necessary experience and the capacity to do the job well, is worthy of admission to a college or is worthy of receiving an award. The specific information included in an academic or employment recommendation letter is usually different, however. (See Reference 1.)


When writing a letter of recommendation for an employer, include information about the person’s previous post in the company, job responsibilities and skills (loyalty, reliability, ability to work independently and on a team, for example). (See Reference 1.) Also include when the person worked with the company and any awards or professional recognition he received.


Academic letters of recommendation often have to be sent directly to the admissions or review board. Confidentiality of the letter is usually required. When writing the letter, think back on your experience of having the person as a student. Ask the student for a copy of his personal statement and resume if he wrote them for his application, and ask him to let you know what his aspirations are, what awards he has received and other information relevant to his application. (See Reference 2.) Include information on his academic performance, his integrity and dedication to his work and his abilities to work alone and with others. Another option is to ask the student to draft the letter himself and then review and sign it.


In your letter’s introduction state that you are a recommender, mention your professional position and explain how you are connected to the applicant. Say how long you have known the applicant. Also include a summary of your overall feelings about the applicant. You might write, for example: “I am Dr. Sam Smith, Professor of Archaeology at XYZ University in Township, Maryland. I am writing a letter of recommendation for Bob Harrison, one of my most talented and impressive students for the past two years for the Youth Scholarship Award.” (See Reference 1.) Also include information on how you compare this student to others. You might say that you have worked a certain number of years as a professor and taught a specific number of students. (See Reference 2.)


The body of your letter should have separate paragraphs for each quality of the applicant. Write specific examples of how you saw the person demonstrate the skill or quality. You might write, for example, when discussing the quality of persistence in a candidate: “Bob came to all of my tutoring sessions to ensure he completely understood all of the lessons, and he succeeded in earning an A, one of only five people in his class of 40 to do so.” Write only two or three paragraphs for this section. (See Reference 1.) Include a statement of light criticism that includes a strength as well. For example, you might write: “Bob sometimes is too persistent, and it sometimes comes across as stubbornness. However, he is usually calm and cheerful in his work.” (See Reference 2.) If you are familiar with activities outside of work or school in which the person has been involved, include that information in the body of your letter. (See Reference 3.)


Summarize the person’s qualifications and add other comments you feel should be included in the letter. State that you believe that the applicant is worthy of the scholarship or admission, or is the right person for the job. Provide your contact information and sign the letter. (See Reference 1.)