A Basic Guide to Writing a Letter of Recommendation

A formal letter of recommendation is a powerful credential or reference to an employer or school concerning a candidate. This article is a brief guide that will show you how to craft a recommendation letter effectively.

What is a Recommendation Letter?

A letter of recommendation is a letter of support to a third party that confirms another party’s character and competence. The party that the letter is written to, typically a company or school, is called the recipient.

A recommendation letter is written to prospective employer or institution regarding a person’s suitability for a job, professional status, academic performance, or skill set. A recommendation letter is generally written by someone familiar to the candidate. It reflects the recommending person’s perspective of an individual.

Most often, a recommendation letter is required by:

  • Job candidate for employment.
  • Student applying to school.
  • A graduate applying for a visa or a scholarship.
  • An individual seeking volunteering opportunities.
  • A fellow seeking internship or fellowship positions.

Types of Recommendation Letters

A letter of recommendation is a document that attests to someone’s qualifications, skills, and achievements. It is best to write such letters for someone whose skills and work ethic you are familiar with, for example, a colleague, or employee.

Similarly, if you want a recommendation letter, you should ask someone who can attest to your professional and academic abilities.

The two most popular kinds of recommendation letters are:

1. Job recommendation letters 

A letter of recommendation is one of the essential facets of a job application. The letter aims to illustrate to a prospective employer, the positive impact a job candidate/applicant will have on the organization. The letter reflects the candidate’s strengths and suitability by discussing the skills and qualifications that make the candidate employable.

Job application recommendation letters are written by a co-worker or a former employer. These letters are used in conjunction with personal interviews to decide which candidate is most suitable for the position.

2. Academic Recommendation Letters

Academic recommendation letters are formal requests for admission to an educational institution. Such letters support a student requesting enrollment or transfer into a course of study or indicating institutional approval for the duration of the study.

One would require a recommendation letter for an undergraduate or graduate school to apply for a scholarship or enroll in a fellowship program. In such cases, an academic reference letter written by a university professor familiar with the student’s educational history and general performance is required.

Guidelines for Writing a Letter of Recommendation

Because recommendation letters are so powerful, they must be accurate, thoughtful, and sincere. Employers appreciate an honest, carefully thought-out, and proactive recommendation letter.

A letter of recommendation typically follows an outline. Adhering to this format will help you craft an effective letter. Below are general guidelines that you should follow when writing any letter of recommendation. Once you do, the rest will come naturally, and you’ll feel more in control of the process.

The basic structure is as follows:

  • Greeting/Salutation: When addressing an anonymous person, the general salutation is “To whom it may concern.” If you know the name of the individual, you’re addressing the letter to, the salutation “Dear Mr…” “Dear Mrs…” including the individual’s name is the most suitable.
  • Concise Introduction: Introduce yourself and your expertise in the introductory paragraph. Also, state your relationship with the applicant.
  • Overview: Describe the applicant/candidate’s strengths, attributes, and top skills you’ve experienced that relate to the position applied for.
  • Personal story: Provide a story detailing the applicant’s traits and attributes. It could be the applicant’s skills and qualifications or a candidate’s academic performance. Be sure you have experienced this first hand. It is best to be truthful and honest when recommending an individual.
  • Closing statement: Conclude by summarizing everything you’ve written on why the individual is suitable for the position or opportunity. Also, write a line encouraging the recipient of the letter to contact you with any questions.
  • Signature: Include your name and contact information to allow the recipient to reach out to you for additional information.

5 Tips for Writing a Formal Letter of Recommendation

Write in a positive tone

A letter of recommendation should convey the positives about an applicant or candidate. Write in a manner that suggests that you are sure about the person’s capabilities. Do not leave any reason for the recipient to doubt your statements.

Write an attention-grabbing introduction

You want to hook the reader and keep them reading till the end. Write a unique introduction without using the general wordings of a recommendation letter.

Use a formal tone

Be as polite and professional as possible. Do not use slangs or jargon. Use appropriate language and a standard style.

Don’t exaggerate

Your letter might create suspicion when you write too many positive things about the candidate. Keep your praises and good words in moderation.

Focus on the relevant qualifications

Discuss only the qualifications and achievements relevant to the position the candidate is applying for.

Be mindful of your grammar and spellings

Typos can be a total turnoff. It is important that you use a spell-checker to correct any grammar and spelling errors you might have made. You don’t want to ruin the candidate’s chances by writing a lot of mistakes.

Follow the submission instructions

Schools and employers usually provide submission instructions for recommendation letters. Follow the instructions strictly, including noting the deadline, to not jeopardize the candidate’s chance.

man wearing blue shirt writing on white paper
Photo by Scott Graham on Unsplash

To Wrap Up

Strong recommendation letters are mission-critical for securing employment and getting accepted into school programs. As such, it’s imperative to write a letter that is compelling in its argument and appropriate for the audience. This article is your definitive guide to writing an effective formal letter of recommendation.

Pam is an expert grammarian with years of experience teaching English, writing and ESL Grammar courses at the university level. She is enamored with all things language and fascinated with how we use words to shape our world.

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