Writing a Recommendation Letter

letter of recommendation

Known as a letter of recommendation, or a reference, it is a testimonial: that is, a written recommendation or support of a person’s skills and attributes. Letters of recommendation are often composed to express a person’s suitability for a specific position, vacancy, or business role.

When asked to write a recommendation letter, the occasion is a formal business one: a boss, or a superior or colleague must list favorable aspects and attributes and put them in a letter intended to demonstrate the positive qualities of the bearer to a future employer.

When business students complete their studies and start to forge a career, one of the first letters of recommendation they need is from their course instructor, lecturer, or degree supervisor.

Steps for Writing a Recommendation Letter

  1. Hold a meeting with the person for whom the letter will be a recommendation.
  2. Gather as much information about the person as you can.
  3. Ask the person to be recommended to bring along any certificates and other documents so that qualifications can be confirmed.
  4. Create a folder for notes, cuttings, photocopies, and other information that refer to the person.
  5. Consolidate your notes well to facilitate organization.
  6. Make a point list of all aspects to cover in the recommendation letter.
  7. Understand that there are some ethical issues related to this kind of writing.
  8. Draft brief paragraphs to highlight each of the candidate’s qualities.
  9. Write the top paragraph which introduces you as an authority and the person to be recommended.
  10. Ensure you know how to format and layout a recommendation letter.

Points to Include in a Recommendation Letter

  • The candidate’s full name, address and contact details
  • The length of your acquaintance or professional association
  • Background information relating to the candidate’s dealings with you
  • A brief paragraph about yourself
  • A brief mention of the institution or company you represent
  • Why your recommendation or reference carries weight
  • A list of the candidate’s qualities and qualifications

Key Points to Consider

  • Before writing a recommendation letter, you must keep in mind that the reference might mean the difference between the candidate’s success or failure at achieving the next step in their career.
  • Notes must be taken at the meeting, which must be as accurate and straightforward as possible.
  • The details of a recommendation letter are not always as important as the tone and expression. To carry any weight, the language and reasoning must be impeccable, and present your image as a referee worthy of notice.
  • While making notes and creating the reference to be given, you need to write clearly and without faults. Organize your resources and avoid misperceptions. Attention to detail is crucial, especially spelling names correctly.
  • Open a word processing folder for any notes you might need to write. These files can be easily re-worked into some of the drafting for the main writing later.
  • It is important to use solid writing techniques in a recommendation letter. Present the candidate in a positive light, without exaggeration or dishonesty. Remember that details are easy to check by anyone who cares to do so.
  • Each asset, attribute, or experience of the candidate must comprise of a short paragraph.
  • Choose a writing style that is businesslike and precise: it is not proper to use conversational or casual language.

Do and Don’t


  • Do spend a significant amount of time with the candidate: the letter is about that person, and you should know and understand them.
  • Do make a list of your impressions of the person. Write whether they are optimistic, or jovial, if they are a perfectionist, a rational thinker, a hard worker, and other positive attributes.
  • Do concentrate on relating the attributes you list to the requirements of the position for which the recommendation letter is being written.
  • Do write several drafts of each paragraph.
  • Do show a draft copy to the candidate before finalizing the recommendation letter. New ideas and suggestions might improve the letter before approval.

  • Don’t submit the first effort you make at writing a recommendation letter. Rewrite several times to provide the best language and content possible.
  • Don’t write a letter that is too brief or too long: two single-spaced pages are usually enough.
  • Don’t overstate your abilities or those of the candidate in any way. Write honestly and openly, and provide the person you are recommending with a classy reference.

Common Mistakes

    • Lack of specific detail. The person recommended – or candidate – must be described in detail, and their association with the writer must be made clear. All institutions, places of work and organizations must be mentioned in full, with correct spellings.
    • Exaggerated praise, extravagant descriptions of the candidate’s achievements, lofty hyperbole, and overstatement.
    • Writing a letter that is too brief, because it presents the candidate in a bad light, as if there is nothing proper to say. By the same token, a reference letter that is too long feels as though it is skirting issues and overstating the candidate’s qualities.
    • Hasty or unprepared writing is detectable. Drafting and rewriting are just as important with this kind of letter as any other business document. Be meticulous and exact, and always ask the candidate for confirmation that the tone and details are appropriate for the letter’s intended use. A letter recommending someone for a position on the board of a football team is different from a reference to obtain a bank loan.
    • Either leaving out important and relevant information, or including details which have little to do with the intended use for the letter.
    • All business documents must be impressive and perfect. Poor language skills, inappropriate or irrelevant vocabulary, and syntactical weakness are often encountered. Referees often use the wrong tone, with errors in punctuation, grammar, and structure.

Now that you have acquainted yourself with the basic recommendation letter writing tips and rules, you can check out our recommendation letter samples to link theory with practice.


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Samples for Writing a Recommendation Letter

Louis Canzone, Art-Director

From: Mark JacobsPosition: CEO, Liquid Me advertising agencyTo: Reginald SpectorJuly 21st, 2013Dear Mr. Spector,I would like to recommend ...


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