Writing Letters of Recommendation

Writing Letters of Recommendation

Tips for Writing Letters of Recommendation

The RTC held a workshop on writing letters of recommendation. The panel members provided these tips:

Mac Haas, College of Engineering:

  • Ask students to provide information about what they’ve been up to recently, things they’ve done or made
  • Ask students for updated resume
  • Harder and more time-consuming if you have less to go on.
  • Length: generally one page
  • Explain your relationship to the student
  • Look for things they’ve done that can help them stand out
  • Be concise and forcefully expressive leaving an impression
  • Want that application to stand out.
  • Can use a template that’s not “fill in the blanks”—more blanks that not. “Goalposts to write toward”
  • But there are reasons to break this guideline, especially if its needed to explain something about a student and their situation. This information works better in a recommendation letter than in the student’s own personal statement.
  • One time-consuming thing is dealing with different websites and interfaces to upload letter
Georita Frierson, College of Science & Mathematics:
  • Ask students for spreadsheet with timelines, deadlines, what they’re asking for etc.
  • Use a templated questionnaire that students write in 3rd person. Students therefore use their own verbiage. This is one way to ensure that letters are unique
  • Quantify student in the final paragraph (Top 10%, for example) Importance of qualitative assessment of student
  • Alway show students letters so they can see what’s being said about them
  • A good idea: getting students to describe their weaknesses and how they overcome these weakness
  • Important to give students work to do—sending them a form to complete, for example

Jon Feaster, College of Communications & Creative Arts:

  • Sees letters as collaborative, asking students “how does my letter fit into your argument?”

Kaitlin Mallouk, College of Engineering:

  • Use a Google Form that students fill out and send back, in addition to providing the information that she needs to write the letter.
  • Require the students to provide information and background
  • Shared letter samples that were Blah, Good, & Best.

Tips from the discussion:

  • Include information about letters of recommendation on your syllabus
  • A shorter letter is weaker letter
  • If you can not write a strong letter, suggest the student ask someone else who might be able to write a stronger letter. Make it clear that your letter is not going to help them
  • Importance of diversity and including it in letters. The job of the letter writer to speak to this in collaboration with the student.
  • For some students and some opportunities, it’s worth spending a lot of time writing a great letter.