If asked to write a recommendation letter for someone else, as either a colleague or a character reference, it is important to keep a few key factors in mind before you agree and when actually writing your letter.
A letter of recommendation not only reflects the image of the subject of the correspondence, but the author of the letter as well. You want to be sure your letter is flawless and contains accurate and helpful information.
8 steps to writing a good recommendation letter
1. Appearance of recommendation letter
It is not really considered to be in good form to submit a handwritten letter, always type a recommendation letter. As you format your letter, choose a uniform font and select a letter style that is acceptable and organized. Once you’re finished, be sure and proofread it carefully.
For the body of the letter, include an opening statement, a couple of paragraphs describing the person’s attributes and skills, and then conclude with a closing paragraph. Generally one page is sufficient, but some kinds of recommendation letters may require a bit more detail.
2. Include relationship
When you craft your letter, be sure and explain how you know this person and also your relationship to them. Are you a colleague? Former supervisor? Personal acquaintance? Professor from college? It is a good idea to clarify just how you know this person as this information will add a specific value to your letter. Additionally, the best recommendation letters come from people who know the subject well. If you don’t know the requester well, he or she may be better off asking another person to write the letter.
3. Stick to professional attributes
When you write about someone who needs your letter of recommendation, it’s important to stay strictly within the confines of the law. Be sure to leave out anything that may be interpreted as discriminatory. Good qualities to highlight in a letter are communication skills, intelligence, willingness to take on responsibility, leadership skills, flexibility, interpersonal skills, job related proficiencies, initiative and related knowledge or other skill-set they may possess. It’s perfectly acceptable to give examples to support what you’re conveying.
A letter that emphasizes competencies in a specific job area will go a long way in being effective. When you write your letter, try to highlight any particular job experiences and skills that will be beneficial in your subject in his or her ability to land a good impression.
5. Use strong words
When writing a recommendation letter you don’t want to come across as bland and draw an image that is not appealing to the recipient of the letter. By using strong descriptive words such as “observant, intelligent”, “cooperative”, “innovative” and even “assertive”, this can create a solid character picture of your subject in an appealing and positive fashion. Be sure to avoid using strong words that may be interpreted as having a negative connotation, as the goal is to create a positive image of the person you’re writing about. You don’t want to accidentally project a negative attribute.
6. Omit weaknesses
If the person’s weaknesses are minor and not those of which would heavily impact a job, you can leave these out. On the other hand, if the weaknesses are so severe that it would be difficult to write a positive letter, you might be better off politely declining when asked to write the letter.
7. Your qualifications
It is helpful to also include your own qualifications in the letter as this adds credibility and substance to back up everything you’ve said. Just as you’ve addressed your relationship, include any titles or expertise you have to share which qualifies you to effectively write about the person who is the subject of the letter.
8. Be honest
Honesty is a key component of a good recommendation letter. If you can’t be honest, don’t agree to write the letter. You don’t want to tarnish your own professional reputation by writing a glowing letter that has no basis in truth. And you’ll want to consider the ethics involved in being dishonest in this kind of letter.
By taking these steps, you should easily be able to craft a winning recommendation letter for your friend, student, colleague or employee. Before you write, be thoughtful in what you want to say and also so you don’t leave anything out.
While recommendation letters can require a bit of time, the task doesn’t have to be complicated or difficult. These are pretty straight-forward and, if you include the above elements, writing a recommendation letter should go pretty smoothly.
Leigh has been writing on the web since 2007. She has a high interest in business, tech, higher education, and Washington D.C. and Northern Virginia travel, but loves to write about a variety of topics. In addition to writing on Writedge, she also runs a blog about the Washington DC Metro Area and a photography blog Photos by Leigh Goessl.