How to Write a Letter of Recommendation

Our editors provide tips that will help you write a recommendation letter

A woman is signing her name at the bottom of a recommendation letter.
A letter of recommendation provides a
second opinion about a candidate.

Writing a generic recommendation letter may seem like a daunting task. We have compiled some simple guidelines that can help you get the style, tone, content, and presentation of your recommendation letter just right. The end result will be an effective and professional recommendation letter.

Remember, the person you are writing the letter for (the candidate) has asked for your recommendation as he or she feels you know him or her sufficiently well. The candidate believes you would be pleased to support his or her application. These tips are for a generic recommendation letter, but they can also be applied to writing a college recommendation letter for an academic position or an employee recommendation letter to help them land a top job in the business world. Your aim should be to provide support by giving a positive but balanced summary of the person and his or her skills and qualities.

Take your time when coming up with content

The best way to go about creating content for your recommendation letter is to take some time and plan what you want to say. We suggest the following points as a guide to organizing the content of your letter:

  • Introduce yourself and state your position.
  • Say how you know the candidate and how long you have known him or her.
  • Outline the candidate's skills that are relevant for the position, and any relevant experience.
  • Give a brief description of his or her personal qualities, for example, helpful, calm, etc.
  • Mention how the person interacts with others, for example, a good team player, considerate of colleagues, etc.
  • Say why, in your opinion, the candidate is suitable for the position and what you believe he or she could offer the organization.
  • Emphasize anything outstanding about the candidate. For example: What are their particular talents?
  • Mention any important gaps in the candidate's skills or knowledge.

Strike a balance in your letter of recommendation

It is important that your letter be written in a balanced manner. Although the focus of your recommendation letter should be on the good things about the candidate, the person you are writing to needs to know if the candidate needs particular help in any area. You may be concerned about writing something that seems negative, but as long as you present your views in a positive way, highlighting an area where the candidate needs to improve, your comment should not be detrimental. For example, imagine you are writing the recommendation letter for a student (let's call him John) who has difficulties meeting deadlines. You have already talked to John about this, and he is now working on his time management and organizational skills. You feel it is right to mention this in the recommendation letter as it is a fairly big problem for John, and you know he will need ongoing support while he develops these skills.

One way to approach this could be to write:

“John has many skills and qualities that I have mentioned above. However, to ensure he can achieve his long-term goals, he will need further support to develop his time management and organizational skills. He has been working hard to improve these skills over the last year, and I have already seen some improvement.”

Remember, your reputation for giving an honest recommendation is also important.

Recommendation letter format

Now we have looked at the content; what about the recommendation letter format?

The letter should be a standard formal letter with your contact details and the date at the top of the letter. Times New Roman font always looks very professional, and the font size should be 11 or 12 point. You should address the recommendation letter directly to the person responsible for the application or to the Human Resources department if you don't have a name (in the case of a company). In the case of other types of organizations, you can address the letter “To Whom It May Concern.” However, it is always best to get the candidate to provide you with a contact name if possible.

Try not to write an excessively long letter of recommendation. A page should be sufficient, as the candidate will also have completed an application form and/or submitted a resume or curriculum vitae.

Be mindful of your tone

The tone of a recommendation letter should be professional, with content that is easy to read and clear in meaning. You should show the reader that you are approachable and would be pleased to provide more help or information. You can do this by adding the following sentence at the end of your letter:

“Please do not hesitate to contact me if you require any further information.”

Make an impression with the presentation of your recommendation letter

Sometimes it may help to look at a recommendation letter example to see exactly how this letter should look. And nothing looks more unprofessional than a recommendation letter with spelling, grammar, or punctuation mistakes, and poor attention to detail.

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Learn how to write other kinds of letters! Check out How to Write a Letter, available in Kindle and paperback on Amazon right now.

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