Tips for Writing a Good Recommendation

Colleges and employers get plenty of resumes, cover letters and transcripts sent to them on a daily basis. Quantitative data has a tendency to become repetitive. Writing a letter of recommendation can help highlight the person’s unique skills, strengths, competence, and credibility. Follow our tips for how to give a good recommendation and review the sample letters to enable you to provide that personal touch for someone.

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How to Write a Recommendation: Format

A recommendation letter or memo is designed to testify to the skills and abilities of an individual. Depending on the person and their specific needs, you can tailor your style or format. When you review samples of recommendation letters, you will notice that the basic format is as follows:

  • opening - Introduce yourself and explain your relationship to the applicant.
  • body - Give examples of the applicant's best qualities, being as specific as possible. Put the most important qualities first.
  • conclusion - End your recommendation with a paragraph that includes a positive statement about the applicant and offers your future assistance if necessary.

General Tips for Recommendation Letters

Of course, there is more to writing a good reference letter than following the correct format. Keep these tips in mind to make sure you’re presenting the person who has asked you to recommend them in a positive light.

Consider the Request Thoughtfully

Before agreeing to write a letter of recommendation for someone, make sure that you are comfortable speaking up on behalf of the individual in a positive way. If you don't think you can give a positive recommendation, you should decline to write the recommendation.

Clarify the Purpose

Before you start writing a recommendation letter, get a sense of the overall purpose of the letter, so you can be sure the letter you write is structured appropriately. For example, if the letter is for a job, find out the job title and ask to see the job description. Ask the individual to share with you any instructions or other information he or she received about the letter, in case there are specific requirements that need to be met.

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Get the Details

Ask for details about how the letter should be submitted. You may need to provide a copy of the letter to the individual, or you may need to mail or email it directly to the employer or institution. Verify if there is a questionnaire or form that you need to fill out and send along with the letter, or if you should send any other supporting information.

Verify Relevant Skills

Ask the individual if there are any special skills or situations that should be included in the recommendation. Ask questions to confirm the individual's competence in what they do and their credibility, beyond what you know through your firsthand experience with the person.

Cover Key Traits

Focus on the initiative, integrity, dedication, and drive that the individual has to succeed. Use descriptive language, being sure to provide examples specific to the individual where possible. Avoid vague compliments and try to provide as many specific details as possible.

Keep It Simple

Keep things relatively simple in the letter, especially if you will be providing a general letter of recommendation to someone who may be planning on using the letter more than once. By keeping the letter simple, the person will be able to submit the same letter for multiple jobs or scholarships without having to ask for customized letters for each application.

Be Sincere and Truthful

A recommendation letter should always be sincere and honest. Do not exaggerate the person’s qualifications or provide any information that you don’t know to be true. Be honest about everything, from how long you have known the person and in what capacity, to your impressions of the individual’s skills.

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Proofread Carefully

Check the letter carefully for spelling, typographical and grammatical errors before you send it out. This is important for all business correspondence, but especially so with a recommendation letter. If you send out a recommendation with errors in it, it won’t just reflect negatively on you, but also on the person who the letter is about.

Review Sample Letters

Unless you’re already sure of exactly what you want to say, review a few sample letters before you start writing. There are several examples below to consider.

Sample Employment Recommendation from a Supervisor

Use this sample letter if you’re writing a recommendation for a former employee.

Mr. Smith has asked me to write a memo of recommendation, and it is my pleasure to do so. I first encountered Mr. Smith while supervising him at Company ABC in Washington, DC. At the time of his employment from March 2013 to January 2018, Mr. Smith was working as a Management Analyst in the Logistics Department of Company ABC. In that capacity, Mr. Smith was forced to confront an array of problems with staff support.

I am pleased to say that Mr. Smith solved each problem with integrity and professionalism. It seems that whenever Mr. Smith was confronted with an obstacle, he adjusted his swing and not only solved the problem but created a work environment that was proactive to productivity. Thanks to his efforts, Company ABC was able to restructure the department and significantly improve operational efficiency.

All in all, I highly recommend Mr. Smith for your company. His dedication, work ethic, and willingness to think outside the box will prove to be a most valuable asset. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me. You may reach me at [insert phone number] or [insert email address].
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Employment Recommendation from a Personal Associate

This sample letter illustrates how to write a job recommendation for someone you know on a personal level.

I am writing to recommend Steve Miller for a position with your company. I have known Steve for the past six years, due to our involvement with the Johnson County Food Bank.

Steve is a dedicated and passionate volunteer, demonstrating a willingness to go above and beyond to make sure local residents have access to the nutritious food they need. He played an instrumental role in instituting our community garden and generated $10,000 in sponsorships from local businesses for the 2016 fiscal year through his participation in our fundraising campaign.

Steve is organized, efficient and a team player. He would be a tremendous asset to your organization and I recommend him to you without reservation. If you have any questions, please contact me at [insert phone number] or [insert email address].

Sample College or Scholarship Recommendation

This is an example of a letter written to recommend someone for a college scholarship.

It is my pleasure to write a letter of recommendation for Hannah Jones. As Hannah's English teacher at Jefferson High School for the past three years, I wholeheartedly believe she has the potential to successfully complete college-level communications coursework.

Hannah is a dedicated and committed student with an innate intellectual curiosity. I have been consistently impressed by her knowledge of grammar, vocabulary and sentence structure. Her recent series on community nonprofit organizations for our school newspaper inspired a number of her peers to seek out new volunteer opportunities.

As well as being a talented young writer, Hannah has the potential to be a leader both in and out of the classroom. She is always eager to advise her fellow students and is well-known throughout Jefferson High School for her pleasant, encouraging attitude.

Hannah is one of the strongest students I have had the pleasure of working with during my 16 years of teaching. She would be an asset to your program, providing top-notch academic work as well as unbridled enthusiasm for the learning process. If you have any questions, please contact me at 555-555-5555 or email@jeffersonhigh.com.
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A Source of Inspiration

Writing a recommendation letter is a big responsibility, but reviewing some recommendation letter examples can help you feel more confident about completing the task. A recommendation should always be personalized, but these samples can provide some inspiration for creating a concise and accurate description of the individual's qualifications. For more guidance, see examples of letters and what to include in them. Be sure to open your letter with an appropriate salutation.