Knowing how to use the correct format for a letter of recommendation is essential in the modern workplace. In either an academic or a professional capacity, a well-written letter of recommendation can mean the difference between acceptance and rejection for the individual in question.
Before you even begin to write, sit down with the individual and briefly discuss their goals, both short and long term. This allows you to make the letter somewhat more personalized; an overly generic letter makes a poor impact. Remember: do not mention anything negative about the individual, but stay honest.
In any capacity, a letter of recommendation should not exceed 200 words. A letter that is too short comes off as an afterthought, while an excessively long letter can seem pretentious. Both can have a negative effect on the reader. Be direct and professional in your language; do not use vague statements or flowery metaphors. The letter itself consists of a greeting, an introduction, one to two body paragraphs, and a short conclusion.
Greeting and Introduction
As with any professional letter, begin with “To Whom It May Concern:”. In the first sentence of your introduction, directly state that the letter is a professional or academic recommendation. Next, establish your relationship with the individual, and mention how many years you have known them in a professional capacity.
Main Body Paragraph
This paragraph should focus on the individual’s distinctive character traits, such as confidence under pressure and leadership abilities. Briefly mention some of their professional or academic accomplishments, and specifically use these examples to reinforce their positive characteristics.
Secondary Body Paragraph
This paragraph adds more detail to the traits established in the main body paragraph. If the letter is academic in nature, describe a specific event where the individual demonstrated their strengths, using more detail than the first body paragraph. This anecdote should still avoid overly elaborate language, yet it should present the individual as a unique, memorable person. In a professional context, this paragraph should instead focus on the impact the individual had on the company as a whole, including any profit increases and their impact on the other employees.
In one sentence, reiterate that you professionally recommend the individual in question for the specific organization they are applying to, and perhaps summarize their positive traits. For the signature, begin with “Sincerely,” followed by your name, title, and organization.
Fund, Burroughs W. Making the Right Moves: A Practical Guide to Scientific Management for Postdocs and New Faculty. Add: “Writing a Letter of Recommendation.” 2nd ed.
Letters of recommendation: Controversy and consensus from expert perspectives
Nicklin, Jessica M., University at Albany, State University of New York, Albany, NY, US
Roch, Sylvia G., University at Albany, State University of New York, Albany, NY, US
International Journal of Selection and Assessment, Vol 17(1), Mar, 2009. pp. 76-91