What to Write in a Letter of Recommendation

What to Write in a Letter of Recommendation

A letter of recommendation is an official document used to testify the skills, character and or achievements of a candidate to a person or company. This letter is sometimes called a reference letter. Whether you are still in college or looking for a job, knowing what to write in a letter of recommendation will make you an extraordinary person in life.

If you are yet to write a recommendation letter in your entire life, the process may appear too demanding. Even for veterans, recommendations still pose a great challenge. What is the solution? Well, the answer is in this handout, which addresses all you need to know about recommendation letters. Read on and discover what selection panels are always looking for.

A Guide of What to Write in a Letter of Recommendation

It takes time, skills and exercise to perfect the art of writing excellent recommendation letters. As we get into the depth of this manual of what to write in a letter of recommendation, let us look at scenarios, which require a reference letter.

When do you need a recommendation letter?

Unlike a love letter, which you can write anytime to your friend, you will need a recommendation letter in specific and determining moments in life. Here are some of the situations, which you may have probably encountered:

  • When you are applying for a job– A recommendation letter supports your application
  • Job offer-Though you may get a job offer without submitting a recommendation letter, most employers will request for one before signing the contract.
  • Applying for academic course– Depending on the admission policy of the university, joining some faculties requires recommendation from someone who knows you better.
  • Applying for scholarship– Sponsors want to support students that have good character and a promising future. They can only know about your past through a recommendation letter.
  • To win business contracts– Companies use recommendation letters to assert their trustworthiness and prove their ability to deliver.
  • Prospective tenants– Landlords take pride in dealing with well-known tenants, with a stable financial background to minimize wrangles. Don’t say you ain’t there yet because you will not be a student forever.

Since you now know circumstances that call for a recommendation letter, it would be important to understand the style and tone of writing such letters. To do this, take a look at the following example:

Sample #1: Recommendation letter


To whom it may concern

I have known Jack Miller for the last five years, having worked as a research manager.

(State your relationship with the candidate, indicating how long you have known each other.)

At all times, Miller was a hardworking, visionary and team player. He steered several projects and won numerous awards as the company’s best employee.

(Point out traits that the reader is looking for. These characteristics should tally will with the position the applicant is seeking).

I have no reservations in recommending Jack Miller and I am available for more information.

(Be confident in declaring your support for the candidate)


Jane Adams,


(Sign out professionally)

This example shows what to write in a letter of recommendation. As the writer, feel free to make adjustments to meet your needs, since every candidate has unique attributes to make him or her the best option. Click here to read the rest of the letter.

What to remember before writing a letter of recommendation

Since a recommendation letter could be the only thing that denies an applicant a lifetime opportunity, be ready to use it as a marketing tool.

Here is what to do before you start writing:

  • Agree to write the letter– Get it clear! Agree to recommend the person if you will honestly support him or her. In case, you are uncomfortable doing the recommendation, feel free to decline in a polite and respectful way.
  • Request for updated CV of the applicant. You do not want to assume anything about the candidate since the selection board will ultimately verify the information. Refer to the candidate’s resume at all times for consistency.
  • Know the position they are seeking. Different positions require different recommendation letters. Fine-tune the letter depending on the need of the applicant. Importantly, find out what the position entails and link with the candidate’s suitability.
  • Assemble all the information you have. Put together all the pieces of information you will need to avoid cases of omitting important sections.

With this preparation, you are ready to write a recommendation letter with ease. Aren’t you? Hoping that you now know what to write in a letter of recommendation, let us look at the writing process.

Putting together an appealing recommendation letter for a candidate

The writing process of a recommendation letter is what most employers and deans find a bit challenging. However, as you will notice in this section, it can turn out to be an easy task as long as you have done your homework effectively.

Start writing now!

  • Be truthful but positive. That sounds impossible, right? A recommendation letter focuses on facts. Do not paint unrealistic image of the applicant to the vetting board. This is not the time to settle scores with your junior employee. It is an act of kindness.
  • Customize the letter to suit the position. With your research and preparations, you should be having details of the position the applicant is seeking. A letter recommending one for a job as an IT manager should be different from that recommending the same candidate for a Master’s program.
  • State your relationship. In the first paragraph of the recommendation letter, say how you know the candidate. Confidently declare your backing and be ready to evaluate your support with evidence.
  • How long should it be? Remember, a recommendation letter is not an essay. Keep it brief between 3 to 4 paragraphs and not exceeding a page. However, in case the recipient specifies the length, so be it.

The following example should help you master what to write in a letter of recommendation.

Sample #2: Academic Recommendation Letter

Dear Sir / Madam:

I write this letter to express my support for Miss Mary Edwards as a suitable candidate to join your esteemed university. (Capture full name and recommend the candidate)

I have lectured Miss Smith in International Relations, having stood above other students as an able and keen to details. I can confirm with a clear conscience that Miss Smith is a holistic and ready to learn person. (State your relationship and commendable traits of the applicant)

I therefore recommend her for admission for a Master’s program to pursue her career and passion. (Cement your support consideration)

Yours sincerely, (sign out)

Eden Johnson
Department of IR
XYZ University

Adapted from essaysmith.com.

This letter is recommending the applicant for a Master’s program. It clearly brings out the elements we have discussed, including identifying the applicant, stating your support, and capturing outstanding attributes.

Find more examples here.

What not to write in a letter of recommendation

In the previous sections of this handout, we have dwelt on what to write in a letter of recommendation. With these guidelines, recommendation letters should no longer be a cause of headache.

Even with these tips, you also need to know the things to avoid when drafting that recommendation letter. Read the following list and discover why your recommendation letters are not hitting the mark of quality.

Things to leave out in a recommendation letter

  • Candidate’s weakness– Do not focus on the applicant’s weak points. Leave out the negative comments you have always made concerning the person seeking your support.
  • Libel- You do not want to recommend someone and find yourself in court the next day for defamation. Keep it professional.
  • Being casual. Keep all recommendation letters business-like. This is not the time for jokes and slang language. It is definitely time for business.
  • Irrelevant personal information. It is inappropriate to paint the applicant’s personal identity like political affiliation, religion, marital status, race etc.
  • Flawed language: – Double-check your recommendation letter to eliminate any typos, grammar or syntax errors. No panel is ready to mark your letter.

The following is an excerpt from a bad letter. At all cost, avoid the mistakes highlighted:

Example #3: Bad Recommendation Letter

Dear Prof. Ernst: (Identify the recipient fully)

“I hereby recommend one of my favorite students to join your department as intern. I have known this student for during his entire degree program…

Retrieved from: homes.cs.washington.edu.

Mistake: The writer completely fails to identify the applicant.


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