Best 15 Ways to Write Reference Letter

Best Ways to Write Reference Letter: If a student asks you to write a reference letter for a graduate school applicant.

It may be difficult to know where to begin and what to include.

Even if you know someone quite well.

It is a challenge to write something that sounds genuine and convincing to an admissions committee.

With some background information and careful thought.

You can craft an engaging and successful letter in no time.

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Best Ways to Write Reference Letter

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Best Ways to Write Reference Letter

1. Read background materials on the graduate programs.

Learn more information about where the person is applying.

If you familiarize yourself with the program.

You can begin to imagine what the admissions committee wants in an applicant.

  • For example, if the candidate is applying to a nanotechnology program, you should discuss achievements, characteristics, or interests relevant to nanotech.
  • Glance through the website for the applicable programs.
  • Ask the candidate to send you the information directly.

Best Ways to Write Reference Letter

2. Ask the candidate for their application materials.

Regardless of how well you know the person, ask them to send you their application materials.

Ask them to send you things like transcripts, a personal statement.

A “curriculum vitae,” or CV, or a resume.

Read through these materials to learn more about their experiences, goals, and motivations.

  • A person’s application statement can provide you with insight into their motivation and goals.
  • You don’t have to know someone especially well to write a letter for them. Have you evaluated their work? Have you spoken with them during office hours? Have they demonstrated a knack for academic study in your class? If so, you’re well-positioned to discuss their strengths in these areas.

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3. Set up a meeting to talk with the person.

Review what it is they want to do and why they are interested in going to graduate school.

Talk with them about why they thought you would be a good reference for them.

So you have a clear idea of what they hope you can write about.

  • If an in-person meeting is not possible, try to arrange time for a phone conversation instead.

Best Ways to Write Reference Letter

4. Ask for clear instructions on how and when to submit the letter.

Many people who are applying to graduate programs may use a digital letter portfolio service to manage their recommendations.

Otherwise, you may need to email or mail the letter directly to the admissions office.

Make sure the person gives you clear instructions on where and how to submit the letter.

Check with them to find out the submission deadline.

  • Online letter management systems are often offered through the career and alumni services of colleges and universities.
  • Ask the person to send you a reminder a few days before the submission deadline.

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5. List the experience, characteristics, and achievements you will discuss.

These can go beyond things like academics or work.

You can also include information about someone’s participation in extracurricular activities, like sports, volunteering, or music.

Best Ways to Write Reference Letter

6. Put the person into context so that others can evaluate them better.

Not every applicant is the best applicant ever and admissions committees know that better than anyone.

Draw on your experience to convey why the person you are writing about is unique and special.

Compare them to other students you have known.

  • For example, you might write “I’ve been teaching for 10 years and in all that time.
  • This person is one of the top 3 physics students I’ve ever had.”
  • Another example could be “This person wrote the best final essay in their class this year.”

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Best Ways to Write Reference Letter

7. Use specific examples to illustrate your praise.

You can write how wonderful and amazing and brilliant someone is.

But to really get the point across it helps to have an example.

Think about particular assignments, tasks, or situations in which the applicant demonstrated the strength you are discussing.

  • For example, you might write, “She excels under pressure. During midterms week this year, she completed a stand-out paper even though she had 3 other exams in three-day period.”

8. Ask the student to write their own letter if you’re really stuck.

If you are pressed for time or just can’t seem to get started.

You can get the applicant to write their own letter!

Although it may seem like cheating, it’s actually a great way for you to learn how your student sees him.

Or herself and how they plan to present themselves in their application.

  • Don’t simply sign and send the letter the applicant wrote.
  • Use it as a guide to inform your own, original letter.

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Best Ways to Write Reference Letter

9. Focus on the positives.

Don’t bring up weaknesses or concerns in your letter.

Admissions to graduate programs can be extremely competitive.

Even if you think you can turn a weakness into a strength.

It’s better to avoid bringing up anything negative at all in a reference letter.

  • It’s important to note that failure is not a weakness.
  • Mentioning a time when a student failed but persevered, for example, is really a strength.

10. Decline the invitation If you have concerns about a student’s abilities.

You can say “no” to reference letter request.

Perhaps you don’t think a student performed particularly well in your class.

If you have reservations about whether a student is actually suited for graduate school.

You should decline the invitation to write for them.

You won’t be able to write a strong letter if you have doubts.

  • Let the student down gently but be direct.
  • The fact that they asked you for a letter means they respect your opinion.
  • Give them constructive criticism.
  • Give the student suggestions for how they might improve and better prepare for graduate school.

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Best Ways to Write Reference Letter

11. Outline your reference letter.

Writing will be much easier and faster if you start with an outline.

Begin by listing the 3-4 key points you want to make about the applicant.

List strengths like “experience,” “intelligence,” “determination,”.

And then, jot down an example from your interactions with the applicant that illustrates each one.

12. Keep your writing formal, specific, and succinct.

A good guideline is to begin with a sentence in which you introduce yourself.

Next, explain how you know the applicant and for how long.

Close your introduction with a sentence that lists 3-4 reasons .

Why you think the applicant will be a great addition to the program.

  • Follow this introduction with 3-4 short paragraphs that further show the strengths you mentioned in the introduction with examples.
  • Admissions committees have many applications to read and they won’t have time to read a novella about your applicant. Keep your letter as close to one page as possible and don’t be unnecessarily verbose.
  • For example, if you wanted to demonstrate that the person deals constructively with criticism, you could write about a time you critiqued the person’s work and how they improved as a result.

Best Ways to Write Reference Letter

13. State your recommendation directly.

Summarize your recommendation and state it outright in your conclusion.

Here is your final opportunity to tell the admissions committee how you feel about the applicant.

  • For example: “Sarah’s unmatched intelligence.
  • perseverance, and determination in the face of criticism make it easy for me to recommend her unequivocally for your program.”

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14. Proofread your letter.

No one enjoys reading a letter filled with typos and errors.

Make sure you represent the applicant to the best of your ability by sending off the best letter you can.

  • Avoid descriptive words that can be construed as only “mediocre.”
  • Faint praise can be just as bad as no praise at all.
  • Leave out words like: nice, good, fair, adequate, reasonable, and satisfactory.

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15. More tips

  • Adjectives such as spontaneous, energetic, enthusiastic, exemplary…can be used but make sure you do not use them just for the sake of making it sound and look good. Substantiate wherever possible with specific examples.

  • Avoid filling up space with fluff. The letter should be about relating your experiences and impressions with respect to the candidate.

  • Never discuss personal or physical details about the applicant in your letter, including things about the applicant’s appearance, personal life, family status, or health. The only exception to this is if the student has specifically asked you to do so.

Best Ways to Write Reference Letter

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