Writing Recommendation Letters Online


Providing Content Based on Field of Study


Besides being specific to the student being recommended in a letter, one of the most persuasive tactics you can use is to provide detail tailored to the student’s field of study. Assuming an audience that shares specialized knowledge, you can better inform the audience about a candidate by selectively showcasing anything from a poem written by the student to a technique that the student mastered in your lab. Also, an awareness and articulation of the attributes most valued in a particular field of study will help improve a candidate’s chances.

What follows are some ideas for providing content specific to a field of study. Although it certainly can be argued that it’s impossible to limit these list members to one particular field, I’ve populated this list based on some commonly accepted skills and experiences expected within these fields. A considered, targeted letter in each of these fields would attend carefully to most or all of these list members.

The Humanities

  • Facility for analyzing text and interpreting meaning
  • Potential for scholarship
  • Creative aptitude and imagination
  • Ability to use sophisticated rhetorical strategies
  • Depth and breadth of understanding
  • Specialization in a particular historical era or niche

The Sciences

  • Laboratory experience, especially for more than one semester or in more than one lab
  • Success with specific experimental techniques
  • Hands-on practice with specialized equipment
  • Technical facility with computers and computation techniques
  • Poster presentations
  • Publications in conference proceedings or journals
  • Performance on the GRE exam

Business School

  • Experience in running or working for a small business
  • Ability to work in project teams
  • Industry, self-discipline, and initiative
  • Leadership ability as well as the ability to delegate responsibility
  • Personal temperament necessary for success in business
  • Performance on the GMAT exam

Engineering Programs

  • Internships, especially in the branch of engineering to be pursued in graduate study
  • Problem solving and troubleshooting ability
  • Both written and oral communication skills
  • Understanding of work-related processes
  • Ability to speak a foreign language
  • Participation in a national conference
  • Membership in national organizations
  • Potential to pursue professional licensure

Law School

  • Potential for law study, especially if not enrolled in a pre-professional program
  • Both written and oral communication ability, especially in relation to argument
  • The ability to read and evaluate critically
  • Evidence of earning the trust and respect of others
  • General research skills necessary to pursue a depth of understanding
  • Concern for the value of service and the promotion of justice
  • Performance on the LSAT exam

Education and Teacher Certification Programs

  • Student teaching experience and a teaching portfolio
  • Knowledge of theory
  • Understanding of curriculum
  • Suitability for working with a particular age group
  • Self-awareness and self-confidence
  • Global and cultural awareness
  • Performance on the MAT exam

Health Professions

  • Concern for health and welfare of the individual
  • Personality traits such as integrity, dependability, and sincerity
  • Personal motivation for study in the health professions
  • Trainability, especially if not enrolled in a pre-professional program
  • Emotional maturity necessary to serve the health professions

Medical School

  • Participation and performance in a pre-professional program
  • Difficulty of the undergraduate program completed
  • Intellectual capacity necessary to pursue medical study
  • Time-management skills and the ability to handle stress
  • Performance on the MCAT exam

Further Study

For more advice on providing content in recommendation letters based on field of study, visit this site:

“Guidelines for Writing Letters of Recommendation" page from the Career Center at the University of California, Berkeley