Writing Recommendation Letters Online



Typos are very important to all written form.
It gives the reader something to look for so they aren’t
distracted by the total lack of content in your writing.

—Randy K. Milholland

Despite the numerous pronoun errors in the above quote, its message does speak to me as a reader of recommendation letters. I’ve read many letters that are brimming with words yet somehow vacant of content.

Consider these bloated sentences:

It is with distinct and sincere pleasure that I come to recommend this candidate for the desired opportunity.


He is an excellent student with stellar grades and one who has achieved the highest rankings.

The first example is so self-important that it’s almost silly, while the second manages to say the same thing three times but with no specifics. Unfortunately, such sentences are the norm in many recommendation letters. Readers of such letters find themselves begging for content. They want substance rather than puffery, especially in a recommendation letter, which should only have to be read once and should give us an individual snapshot of the candidate.

To help you create such a snapshot, this chapter discusses proven ways to generate content and provide examples and evidence in recommendation letters. Just as important is to consider the circumstances that influence the writing of the letter, and to provide relevant detail.

In writing an effective letter, perhaps it will help you to heed the same advice that I give to students when they’re writing a cover letter for a job—try to think of the document as an argument. You’re actually positing a premise followed by examples and evidence designed to lead the audience to a desired conclusion. Also, as in a cover letter, you’re working within an existing framework where efficiency and professionalism are expected, and where the goal is to produce a document with enough individuality that no one else could have written its particulars. Fill your letters with content accordingly.