How to Write a Reference Letter

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Dimitri Otis

It is important to know how to write a reference letter, because almost everyone is asked to provide a reference at some time during their career. Whether it's for an employee, a friend, or someone you've worked with, it is important to be prepared to write an effective letter of recommendation.

How to Write a Reference Letter

Request Information

It’s a good idea to ask the person for a copy of their resume and a list of accomplishments, even if you have known them for a long time.

They may have new accreditation or achievements, and you want to provide as much current information as possible. This will also help give you guidelines to use when composing a the letter.

If the reference letter is for a specific employment opportunity, also ask for a copy of the job posting. The more information you have, the easier it will be to write the letter.

What to Include in a Reference Letter

Contact Information and Greeting
If you are writing the letter to an individual or hiring committee, include that information at the top of the letter and in your greeting. If you are writing a general letter, you could write to "Whom it May Concern" or simply start your letter with the first paragraph.

First Paragraph
The first paragraph of the reference letter explains your connection to the person you are recommending, including how you know them, and why you are qualified to write a reference letter to recommend employment or graduate school.

Mention the relationship (personal or professional) you have with the person you are recommending.

Second Paragraph
The second paragraph of the reference letter contains information on the person you are writing about, including why they are qualified, what they can contribute, and why you are providing a reference letter.

If necessary, use more than one paragraph to provide details. Be specific and share examples of why you are endorsing the person.

Third Paragraph
When writing a letter referring a candidate for a particular job opening, the reference letter should include information on how the person's skills match the position they are applying for. If you can, relate specific instances where you observed the person successfully using skills required for the position.

Letter Closing
In the closing paragraph, offer to provide more information and include your contact information (phone and email) so you are available to provide a verbal recommendation, and clarification if necessary.

Signature
Close your letter with a formal closing and your signature. Here's how to end a letter with examples of business closings.

Use a Reference Letter Template

If you're not sure what to write, use a reference letter template and personalize it to include your information.

Suggested Reading: Sample Reference Letters

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