What to Include in a Letter of Recommendation

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If you have been asked to write a letter of recommendation for employment or for academic reasons, you may be struggling to know what information to include — and what to leave out. This recommendation letter template shows the format of a typical letter of recommendation, with details on what to include in each paragraph of your letter.

Also, see below for tips on what information to include in a letter of recommendation, what not to state in the letter, and examples.

What Information Belongs in a Letter of Recommendation?

A recommendation letter should provide information on who you are, your connection with the person you are recommending, why they are qualified, and the specific skills they have.

Whenever possible, it's helpful to provide specific anecdotes and examples that illustrate your support. For example, rather than simply stating that a candidate is a strong writer, mention that they wrote a prize-winning essay. If someone has achieved awards or special recognition for their accomplishments, mention it.

Your goal is to write a strong recommendation that will help the person you’re recommending get hired or accepted. When writing a specific letter referring a candidate for a particular job opening, the recommendation letter should include information on how the candidate's skills match the position they are applying for. Ask for a copy of the job posting and a copy of the person's resume, so you can target your recommendation letter accordingly.

Try to use keywords from the job listing in your recommendation.

In addition, the letter should include your contact information for follow-up. Be prepared to answer questions about your endorsement of the candidate.

The following template can be used for an employment reference, as well as a reference for graduate school.

Letter of Recommendation Template

Below is a template for a letter of recommendation. A template can help you with the layout of your letter. It shows you what information to include and how to organize your letter.

While letter templates are great starting points for your own message, you should always edit a letter to fit your situation. You can also review samples of recommendation letters to help you write your own.

Writer Address
Your Name
Job Title
Company
Street Address
City, State, Zip

Date

Salutation
If you are writing a personal recommendation letter, include a salutation (Dear Dr. Williams, Dear Ms. Miller, etc.). If you are writing a general letter, say "To Whom it May Concern" or simply don't include a salutation.

Paragraph 1 – Introduction 
The first paragraph of the recommendation letter explains the purpose of the letter, as well as your connection to the person you are recommending, including how you know them, and for how long.

Paragraph 2 – Details 
The second paragraph of the recommendation letter contains specific information on the person you are writing about, including why they are qualified, and what they can contribute. If necessary, use more than one paragraph to provide details.

Include specific examples attesting to the person’s qualifications whenever possible.

Paragraph 3 – Summary
This section of the recommendation letter contains a brief summary of why are you are recommending the person. State that you "highly recommend" the person or that you "recommend without reservation" or something similar.

Paragraph 4 – Conclusion
The concluding paragraph of the recommendation letter contains an offer to provide more information. You can include a phone number within this paragraph. Another option is to include a phone number and email address in the return address section or signature of the letter.

Letter Closing
Finish up your letter with a formal letter closing and your name and title. If you are mailing a hard copy of the letter, include your signature underneath your typed name:

Sincerely,

Writer Name
Signature (for hard copy)
Job Title

What to Include in an Email Recommendation Message

When you’re sending your recommendation letter by email, you can eliminate the “Writer’s Address” section and include your name, address, title, email address, and telephone number in the signature section of your message:

Best Regards,

Writer Name
Job Title
Email
Phone
Company
Street Address, City, State Zip

The subject of your message should include the candidate's name: Recommendation - Applicant Name.

What Not to Include in a Letter of Recommendation

If you do not feel comfortable recommending someone — whether it's for a job or graduate school or for something else — it's best to let the person requesting the recommendation know that you cannot write it, rather than writing a negative letter. This will give them an opportunity to seek out someone who can wholeheartedly write a positive recommendation. 

Keep in mind that your own reputation is in play when you write a letter of recommendation; you do not want to endorse someone in a letter who you do not think will perform well, since it could cast a negative light on your own judgment.

You also do not want to lie in the letter: Don't exaggerate accomplishments. Overblown praise can diminish the impact of your recommendation. But be aware that since most recommendation letters skew very positive, any criticism will be very noticeable.

Letter of Recommendation Articles and Advice

How to Write a Letter of Recommendation
Tips for writing a letter of recommendation, including what to include, and how to format and send your letter.

Letter of Recommendation Examples
Review recommendation letter samples to see examples of reference letters for employment and academics, as well as personal and character recommendation examples.

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