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What's the format for a letter of recommendation?

Formatting a letter of recommendation can be fun!
Formatting a letter of recommendation can be fun!
Jupiterimages/Getty Images

Applying for jobs or admittance into a university can be a stressful experience. Playing the waiting game while someone else makes important life choices for you isn't fun. You may have the grades, the extracurricular activities and the overall goods to merit inclusion, but sometimes that isn't enough. When it comes time to land that dream job, internship, fellow seat or pretty much anything else that requires weeks of sweating it out over acceptance, you're going to want a few good letters of recommendation in your arsenal.

When two applicants are in a dead heat for the final spot, a good letter of recommendation may just be the deciding factor. Almost any job or program will require at least one letter of recommendation, and it never hurts to have more than one at your disposal.

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You may also be asked to write a letter of recommendation for someone else from time to time. It's up to the person asking for the letter to know exactly what the particular program or institution is looking for, but it's ultimately up to you to write a letter that may be a factor in their acceptance. No pressure. While the details of the letter are up to you, there's a standard format to follow that'll make you seem like you know what you're doing. Or more importantly, that the applicant was wise enough to choose someone who knows what he or she is doing.

We'll break down the format for a standard letter of recommendation on the next page.

 

"We've reviewed your letter of recommendation and we're happy to welcome you aboard."
"We've reviewed your letter of recommendation and we're happy to welcome you aboard."
Peter Cade/Stringer/Getty Images

Writing a letter of recommendation is serious business and has changed a bit over the years. These days, because of lawsuits about misrepresentation, recommendation letters are typically short and sweet and stick to the facts. The main thing that a recommendation letter should accomplish is informing the potential employer or admissions board of the relevant skills, experience and abilities of the applicant. It also is a means to officially verify employment or vouch for an applicant's character.

Specific formatting, like where to put the company address or salutation, are not important unless specified by the applicant. What matters is that the format is professional and well-organized. The standard introduction, body and conclusion format is still preferred by most employers and learning institutions. So after a salutation, either personal or of the "Dear Sir or Madam" variety, you should introduce yourself and briefly describe your position and relation to the applicant. You also should include the length of time you've known the applicant and anything else that might establish your credibility. This should be a short paragraph, typically four to five sentences.

The body of the letter should detail the applicant's qualifications and experience. Again, because it's your own name on the line, just include information that is absolutely true and verifiable. Try to use specific examples of why you feel like the applicant deserves consideration. If you're listing several reasons, start with the most relevant or important. You also don't want to go overboard. The goal is that the letter is read in full and not skimmed over because it's too long. Keep the body to a couple of short paragraphs.

The conclusion should include an ultimate confirmation that you feel like the candidate meets the standards of the institution, job or program he or she is applying for. If you feel like you can add a nice summarizing statement, this is the place to do it. You should also encourage the prospective employer or school to get in touch with you personally if there's anything else they need, and include your contact information. Close with a friendly "sincerely" or "best regards" and make sure you personally sign the letter.

If you've written an effective recommendation letter, the applicant should come across as an experienced, competent and credible candidate for the position he or she is seeking.

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Sources

  • "Letter of Recommendation Format." Docstoc.com. 2010. http://www.docstoc.com/docs/2017522/Letter-of-Recommendation-Format
  • "Letter of Recommendation Template." Eduers.com. 2010. http://www.eduers.com/reference/template.htm
  • Greene, Donna. "How to Format a Letter of Recommendation." Associatedcontent.com. Aug. 31, 2008. http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/975888/how_to_format_a_letter_of_recommendation.html?cat=31
  • Luthy, Melvin. "Recommendation Letter Tips, Tricks, and Advice." Writeexpress.com. 2010. http://www.writeexpress.com/recommendation-letters.html
  • Verba, Cynthia. "GSAS Guide for Teaching Fellows on Writing Letters of Recommendation." Harvard.edu. 2010. http://isites.harvard.edu/fs/html/icb.topic58474/Verba-recs.html

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