How to Write a Letter of Recommendation

By Will Capper

If you have been asked to write a letter of recommendation, your first thought might be, what exactly is it?  Now although the answer can vary slightly, in essence, a letter of recommendation is a formal document that provides an overview of a person's suitability for a role.

What is important to remember about a letter of recommendation is that it is not a casual or off the cuff reference you may give over the phone or in person, instead, it is a formal document that provides a permanent record of your opinion on an individual's suitability to take on a position / function within a company.  You should therefore treat a request for a letter of recommendation with a high degree of professionalism.

It is imperative to recognize that recommendation letters play a pivotal role in helping individuals stand out when seeking new employment. Writing an effective recommendation letter can be both a valuable skill and a significant responsibility. In this guide, we'll explore the key steps to composing a compelling recommendation letter that can truly make a difference in someone's life.

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Why have they asked you?

Before creating your initial draft, it's essential to grasp the purpose of the recommendation letter. Typically, recommendation letters are requested to support an individual's application for a job but you need to understand the specific context as to why they have asked you to write the recommendation letter for this specific opportunity.  Ask them why they have picked you and try and get as much information on their new role as possible.

Get all the relevant information

When you speak with the person seeking the recommendation there is going to be lots of other crucial information you need to gather.  Aside from the overall purpose of the letter, you also want to know the deadline for completing the letter, a copy of the individual's resume would also be useful, any recent accomplishments as well as any specific qualities or experiences they would like highlighted. Gathering these details will provide you with a clear direction for your letter.

Make it count

You are acting as a representative to your reference, therefore it is of utmost importance that you present your letter in a professional manner.  Make sure you follow a structured format that is well written and professional.  An example of what to include in the letter would be as follows:

  • Header: Include your contact information and date at the top.

  • Salutation: Address the recipient professionally, using their name and appropriate title (e.g., "Dear Mr/Mrs/Miss" or "To Whom It May Concern").

  • Introduction: Start with a strong opening that identifies your relationship with the individual and the context in which you know them.

  • Body: This is where you provide specific examples and anecdotes that illustrate the candidate's qualifications, skills, and character. Use concrete examples to support your claims.

  • Conclusion: Summarize the key points and reiterate your support for the individual. Offer your contact information for further inquiries.

  • Signature: Sign the letter and include your printed name.

Honesty is the best policy

It is important to remember that honesty remains paramount in a recommendation letter. If you don't feel that you can genuinely endorse the individual, it's better to politely decline the request or suggest they seek a different recommender.  When you are able to be honest, you can easily provide specific instances that demonstrate the person's abilities, achievements, and character traits. If you are unsure as to their capability, generic, vague statements will do little to strengthen a recommendation.


Errors and typos can diminish the impact of your recommendation letter. Proofread carefully and ensure that the letter is well-written and free of grammatical mistakes. You may also want to seek feedback from a colleague or friend to check that the letter reads well and identifies the skills and qualities in the individual that you are trying to showcase.

Respect the individual

Finally, it is obviously of paramount importance that you respect the individual's privacy and maintain confidentiality, especially when discussing sensitive matters. Only share information that the person has explicitly allowed you to disclose.  It is a privilege to be asked to write a recommendation letter and you should treat it as such.

In conclusion, writing a recommendation letter is a meaningful way to help others achieve their goals and aspirations. By following these guidelines and infusing your letter with honesty, specificity, and professionalism, you can provide a valuable contribution to someone's journey toward success.