Statement of Purpose
Documents and Issues
our Mailing List
General Outline of the Recommendation Letter
Recommendation letters are letters written
by professors who know you, assessing you capacity to meet the
requirements of a program you are applying for. They're supposed to help
decision-makers to get a better picture of your potential. Due to
different reasons, if you are a student in Eastern Europe (including
Russia) you will often find yourself in the position to write these
letters yourself. The professor will, in this case, only proof-read and
sign the text.
Next 2-4 Paragraphs
Sample Outline of the Recommendation Letter
Recommendation letter usually starts by
stating the name of the professor who writes the letter and his/her
title, together with the name of the student for whom the letter is
written. The professor should also state since when has s/he known the
students: year, class or other activity. It should in any case be clear
that the professor had the opportunity to get to know the student well
and assess his/her capabilities. If the person does research work under
your guidance, indicate the type of research, the responsibilities of
the student, and any significant projects undertaken by the individual.
You may wish to include a sentence about the nature of your research
group and its activities.
Here, you can also give a one-sentence summary or overview of your
opinion of the recommended individual.
Next 2-4 Paragraphs
The assessment of the student’s capabilities should be made from a
multiple point of view over the next 3-4 paragraphs. From a professional
point of view, it should give account of the student’s knowledge,
interests and capabilities, activities and results, work capacity, etc.
Personally, it should assess the student’s personal characteristics,
character, social skills, his or her relations with the students and
professors. Same as in other application documents, the direction should
be from facts/experience to qualifications, and from those, to value
judgments. Especially those skills relevant for the desired program
should be outlined throughout the paper.
Concentrate on several different aspects of the person.
Specifically identify his/her skills, attitudes, personal attributes,
and growth, as well as his/her contributions to and performance within
your organization. Also, if you do make negative comments, back them
up with facts.
Beware of the power of words! Some words seem harmless in every
day conversation, but carry positive or negative connotations to a
Avoid bland words such as:
nice, good, fairly, reasonable, decent, satisfactory, I hope, for sure
Use powerful words such as:
articulate, effective, sophisticated, intelligent, observant,
significant, expressive, creative, efficient, cooperative,
imaginative, assertive, dependable, mature, innovative
points to address would be the following:
ability to communicate, intelligence, self-confidence, willingness to accept responsibility, initiative, leadership, energy level, imagination, flexibility, interpersonal skills, self-knowledge, ability to handle conflict, goal achievement, competitiveness,
appropriate research skills, direction.
The final paragraph should provide an overall assessment of the
student’s potential to fulfill the requirements of the program, even
though partial judgments can and should be provided in the body of the
letter. You can make a more broad characterization of the individual and
his or her demeanor. Finally, indicate the degree to which you recommend
the individual to the program she or he is seeking: recommend without
reservation, strongly recommend, highly recommend, enthusiastically
Most recommendation forms contain a certain number of fields, the
multiple-choice kind, where the professor has to assess, by checking
cells, your abilities. Make sure those fields are checked and insert the
text in the place left for additional remarks. Do not leave blank that portion of the form, but use it instead as a
self-standing recommendation letter.
Some of the graduate study programs supply you with forms for the
recommendation letters that ask the professor to ask a number of
specific questions about your skills and qualifications. Sometimes,
space for the answer is allowed after each question, and there is where
the answers should be written, rather than on a separate sheet of paper.
Other times, the questions come as a block, an in this case you have the
option to answer the question still in the form of a letter. Should you
chose this option, make sure the letter answers clearly every single
question, preferably in the order in which they are asked on the form.
Don't forget to write the date and the name of the home university. The
name of the program you are applying for should come out explicitly in
the body of the text, in order to make clear that the letter has been
written for that occasion.
Sample Outline of the Recommendation Letter
[Writer's Name or Company Letterhead]
[Street • City • State • Zip Code]
[Phone # • Fax phone # • Messages phone # • Email]
[Recipient's address block - optional]
Dear [Recipient's name] or To Whom it May Concern:
[First and foremost, if you don't feel comfortable writing a letter
of recommendation, don't. A vague or fabricated recommendation letter
might do more harm than good. Start by identifying your relationship
with the person for whom you're writing the letter. Are you the person's
manager, co-worker or professor? How long have you known or worked with
[Picture the person in his or her job role. Point out a variety of
positive traits while focusing on work ethics, accomplishments, skills,
and significant contributions (use specific examples). If you draw a
blank, ask the person to refresh your memory. If you have access to the
person's merit reviews, refer to them for hints. If for business reasons
you're sorry to see this person go, say so. Avoid vague, powerless words
such as nice, good, fine and reasonable. Use words such as
excellent, superior, instrumental, creative, innovative, efficient,
dependable, articulate, meticulous, self-starter and confident.]
[Wrap it up with a recommendation to admit or hire. Close by offering to
provide more information. Include your contact information if it's not
in the letterhead.]
explore the links on the left. I hope you will find the information I
presented there useful. I am always happy to receive your comments,
suggestions or questions.