So, You Are Writing A Letter Of Reference!
A Guide For The Referee
Those in the academic community generally know how to write letters of recommendation. These comments are not directed toward them. But, potential referee in the non-academic community may have never written a letter of this type. For example, an employer or clergyman may be very anxious to help, but simply not know how. These suggestions are primarily for them. In addition, these suggestions are just that -suggestions. There is no one way to write an effective letter of reference.
If you have read this far, I assume that you have been asked to write a letter and are seeking some guidance. Begin by reading the sample letters included in this book. Look at both the academic references and the non-academic references and see how they supply facts, convey enthusiasm and help the applicant come to life.
I would like to offer two sets of guidelines for the letter writing process. First, guidelines for an initial meeting with the applicant. Second, guidelines for the actual writing.
- Guidelines For The Initial Meeting
The applicant should supply the referee with all the other components of the application file. Ask the applicant to bring a current resume. Review these documents with the applicant. Try to determine how your letter is to fit in with the marketing of the applicant as a whole. Ask if there are any special considerations that should be discussed at any specific law school. Agree on whether the applicant will have an opportunity to see the letter. Ask who else may be writing a fetter in support of the applicant. Clarify deadline dates, number of letters, addresses, etc. Remember that the complete application file is the “marketing tool.” Your job is to add a specific component to the file so that the whole file has an effect that is greater than the sum of the individual parts.
- Guidelines For Actually Writing
Your meeting with the applicant is complete. Now you are ready to collect your thoughts and write. Here are some suggestions.
- 1. Introduce yourself and describe your qualifications to assess the applicant
- 2. Explain how you know the applicant, for how long and under what circumstances.
- 3. Supply specific factual evidence that will support the conclusions that you want the reader to infer.
- 4. Compare the applicant to other people you have observed.
- 5. Try to make the applicant come alive as a person by:
- A. writing in such a way that it is clear that you know the applicant;
B. writing so that you convey your enthusiasm about the applicant.
- 6. At all times imagine that you are a witness in a trial. You must show that you are qualified to make judgments about the applicant, have had the opportunity to observe the applicant, have actually observed the applicant and support the applicant both as an individual and in comparison to others that you have observed.
- Good Writing Is Like Good Cooking – It Takes Time
Ensure that you leave yourself enough time to write, put it aside, reflect on what you have written and rewrite. An effective letter has the potential to make a difference in the applicant’s life. The applicant will appreciate your assistance.
The above has been reproduced and/or adapted from Mastering The Personal Statement by John Richardson. Copyright remains with the author.
Copyright © 1998, John Richardson. All Rights Reserved.