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Letters of recommendation

Page history last edited by George H. Williams 13 years, 4 months ago

My guidelines regarding student requests for letters of recommendation:

(Adapted from "'Tis the Season..." by Dr. Matt Kirschenbaum.)

Writing letters of recommendation is one of the best things a professor does. Really—it’s a way to reconnect with past students and play a part in their future plans.

However, it can also quickly get out of control—not just the time spent crafting the letters themselves, but the correspondence back and forth to negotiate all the details and information.

So, if you’ve asked me for a letter . . .

  1. Please take the time to read what follows, since I’m going to be taking the time to write for you.
  2. Please give me at least two weeks of notice (if you don’t, I may not be able to produce the letter). Three or four weeks would be even better.
  3. Please give me a due date (yep, here’s your chance to give a professor a due date—pretty neat, huh?).
  4. I prefer not to let students read the letters of recommendation I write for them; and a letter that has not been reviewed by a student will carry more weight with the person or people who are reading it. Don't worry: I will not agree to write a letter of recommendation if I do not plan on writing positive things.
  5. Please give me all the details about where the letter needs to go,
    1. either an email address or web address if it is to be submitted electronically—double-check that these are correct—
    2. or a stamped, pre-addressed envelope if it is to go out in the post. If there’s a particular person to whom the letter should be addressed tell me that too. Forms, envelopes, and other paperwork can either be brought to my office hours or left with an administrative assistant in HPAC 222.
  6. Please tell me something about why you are pursuing the object of the recommendation: why are you applying for this program or award or honor or opportunity? The more you can tell me the better, and the more generous and enthusiastic you are with your own prose the more I’m likely to be with mine. A personal statement, if you have one, is a big help in this regard.
  7. Please email me an electronic copy of an essay or project that you completed in one of my classes and that you're proud of: georgehwilliams AT gmail DOT com.
  8. Please email me your GPA.
  9. Please send me an email reminder a couple of days before the recommendation is due, just to make sure.
  10. Please respect my decision if I say no: I will only write for students I feel I can endorse strongly, and trust me, you don’t want a letter that will be lukewarm at best.
  11. Finally, please let me know how it turns out!

Photograph by flickr user LarimdaME, and published with a Creative Commons "Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic License"

Text adapted from "'Tis the Season..." by Dr. Matt Kirschenbaum and published with a Creative Commons "Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 1.0 Generic License."

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