How to Write a Good
Letter of Recommendation

What is a good letter of recommendation? It is a letter that describes an individual's

  • skills
  • strengths
  • qualifications
  • characteristics or qualities
  • academic performance
  • accomplishments
  • potential

as they relate to employment, internships, academic admissions, leadership positions and volunteering opportunities.

Illustration of a letter on a computer screen with heading "Letter of Recommendation"

Typically letters of recommendation are written by employers, teachers, professors, coaches, colleagues, clients, supervisors and any person of good repute who has sufficient knowledge of the individual.

What are the essentials for a good letter of recommendation?

There are 3 key criteria for a valid and useful letter of recommendation:

  • the letter is from a reputable person who is qualified to remark on the individual's character, skills, strengths and qualifications
  • the letter of recommendation clearly describes the individual's skills and strengths and provides supporting examples
  • the information provided is relevant to the purpose of the letter of recommendation

Before you agree to write a letter of recommendation...

If you are asked to provide a letter of recommendation it is important to ask yourself these two questions before agreeing to the task.

  • do I know enough about this individual to write a valid recommendation?
  • do I feel sufficiently positive about this individual to vouch for him or her?

If you are unable to answer yes to both of these question do not be afraid to say no.  An inadequate letter of recommendation will not do the individual any favors and could damage their chances of success. It is quite acceptable to decline a request for a letter of recommendation. Simply explain that you do not feel qualified to offer sufficient valid information on the individual.

How to write a good letter of recommendation

The first step to take once you have agreed to the letter of recommendation request is to

1. Ask for the reason for the letter of recommendation

Find out exactly why the person needs a letter of recommendation.  Ensure you have a clear understanding of what the letter will be used for and who will be reading it. 

If it is to support a job application ask for the following:

Review the job description to understand what the employer is looking for in a candidate. Read through their resume to understand their experiences and accomplishments more completely. This would also apply to leadership positions, internships and volunteer opportunities.

If the letter of recommendation is to support admission to an educational program ask for details of the program requirements.

2. Ask the individual for guidelines on what to include

Ask the person which qualifications and skills they would like you to highlight. Use the job description and applicant requirements to determine the key areas to focus on in your letter of recommendation. Be specific and  use examples to support your descriptions of the individual's skills and strengths.

Identify those qualities or behaviors the company or program is looking for and target these in your letter. Choose strong and targeted adjectives to describe the individual and try to avoid cliches or over-used phrases.

3. Follow the instructions for the letter of recommendation

Find out if there are specific instructions for submitting your letter of recommendation and carefully follow them. Be sure to submit your letter by the required date and in the required format.

4. Keep it positive

A good letter of recommendation should support the individual's application and confirm their suitability.  Be enthusiastic and positive but avoid going over the top as this may come across as insincere.

5. Keep it concise and to the point

Keep the letter of recommendation to one page and focus on the key criteria you and the applicant have identified. Lengthy descriptions and repetition are likely to cause the reader to lose interest and focus.

6. Keep it professional

A more formal and business-like approach to writing the letter of recommendation is recommended.

The following are generally accepted rules for professional communication:

  • use single-spaced lining, with space between paragraphs
  • use an easy-to-read font, avoid fancy fonts and select a classic such as Times New Roman, Calibri, Arial, or Georgia
  • for most font styles, 10-12 point is the standard size and is easy to read in different formats
  • italics, bold and highlighting should be avoided as they detract from the clean and professional look of your letter

How to format a letter of recommendation

This is the basic format for a good letter of recommendation.


Recipient Name

Recipient Title

Recipient Address

Greeting:Dear Mr/Mrs/MS

Address the recipient by name if you know it, otherwise you can use the generic "to whom it may concern"

Introduce Yourself

Start the body of your letter by introducing yourself. Briefly describe your relationship to the applicant and why you are qualified to write this letter of recommendation. Immediately state that you are fully recommending the applicant.

Highlight the individual's qualifications, skills, abilities, qualities and accomplishments

Provide concise anecdotes, examples or personal stories to support and illustrate the skills and characteristics you have described

Close the letter by summarizing why you are recommending the individual in a few lines.

Reaffirm why you're vouching for the applicant by highlighting the reasons for your recommendation. Closing a letter of recommendation

 Your Signature and  contact details

Sample letter of recommendation template

Sample employment recommendation template

Different types of recommendation letters

Academic recommendation letters

Academic recommendation letters are typically required by students for admission to academic program.

Letter of recommendation for an internship

These letters of recommendation are typically for a student applying for an internship

Letter of Recommendation for Internship

Employment recommendation letters

These are recommendations submitted in support of a job application. They are also referred to as a professional letter of recommendation.

General Letter of Recommendation for Employment

Character Reference Letter for a Student

Character Job Reference

Letter of recommendation for leadership

These are letters written in support of applications for positions of leadership.

Letter of Recommendation for Leadership

Letter of recommendation for a student teacher

How to write a recommendation letter for a student teacher applying for a teaching position.

Student Teacher Letter of Recommendation

Character or personal recommendation letters

Character recommendation letters are used to describe an individual’s qualities and characteristics by a person in good standing who knows them well such as family friend, teacher or coach. 

Personal Character Reference

Core competencies and skills to include in a letter of recommendation

The content of your recommendation letter will depend on the needs of the person who is requesting it, but there are some common competencies that you can use in most letters of recommendation.

12 Core Competencies

List of Common Strengths

Starting a letter of recommendation

Your introductory paragraph is key to establishing the credibility of your recommendation and confirming your enthusiasm for the applicant.

Starting a Letter of Recommendation

Closing a letter of recommendation

Close a letter of recommendation strongly in order to leave a lasting impression. These closing tips and samples of how to close your letter of recommendation will help you.

Closing a Letter of Recommendation

10 adjectives for a letter of recommendation

These impactful adjectives can be effectively used in your letter of recommendation.

Adjectives for Letter of Recommendation

adjectives for recommendation letter

What to avoid in a letter of recommendation

A good letter of recommendation will not include the following:

  • generic or over-used terms and adjectives such as "people-person". Rather state  "her positive and enthusiastic approach has been frequently commented on by both clients and colleagues and has resulted in strong productive working relationships"
  • a list of qualities and skills with no supporting examples to provide proof that you have observed the behavior or skill
  • information that is not relevant tot he purpose of the letter of recommendation

How to request a letter of recommendation

Selecting the best person to write your letter of recommendation can be hard. The individual you select will in most part depend why you want the letter of recommendation.

If the letter is to support a job application then it is important to choose an individual who is able to directly attest to the quality of your work and your suitability for employment.

If the letter is to support an application for admission to education or a position of responsibility in the community, it would be wise to select a person of good standing who knows you well and has the authority to recommend you.

Email requesting letter of recommendation example

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