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Personal Reference Letter of Recommendation Tutorial

written by: Daniel P. McGoldrick•edited by: Daniel P. McGoldrick•updated: 3/10/2010

This tutorial on the essential elements of a good letter of recommendation will illustrate how to write and complete this sometimes challenging task. I will lay out what you need to include in the letter and provide good examples. In a follow-up article I’ll pinpoint useful free template resources.

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    How to Start Writing

    Writing a letter of recommendation is an important task that will require the careful consideration on the part of the writer. Letters of recommendation (LOR) and reference letters, for that matter, follow some generally accepted guidelines and when written effectively; they will include specific qualifications, accomplishments, and the detailed skills of the person being recommended in the letter. The writer will include their own professional qualifications and describe the nature and length of their relationship with that individual. A LOR is written for the purpose of recommending a person for a specific position or job while a reference letter is more general in nature. However, many of the same elements belong in both.

    Begin your letter by conveying what a pleasure and an honor it is to write for your aspirant. Then personalize the content (paint a picture of the candidate using brief anecdotes) accordingly while following the recommended guidelines I will flesh out a little here. As Shakespeare wrote “Brevity is the soul of wit,” so keep it concise because the person it’s geared toward will inevitably be short on time. State your credentials (preferably using company letterhead), credibility and the qualifications which make it appropriate for you to advocate for this individual. Include the candidate’s virtues, accomplishments, and talents. It may be easier to jot down a list of these things first and then expound upon them in the appropriate section of the template. Get the list from the candidate if you’re comfortable with that.

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    Important Parts of the Letter

    You are the master of the content but here are some general guidelines for the order and focus of what you should cover:

    · Salutation – Address a LOR to the specific individual in charge of hiring, but in a reference letter your greeting should read: “To Whom It May Concern.”

    · 1st Paragraph – Your opening introduces yourself and your credentials (answer this question: who the hell are you and why should anybody listen to you?). Your first sentence should state your purpose. Your second sentence conveys your relation to the individual and the length of that relationship.

    · 2nd / 3rd Paragraph - The letter’s body describes character traits, accomplishments/performance and you want to back up your claims with specific illustrations and examples (match the individual to the job). Cater your examples to the position or industry the candidate aspires to that give a sense of relevance and applicability (it’s a good idea to get a list of these examples from the requester along with the resume and anything else they want emphasized in the letter).

    · 4th Paragraph – Recommend the person specifically for the position or school that the individual is pursuing. Express your confidence in the candidate and restate any strengths or factors which might help them. The following statement might be a good example of what not to include: “This person is like spiritual sand paper, if you manage to put up with him without completely losing your sanity, you will be rewarded with a fine sense of serenity that only the most accomplished Zen Monks achieve.”

    · Conclusion- Provide an offer to give more information by including your phone number and email address in order for them to get in touch with you, if they so desire.

    With all that being said; let's not overcomplicate this DTP task because it is after all, rather self-explanatory. Just keep it concise, specific, and include the types of sentiments you would like someone else to write about you. You will find a few good examples of LORs at Scroll down to the bottom to click on the link that best describes the nature of the letter you want to write. One more site I recommend is at There’s a wide variety at this site.

    If you foresee many requests of LORs for people in your future, it may be worth your while to make a small investment ($30) in software you can quickly download which gives you tons of samples and templates for virtually any letter you will have to write. This software basically does the job for you so if that interests you, go to

    To write a high-quality LOR quickly and effectively use the free template sources I highlight in the second article of this series. With these template resources you will have the general outline and explanations to accomplish the most salient object of this task; making your candidate shine.

Write a Good Letter Of Recommendation Using Free Templates

This tutorial provides instructions, good examples, and free templates which will assist you in writing a good letter of recommendation. All you need to know for completing this important desktop publishing project is laid out succinctly in this series to make this job quick and easy.
  1. Personal Reference Letter of Recommendation Tutorial
  2. Free Letter of Recommendation Templates