hands typing letters

Tips on Writing a “Letter of Recommendation” by Dr. Crutchfield

You’ve been asked to write a letter of recommendation. Now what? Writing a reference letter for someone can either be an honor and a privilege, or a downright task. A good letter of recommendation can take a decent amount of time (and thought) to write.

How to Write a Recommendation Letter

It should go without that saying that you should never agree to write a letter for someone you do not know well enough to discuss. Make sure you feel comfortable writing the letter and also make sure you have time to write the letter. The individual who has asked you to provide this recommendation probably has a lot riding on it — make it a good one!

General Considerations

The more personalized the letter of recommendation is, the more effective it will be. Personalization does not necessarily mean creativity though. There are certain expectations that a reference letter carries.

writing a letter of recommendation

The recipient of the reference letter typically has very little time to review it. The reader will be looking to make sure that your credentials are meaningful, that you know the candidate well enough to recommend them, insight into the candidate’s personality and a general sense of whether or not you are vouching for the candidate.

There are no set rules on the length of a recommendation letter. In general, it’s probably best to keep it to one page.

I am often asked to write a letter of recommendation. If you have not, you certainly will be. I know how important this is for the requesting person. I certainly want to do a good job, but I often wonder what should GOOD letters of recommendation say?

After a recent visit to the Mayo Clinic, I received some insightful information I thought I’d share with you to help you the next time you are asked to write a letter of recommendation.

Letter of recommendation writing

Here are the steps to take when asked to write a letter of recommendation:

  1. Ask the requestor to provide you with a CV and any other information they think pertinent for you to be familiar with.
  2. Consider (this is optional) a 10-15 minute personal or telephone chat with the requestor asking them questions pertinent to the information listed in part “B”, (next)

Writing the Letter

(the information below is designed for someone applying to medical school, but it can easily be adapted to just about any applicant situation)

1. Mention in what capacity you know the candidate.

2. Mention how long you have known the candidate.

3. The more personal you can make the letter, the more effective it will be.

4. There should be no need to reiterate general achievements (e.g. the candidate graduated with a GPA of 3.7….- they will see that on their CV, etc), but you certainly can mention special circumstances or particularly outstanding achievements. For most letters of reference, the readers want to read comments on the character and desirable attributes of the applicant as opposed to specific achievements.

5. Taken from a recent visit to the good folks at Mayo Clinic Medical School these are some of the desirable personal attributes that they look for in candidates. These have a medical bent, but can be modified to serve the purpose of almost any applicant situation. You can comment on any or all of these attributes that you have knowledge about with respect to the candidate. The more the better, but you don’t necessarily have to comment on every specific one.

  • Communication skills
  • Integrity
  • Empathy
  • Altruistic motivation
  • Respect for others
  • Appreciation of diversity
  • Maturity
  • Understanding of health care complexity
  • Commitment to medicine
  • Strength in facing adversity
  • Responsibility
  • Love of learning
  • Team work
  • Leadership
  • Humility

These are the desirable personal attributes that most medical schools are looking for and can certainly be applied to what any graduate school or business is looking for. These are points that are often overlooked but should be considered specifically, point by point, in writing a letter of reference for anyone.

6. Finally, in closing, you should declare how strongly you endorse the candidate (e.g. I find Joe Smith to be in the upper 5% of students I have interacted with and recommend him without reservation. If you have additional questions, feel free to contact me.”)

Hope this is helpful to you the next time you are asked to write a letter of recommendation.

Feel free to save this and pull it out when you need it!

Have a great year.

Charles E. Crutchfield III, MD

Parts shared from:
How to write a letter of recommendation” by Alex Rudloff

You’ve been asked to write a letter of recommendation. Now…