Students occasionally ask me to write reference letters for graduate
school, scholarships, job applications, or other purposes. I am happy to
write these kinds of letters. This page has some information about how
to get me write a reference letter for you.
Step 1: Choose a letter writer wisely.
Before you ask me (or anyone else) to write a reference letter for you, I
suggest thinking a bit about what that letter would actually say. In most
cases, the folks that read these kinds of letters will already have access
to your transcript, including details about how well you did in your
Therefore, if I don't know you well enough to write anything more than
"So and so took a class from me and got a good grade," then my letter
probably won't help you. I can write this kind of letter for you if you
insist —I realize that occasionally there aren't other good choices
for letter writers— but keep in mind that such a letter is not
generally what employers or selection committees are hoping to see.
Step 2: Ask me early.
It's rare for me to decline a request to write a letter. However,
because it often takes several hours to write a good letter, the more
advance notice you can give me, the more likely it is that I'll be able
to accept and to give your reference letter the time it deserves.
Step 3: Send me the details.
If I agree to write your reference, I will need some details. I prefer
to have all of the relevant details in one single unified email.
First, I'll need some information about you to help me compose the
- When did we meet?
- In what capacities have we interacted?
- What courses have you taken from me? What were your grades?
- Is there anything in particular that I should mention?
Second, I need answers to these questions for each separate application
- If you have a resume or a CV, please attach a copy to the email.
- If the application requires an essay or personal statement, please attach a copy to the email.
- You are welcome to write a draft of your own letter if you like.
I'll likely modify it and ensure that it accurately reflects my own
opinions, but this can make things faster for me.
- What are you applying for?
- What are the published selection criteria? (You might be tempted to say that there are none, but this is rarely true. There is almost always some information about what sort of applicant is being sought.)
- What is the physical address, including a street name, a state, and a zip code? You might be tempted to say there is no physical address. This is almost always not true. A properly-formatted formal letter will generally include this information, even if it is submitted electronically.
- Are there any specific reasons that you are applying? What makes you a good fit?
- To whom should my letter be addressed? (Most programs don't
list a specific person, but for those that do, it's good to be
- How do I submit my recommendation?
- What is the deadline?
Step 4: Remind me.
I can be forgetful sometimes, and I have many different responsibilities.
Therefore, it's in your best interest to remind me about your reference
letter repeatedly, until you get confirmation that I've finished it.
Your application is probably extremely important to you —If it
isn't, then why should I spend time helping you with it?— so this
is no time to be sheepish. You are welcome to send messages daily (or,
even better, to find more creative ways to remind me) if the deadline is