How to Write a Reference Letter

how to write a reference letterWhether you’re a teacher, an employer, or even just a good family friend you will likely write a reference letter for someone at some point in your life. If you don’t even know where to start, you’re not a lot. There are plenty of people out there that wouldn’t know where to even begin. Use the tips and templates below to help you write a reference letter. Before you begin, however, make certain you can write quality paragraphs, which you can learn in this course.

A Few Items to Consider Before Writing a Reference Letter

Before you begin writing a reference letter, there are few things you should consider. First, if you’ve never been asked to write one before, you might want to know what a reference letter is and what they’re for. Also, figure out if you’re qualified to write the letter.

What is it, and what are they for?

Also known as a recommendation letter, reference letters are formal documents that should be typed in a business style tone. They are usually used to confirm a person’s skills, character, or achievements that are listed on a resume. They can be used in a wide variety of situations. Some of the common reasons are listed below:

  • Job seekers occasionally require reference letters to give proof to things they list on their resume.
  • Students applying to higher education often need reference letters now from high school teachers. College students returning to degrees beyond a Bachelor’s also use reference letters in order to be accepted into programs.
  • Reference letters are often examined before giving out a student loan, and some credit cards also require references.
  • Some landlords require reference letters in order to have proof of your financial status.

Again, these are only a few of the reasons a reference letter might be needed. There are plenty of other situations that require these letters as well. Are you sending a reference letter via email? Learn how to write effective business emails, which you can learn in this course.

Are you qualified to write this reference letter?

As a reference letter is considered a formal document, you should avoid lying when writing it. If someone approaches you for a reference letter, you should definitely be certain you’re qualified to write the letter:

  • Don’t write a reference letter for someone you barely know. Teachers might not know a student as well as that student’s best friend, but if the student has completed the course and received a decent grade, the teacher will likely have a decent idea of his or her academic ability. He could then write an excellent reference letter to help that student move on in their education.
  • Write meaningful references. If you are a teacher, and a student approaches you for a reference letter for employment, you might not be qualified to write such a reference. However, if the student has attended several classes that you teach, you might know the student more and be able to write a much more meaningful reference because of it. If you are an employer, your reference will likely not do that person any good if they’re trying to get into a Ph. D program.
  • Never write a negative reference, and never lie. If you’re approached by a student who attended your class for only a week, politely decline to write a reference. Even if you think you could write a reference letter that would be believable and positive, decline. Again, reference letters are formal documents, and there could be consequences later if you write one with false information.

What should you put in the reference letter?

If you have decided you are qualified to write someone a reference letter, consider exactly what you’re going to put into it. Structure will vary depending on the type of reference, but here are a few of the most common items you should include in a reference letter:

  • The recipient’s name and address – If the recipient is not known, use “To whom it may concern” or “Dear Sir/Madam” to begin the letter.
  • Introduce yourself – The reader of your letter is going to want to know who you are, your position, and how you know the candidate; avoid any extra information not important to the reference.
  • Confirm any facts – Like the exact structure will vary based on the reference, so will this paragraph. For a job applicant, you would write the title and role they had in the company while working under you along with salary and their dates of employment; for an academic reference, you would prove that they did indeed receive the grade they claim while in your class.
  • Give your opinion on the person’s skills and qualifications – This particular paragraph is a very good example as to why you should not write negative reference letters as they can be very damaging. Here, you might state that the employee was very helpful and learned their job quickly. You would also likely state whether or not you would rehire them if given the opportunity. When writing an academic reference, you’re going to want to point out things like participating in discussions, turning in assignments early or on time, etc.
  • End your letter – Be sure to emphasize the fact that this is a positive reference letter. State whether or not you would mind being contacted in the future regarding the candidate’s application, and include your contact details if applicable. End with “Sincerely” or some other ending statement.

What should you avoid putting into the letter?

Again, reference letters are supposed to be positive. Mentioning weaknesses the candidate has can be viewed as negative and should be avoided. Don’t write anything that might be libel, and stick to formal, business manner writing. Slang and jokes could actually harm the person’s chances, and you don’t want to do that considering they approached you for help.

No employer or school administration needs to know personal information that isn’t relevant. Don’t include anything mentioning the person’s race, political thoughts, religion, nationality, marital status, etc. Some schools may request information about the student’s religious background, but these are private schools permitted to request that kind of information.

Like with all formal writing, your letter should be free of any errors. Be sure to check your spelling, grammar, and punctuation. Again, this is a formal letter and should look professional. Handwritten reference letters are rarely accepted unless it is a specific form that the employer or school has asked the candidate to take to you to be filled out.

If you have such a form, be sure to write legibly and neatly. If your own handwriting is too sloppy, get the help of a friend and dictate your reference to them. Brush up on your proofreading skills with this course so your reference letter helps the candidate. Don’t forget to check your grammar too, which you can boost with this course.

Templates and Samples to Help You

A quick search online can get you plenty of templates and samples to check out. Daily Writing Tips has two samples listed on their site, which can help you in writing your own reference letter. Business Balls offers a number of templates for many different types of reference letters including employment, personal, character, etc. Don’t forget that reference letters need to be typed. If you need help using Microsoft Word, check out this helpful blog article on the subject.