What is a reference letter?
A reference letter – sometimes letter of reference, recommendation letter, or letter of recommendation – is a letter in which someone assesses another person’s skills and capabilities, usually in a positive way. A reference letter is normally used for university admission, scholarship applications or job applications.
The person writing the reference letter is called the referee or sponsor. The referee is typically a university professor, high-school teacher, boss or supervisor or someone who is otherwise connected with the person the letter is about.
Universities and colleges usually require reference letters as part of their admissions process. The more prestigious the institution, the higher the standards. A few friendly words from a former professor, teacher or employer can make all the difference for a candidate’s application to a study program. But also for job applications, it has become more common to directly attach reference letters as opposed to merely providing contact details.
There is no formal structure for a reference letter that is carved in stone. Some basic structural conventions have developed over time.
- Salutation: As every letter, the reference letter or letter of recommendation starts off with a salutation. If there is no specified recipient, the author usually begins with “To Whom It May Concern” at the top of the page.
- The person or candidate that the letter is about…
- …and the purpose of the letter: Then, the referee explains shortly whom he or she is writing about, and if applicable, what the recommendation is for. This can be generic (“I recommend John Doe”), a bit more specific (“…for employment at your company”) or very specific (“…for the INSEAD MBA program”).
- Connection to the referee: It is very important that the referee explains how he knows the student or employee in question. One or two sentences are usually enough, but they should cover how they know each other, and how long and in which context they worked together.
- Qualification and abilities: Not surprisingly, the referee should then focus on the qualification, abilities, skills, experience and knowledge of the person that the reference letter is about. As it is also called a letter of recommendation, all the descriptions should be positive. That does not mean the referee should be dishonest. No one is perfect, after all! But the referee should feel free to just neglect aspects in which the candidate did not perform exceptionally well.
- Conclusion: Any good letter of recommendation ends with a short summary of the candidate’s overall qualification and the reassurance that the reader of the letter should get in touch with the author in case there are any questions.
- And for that case, the author of the letter must close with personal contact details.
This is exactly the structure that the reference letter generator on this website follows. Within minutes, you can write a reference letter or letter of recommendation. All you need to do is choose from the available phrases and compose a text that is suitable for the candidate you are recommending.
Sample reference letters
To many referees, a sample reference letter or sample letter of recommendation is helpful to find the right words. While this website makes lets you write a reference letter quick and easy, you can also take a look at the sample reference letters. Samples like that can be quite helpful to get a better idea what such a document should look like.