4.2.13 Guidelines for Writing Letters of Recommendation

Writing letters of recommendation are a matter of personal judgment. Such requests require that forthright evaluations be made about colleagues or students. Therefore, only judgments that can be supported by demonstrable evidence should be part of such correspondence. Letters should address only the relevance of the person’s qualifications for the position about which commentary is sought; reference to an individual’s personal appearance, professional ambition, traits of character, marital status, number of children, etc. should be assiduously avoided. The following guidelines are offered when writing letters of recommendation.

  1. When a Student or an Employee (Present or Former) Asks for a Letter of Recommendation
    • If a positive recommendation cannot be written, the individual should be so informed.
    • If the writer has some reservations about offering a positive recommendation, the person requesting the letter should be so informed. If a letter is still sought, then opportunity should be provided for the individual to read the reference letter before it is sent.
    • If the letter of recommendation must be kept confidential, then written permission must be obtained to waive any right of inspection. A copy should be kept on file and indication that such a waiver has been received included in the body of the letter.
    • A faculty member or other employee may not be willing to recommend someone for a position but willing to write a letter of evaluation. If so, there should be written agreement that an alternative letter of evaluation is acceptable to the person requesting a reference letter. Again, evaluations must be based upon clearly documentable evidence.
  2. When an Individual or Agency Outside the University Asks for Commentary About a Colleague or Student
    • Only positive letters of reference should be written unless the questions asked are specific and refer to job-related activities. Unsupported hostile remarks about students, colleagues or former or current employees must be avoided. Reference letters can be frank as long as the proffered information is accurate and can be documented.
    • Confidential letters of recommendation may be provided to outside groups as long as the individual about whom the reference letter pertains is willing to sign a waiver foregoing his or her right to inspect the letter. If such a waiver is not obtained, the requesting individual or agency should be informed that, consistent with University policy, a reference letter will not be forthcoming.