Letters of Recommendation Explained

Letters of Recommendation
Fast and easy: Instant download of 89 actual recommendation letter templates - here.

The following is an excerpt from my recently revised and updated eBook "Instant Recommendation Letter Kit - How To Write Winning Letters of Recommendation".

That eBook is the only definitive information source that deals exclusively with how to write ALL types of recommendation letters. Here's part of one chapter:


There is a lot of confusion about recommendation letters.

Recommendation letters are often referred to in a number of different ways including: letters of recommendation, reference letters, letters of reference, commendation letters, and sometimes even, performance evaluation letters.

This terminology can be quite confusing, especially when these terms are often used interchangeably, sometimes to mean the same thing, sometimes to mean something different.

In fact, there are five (5) main types of "recommendation letters", as follows:

- recommendation letters - job related
- letters of recommendation - college/university related
- reference letters - job and community related
- commendation letters - employment and community related
- performance evaluation letters - employment related

Even so, people often throw around the term "recommendation letter" without really knowing exactly what they're talking about. This causes a lot of misunderstanding when someone asks for a recommendation letter, and the person being asked has a totally different concept of what is being requested.

This can cause serious problems at times. That's because, of all letters ever written on a personal or business basis, recommendation letters are among the most critical because they almost always have important implications in the workplace or community, or in the often difficult quest for acceptance into a college or university.

Below are some definitions that should clear up any confusion.

Recommendation Letters


Also called a recommendation letter, it is an employment- related letter that is specifically requested by the person the letter is being written about. Such a letter is usually positive in nature, and written by someone who knows the subject well enough to comment on the skills, abilities, and specific work attributes of that person.

Typically, an employment-related recommendation letter conveys one person's view of the work performance and general workplace demeanor of another person that has worked under their direct supervision. The requestor of the letter normally requests such a letter to use when applying for a promotion or a new job.

These letters are usually addressed to a specific person to whom the requestor has been asked to submit the letter.

Letters of Recommendation

College- and University-Related

Another situation where recommendation letters are a common requirement is for entry into undergraduate and graduate programs at a college or university. Graduate programs often require two or more letters of recommendation as part of the program admission requirements.

Normally, these college-related recommendation letters are written at the request of the program applicant by people who know them and are familiar with their academic career to date, and their future education and career aspirations. These people could include: former teachers, community leaders, school faculty members, administrators, academic supervisors, and/or employers.

These letters are always addressed to a specific person and are normally included as part of the program admission application.

Reference Letters

These are more general letters that are often requested by employees when they leave the employ of an organization. Normally factual in nature, they are usually addressed, "to whom it may concern" and provide basic information such as: work history, dates of employment, positions held, academic credentials, etc.

Reference letters sometimes contain a general statement (as long as a positive one can be made), about the employee's work record with the company that they are leaving. Employees often submit these letters with job applications in the hope that the letter will reflect favorably on their chances for the new position.

Character reference letters are sometimes required by employers when hiring individuals to perform personal or residential services such as child care, domestic services, etc. These letters are usually drafted by a former employer and deal with such attributes as honesty, dependability, and work ethic/performance.

Commendation Letters

These are normally unsolicited letters, which typically commend an employee to their supervisor for something outstanding or noteworthy that the employee has done. Usually, the employee would have to do something “above and beyond” what is normally expected of them in their job to warrant such a letter.

Typically, these letters are written by co-workers, or managers from another area of the organization who were suitably impressed while supervising the person on a short- term project.

Commendation letters are also used to nominate individuals for special awards of recognition for outstanding public service.

Performance Evaluation Letters

These are usually detailed assessments of an employee's work performance as part of an organization's regular employee review process. Typically, they are written by the employee's supervisor and are attached to the individual's performance appraisal and placed in their personnel file.

The format and structure for this type of letter is more often than not dictated by the employee performance evaluation system or process that is in-place wherever the subject of the letter is employed.

However, in the academic environment in North America there is often a requirement for a specific “performance evaluation letter” for the assessment of academic staff.

Know What You're Writing

So, if your dealing with recommendation letters, here's a word of advice.

The next time someone asks to write a "recommendation letter" for them, make sure you know exactly what you're getting into. Or, if you're the one doing the asking, make sure you know specifically what you're asking for. If you're not quite, click on the following link for all of the answers:

Instant Recommendation Letter Kit

(C) Shaun Fawcett is the world's foremost expert on writing ALL types of letters of recommendation and letters of reference for ALL situations: personal, business, character, employment, and college admission. His comprehensive book, with real-life templates, is considered the top resource on this subject on the planet:

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