Letters of Recommendation Explained
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:
RECOMMENDATION LETTERS DEMYSTIFIED
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
This terminology can be quite confusing, especially
when these terms are often used interchangeably,
sometimes to mean the same thing, sometimes to mean
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
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
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
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
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.
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-
Commendation letters are also used to nominate individuals
for special awards of recognition for outstanding public
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
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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