Writing a Letter of Recommendation

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Writing a Letter of Recommendation
Addendum to

Making the Right Moves:
A Practical Guide to Scientific Management for Postdocs and New Faculty second edition

Burroughs Wellcome Fund Howard Hughes Medical Institute

Making the Right Moves: A Practical Guide to Scientific Management for Postdocs and New Faculty, second edition © 2006 by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Burroughs Wellcome Fund All rights reserved. “Writing a Letter of Recommendation”: Electronic addendum published 2009 Writer: Laura Bonetta, Ph.D. Production: Martine Bernard Design Permission to use, copy, and distribute this publication or excerpts is granted provided that (1) the copyright notice above appears in all reproductions; (2) use is for
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Reasons to Turn Someone Down
You should write a letter of recommendation only if you can honestly write a supportive letter for someone for a given position. After all, a letter of recommendation is supposed to be a tool for helping people obtain what they are after. If you don’t know the candidate well enough to write a good letter, let the person know. He or she will probably ask someone else. If you do know the candidate well but have some reservations, let the person know about your concerns, and leave it up to him or her to decide whether you should still write the letter.

PREPARATION
Read Some Sample Letters
If you have never written a letter of recommendation before, read a stack of reference letters to see what works and what doesn’t. Most faculty have access to graduate student applications and the letters submitted. Junior faculty can also ask their more experienced colleagues to share “sample” letters they have written or have received from applicants (blocking out names and other personal information). The resource section of this chapter provides links to sample letters.

Collect Information
Once you know what a letter of recommendation looks like, make sure you find out as much as possible about the candidate for whom you are writing. One of the worst things you can do is to write a letter that is too generic. Ask for the following information:
T i p : When reading a sample
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