Writing a student reference/letter of recommendation
(JB Aug 2012)
The Careers Service is often asked for guidelines about what should be included in letters of reference.
Be specific and give examples to justify the points that you make.
Request a CV or personal statement for additional information. This can inform your writing and
enable you to be specific e.g. refer to anecdotes that back up points about a student's
personality and ability.
Raise the issue of references with students in class early in the academic year and clarify your / the
Department's procedure for dealing with references.
One page of a typewritten A4 page is generally sufficient - but do try to write more than one paragraph!.
Respond as quickly as possible to a request.
Never lie! Do not make up anything or omit a glaring weakness. If you have any reservations due to
lack of knowledge then this should be stated at the beginning of the reference.
Students should inform you of the job(s) or course(s) they are applying for. The reader of the letter
wishes to get to know the person better and you can tailor your give evidence of relevant skills,
knowledge or experiences.
If the letter is going to be negative, or overly bland, then tell the student who requests it in advance.
The request may then be withdrawn.
Some writers suggest that you avoid the gushing letter that only has positives to say and encourage
you to write brieﬂy about a weakness/area for development as it will give balance to the letter. Either
way be comfortable with what you say.
You can also follow the letter with a phone call. Do not substitute a telephone reference for a written
one if that is what is requested.
Be careful to avoid discriminatory references on issues such as age, gender, disability, religion, race,
marital status etc.
GUIDELINES FOR STRUCTURE AND CONTENT OF THE LETTER
Identify the student and the capacity in which you came to know him / her - include your affiliation /
relationship with them.
Give as much evidence as possible of the student's increased knowledge or maturity, understanding of
material or other aspects of development during the period you know them.
Refer to the skills of the student. Examples available at
It is important to be honest and factual - it would be better to decline to write a letter that is vague in
Providing details of relevant attitudes, abilities, competencies and personal attributes is also very
important, for example:
Good oral communication skills
Degree classification, grades for modules or projects
Attitude to study and research
Good written communication skills
Personal / transferable skills
Leaving Certificate grades
Computing or information technology skills
Self reliance, capacity to work autonomously
Course content competency - specific technical skills/methodologies
Feedback on placement experience
Feedback on a year out
Avoid bland words such as nice, good, fairly, reasonable and satisfactory. Use active verbs such as: managed, liaised,
undertook, oversaw, developed, applied, demonstrated, showed leadership