Guidelines for Serving as a Reference

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The following guidelines are merely suggestions to aid faculty in choosing to serve as a reference; more specifically, in writing recommendation letters.

Before Writing a Letter

  • To Agree or Not to Agree: Agree to write a letter only if you can honestly write a supportive letter. Decline the request, if you either do not know the individual well enough or cannot comment positively about their abilities and skills.
  • Ask the student to provide you with 1) a due date, 2) a current résumé and 3) all contact information necessary to address the letter of recommendation.
    • Job Search Recommendations:  Ask for the exact position description or one representative of the type of position the applicant is seeking.  Ask for a summary of the candidate's professional goals.
    • Graduate School Search Recommendations:  Ask for a copy of the student's personal statement, and any specific criteria requested by the graduate/professional school program (i.e., a specific recommendation form or questionnaire).

Writing a Letter

  • Start the letter by describing how and for how long you have known the individual. Mention specific situations where you worked with or observed the individual.
  • Provide your evaluation of the candidate's capabilities and suitability to the profession. Identify key areas such as work performance, management and research abilities, leadership qualities, cross-cultural and interpersonal skills. For graduate school recommendations, specifically reference the student's ability to conduct research and scholarly work.  
  • Offer a "big picture" of the candidate's overall promise and potential.
  • Try to differentiate and highlight the candidate's specific and individual strengths.
  • Specific examples are the strongest evidence supporting the candidate's abilities. Don't be too brief, but instead provide relevant information and examples of candidate's achievements.
  • State your own qualifications as they relate to the profession, organization or program.
  • In most cases, a letter of recommendation is one page with up to four paragraphs.
  • Recommendations should be printed on university letterhead and signed.

After Writing a Letter

  • Consider providing the student with a copy.
  • Keep a copy of the recommendation for your records.
  • Ask the student to update you on the process.

Additional resources from the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE)

FERPA and Letters of Recommendation

UW-Platteville faculty and staff who serve as a reference for a student have an additional responsibility under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) to obtain a signed, written consent from the student to disclose information in a student’s education record. Therefore, faculty who wish to disclose a student's grade or GPA must get the student's signed, written consent prior to disclosing any non-directory information.

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