Teaching Tip: Writing Letters of Recommendation
Usually our evaluations about students boil down to single letters, A through F, and we have no opportunity to summarize properly the achievements and prospects of the person we have come to know—the exception is when we compose letters of recommendation. While sometimes frustrating, recommendation letters encourage us to develop a more thoughtful picture about the whole student. In addition, letters of recommendation invite us to reflect on our teaching and to think about our many measures of success.
Our tip today is a link to a book that is no longer in print but has migrated to the web: Joe Schall’s Writing Recommendation Letters Online: A Faculty Handbook (https://www.e-education.psu.edu/writingrecommendationlettersonline/node/121) This short book offers useful advice, from considering ethics prior to writing, to researching, to drafting and finishing, and it provides useful links to other resources. Schall’s remarks about the possible harms of hyperbolic praise are particularly interesting.
Recommendation writing is a very important part of what we do, but it’s something that virtually no one teaches us how to do. So, we want to lay special emphasis on our usual request. Please, send us your thoughts about recommendation letters. Do you incorporate them in your teaching? (We already know some of you do!) What are your complaints about writing or reading them? What are your tips or tricks for dealing with common problems? How can we improve?