Letters of Reference - Writing Power Phrases

Published: 01st August 2006
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Copyright Shaun R. Fawcett

As a result of writing literally hundreds of letters of reference over the years, I am aware that there are certain common elements and approaches that are applicable to almost all such letters.

If you look closely at most reference and recommendation letters you will notice that there are certain "types" of phrases that recur over and over again, throughout the various letters.

These statement types can be grouped into three major categories: opening statements, assessment statements, and closing statements. These statements are the three key components of any letter of reference. If you formulate these phrases well you are guaranteed to have an excellent letter.

The opening statement in a letter of reference should state the name of the person being recommended. It can also explain why you are the person writing the letter. The opening statement should normally be one short sentence and should never exceed two sentences.

Following are three generic typical opening statements for inclusion in reference letters:

"I am writing this letter at the request of [name of requestor]."
"This is in response to your recent request for a letter of reference for [name]."
"I am pleased to be able to write this letter of reference for [name]."

Assessment statements in a letter of reference are those sentences and phrases that contain the recommender's specific assessment of the performance, characteristics, and attributes of the person being recommended.

Normally an assessment statement will be followed up by one or two specific performance-related examples backing up the statement just made.

Following are three generic typical assessment statements for inclusion in letters of reference:

"In my opinion, [name] is a hard-working self-starter who invariably understands exactly what a project is all about."
"[name] consistently produces high quality work in a timely fashion."
"The only area of weakness that I ever noted in [name]'s performance was..."

A typical letter of reference will normally include three to four assessment statements.

The closing statement in a letter of reference should be one or two sentences at most, and it should make a clear statement of recommendation that flows logically from the points made in the assessment part of the letter. They will often begin with transition phrases such as: "In summary...", "In Closing,...", "Based on the foregoing,...", "Accordingly,...", etc.

Closing statements in reference letters are generally positive, but in some circumstances they may be qualified, or sometimes, even completely negative.

Following are three generic typical closing statements for inclusion in reference letters:

"I am therefore very pleased to be able to recommend [name] for..."
"Based on my time working with [name], I recommend her very highly for..."
"I respect [name] as a colleague, but I must say that in all honesty, I cannot recommend him for ..."

In summary, mastering these three types of "reference letter power phrases" is one of the keys to writing all types of letters of reference. As such, knowledge of how to write typical opening, assessment, and closing statements, as illustrated above, is essential to writing effective letters of reference.

That's why I have included more than 150 generic "Reference Letter Power Phrases" in the latest Revised Edition of Instant Recommendation Letter Kit - How To Write Winning Letters of Recommendation.

Shaun Fawcett is Webmaster of two of the most visited writing-help Web sites on the Net. He is the author of numerous "how-to" books on everyday practical writing help. He is also the Net's foremost authority on the definition and writing of ALL types of letters of recommendation and letters of reference. See his comprehensive resource center:

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