Writing Letters of Recommendation

Thank you for taking the time to support your student for scholarship. Here are some guidelines which may make your job a bit easier.

  1. First and foremost, determine whether you know the student well enough to write a stellar letter of recommendation.
    1. If you do not, it is entirely appropriate, and even advisable, to say no. Since the student will be up against stiff competition, a weak and unimpressive letter of recommendation will be noticeable and is likely to hurt the student’s chances.
      1. If you can help the student strategize other possibilities for recommendation writers, please do.
      2. If you are not sure who to suggest, send the student to the Distinguished Scholarships Program office in CUE 519 and we will discuss their options with them.
    2. If you do know the student well and decide to write a letter, consider the tips below.
  2. Gather background materials: ask the student for materials that will assist you in writing the strongest letter possible.
    1. A complete resume.
      1. Feel free to ask questions about what you receive to determine if it is complete.
      2. Beware of missing details; some students may not yet have significant experience with preparing resumes or keeping good records of their accomplishments.
    2. A bulleted list of details about the scholarship.
    3. A website for the scholarship.
    4. An explanation from the student about why this scholarship is the best fit for this particular student.
    5. An explanation of how this scholarship fits into the student’s goals and plans for the future.
    6. A timeline for completion for this letter (expect at least one month).
  3. How to structure the letter: in an introductory paragraph, tell the reader how you know the student.
  4. In subsequent paragraphs, explain why this student is a good fit for this scholarship.
  5. Write impactfully: use detail whenever possible (i.e. “This student is in the top 2% of students in my class of …”).
  6. Use concrete examples when you are able (i.e. “This student demonstrates the ability to think critically. Recently I noticed that this student…”)

Please refer any questions about Distinguished Scholarships to our office (DistinguishedScholarships@wsu.edu; 509-335-8239). Thank you!

Other Tips

Gender Bias

The following resources can help you in being conscious of gender bias as you prepare your letters of recommendation.

Avoiding gender bias in reference writing: a useful PDF handout from the University of Arizona containing practical guidance created from peer-reviewed research on how gender bias affects recommendation writing.

Damning With Faint Praise: a report from Inside Higher Ed on a peer reviewed study published in Nature Geoscience which concluded among postdoctoral research fellowship candidates, women are only about half as likely as men to receive letters containing language that describes them as excellent, rather than just good.

Linguistic Comparison Study: this public access peer-reviewed study compared letters of recommendation for male and female chemistry and biochemistry job applicants. It was found that recommendations written for women applicants used significantly less standout adjectives, and which was also associated with less ability words and more grindstone words.