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In this series on productivity, author Jess Stratton takes you through the latest tools that will help you run your business and life more efficiently. Each installment covers a particular feature or technique in a different online tool, such as Google Apps, Skype, YouTube, Mint.com, Etsy, and more. Learn about topics ranging from recording and publishing video chats to managing your finances online.
I'm Jess Stratton and welcome to Monday Productivity Pointers. You may not know this about me, but the degree that I graduated in is in communication studies. So knowing this, I get asked to write a lot of letters of recommendations from friends, family members, and colleagues. I figured that the chances are pretty good that you'll be asked to write one one day, if you haven't already. So I thought I'd share what I've learned about writing a good letter of recommendation. Now, there's two really good benefits to knowing how to write one of these. The first one is you won't have to stress about writing it, because it can be very stressful.
And two, you're giving your subject, who you're writing the letter for, the best possible chance so that they get the job or the admission or whatever you're writing the letter for. There's a lot riding on your shoulders when you write a letter like this. So hopefully I can show you how to make it as best as it can possibly be. I'm actually going to show you two examples of real letters of recommendations that I've written for people over the years. To make this easy, I've compartmentalized it into four important facts.
So knowing and remembering these four facts will make this a very easy process for you. The first fact is brevity, shortness. When you're writing your letter of recommendation it shouldn't be longer than one page. So right away there's some constraints, that will make it a lot easier. Now, fact number two, you need to remember that it's a formal document. And your subject, who you're writing the letter for, deserves you to take it very seriously. So knowing the structure of how the letter needs to be written is just as important as the content.
And we're going to talk about that. Fact number thee Is that you need to know something first. You need to know what you're writing the letter of recommendation for. For example, is it for a college admission or a job. If it's for a job what type of job. And then finally, the last fact, what specific example can you give about your subject. You'll need those. So knowing these things will make writing your letter extremely easy once they're all in place.
And in fact, you can write down each of these things on a paper to get your outline. Then again, not knowing these facts will make writing the letter next to impossible. You need to know specific examples about who you're writing the letter for, and you need to know why you're writing it. So let's move on to the letter. I've actually got it open on the screen. We need to start with the structure first. So, always, the date goes on top followed by an address block underneath it, or who you're writing the letter to.
Now, if you don't know, it's okay to just include a date. You then need to follow it up with the recipient. Now, because it's a formal letter, instead of a comma, you're going to put a colon at the end of it. For example, I'm addressing this to Carla Anderson. From the admissions office of a university. So I'm writing this letter on behalf of a student to get into this particular college. Her name's Carla Anderson. So I'm going to write, Dear Ms. Anderson and put a colon on it. In your opening paragraph, you always need to start out with how you know the subject.
So you are going to talk about your relationship with the subject. You also do need to state that it is indeed a Letter of Recommendation. For example, I started off my letter by writing, I am writing on behalf of Karen Arena, a remarkable young woman, who I have had the pleasure of watching grow over the years at Volunteer Agency. A non profit agency. So, I've definitely have established right away how I know this person and how long I've known this person. In the second paragraph and possibly a third, if there is one, remember it can be brief.
You need to state how quality of the subject is fitting for the role that the letter of recommendation is for. You want both the subject and the reader of the letter to find your letter perfectly suited to the need. Use specific examples. So this is why I said right in the beginning that if you have these specific examples in place, if you can sit down and brainstorm those first. It's going to make writing the actual letter easy. Now you can also write comparatively. Why are you impressed by this person, especially based on those examples.
In this case I decided to use the student's leadership examples. That's what I wanted to use as a focus of letter for the recommendation. So I gave examples about how she volunteers all the time. And how she is always smiling every time she volunteers. I also gave specific examples of how she exhibits a natural maturity in leadership, and her friends also follow her to these events. So I am citing specific examples.
In the next paragraph, I also cited a specific example of how she helped fill a bowling alley with volunteers for our fund raiser. So those are some great qualities that she has, and it helps tie in how I'm illustrating her leadership abilities. Finally, I needed one closing paragraph. On how she'll be a great fit for the organization. Moving on with the structure of the letter, because it's a formal business letter, I'm going to end with Sincerely and leave a space here so that I can put my signature in here.
And then I'm going to close with my name, possibly address, but I definitely want to put my contact information in here so that they can contact me if they need to. And then I can send it off to my subject. I'm going to open up another example down here. This is an example where I knew what I was writing for. I was writing this letter of recommendation. So somebody could get a job, however I didn't know the exact name. So I included the date, but I left the address out and the recipient I sent it To Whom It May Concern.
Now notice that I still put the colon in here. Again, in the opening paragraph, I say I am writing a Letter of Recommendation and I describe how I know the subject. Now in this letter, I decided to focus specific examples of how wonderful her children are, and how that's a direct response to how great of a person she is. So, I gave specific examples of how great her children are, such as having her sense of humor And what a family oriented lifestyle she is, so there's some specific examples, and finally a brief closing sentence.
Again, I put the sincerely, and my contact information, and leave enough space so that I can sign it. There's one more thing that I absolutely need to mention here. It's perfectly okay to decline writing a letter of recommendation, especially if you know you can't give one. It could be a time justification because it does takes some time to sit down and do this and you may not have it but also you may not feel like you can give somebody a good recommendation. That's okay. There's nothing wrong with this.
Don't ever ruin your integrity. That doesn't help anybody especially you. So its just as important to know how decline writing a letter as it is to write one. So don't ever be afraid to simply say I'm sorry, but I don't feel like I have enough information or a time commitment to be able to properly give a letter to you any justice. So knowing that if you ever get asked to write a letter of recommendation hopefully you can remember these important facts, outline it, and then writing your letter will be a breeze.
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