3

I'm an assistant professor at a university. I'm writing a recommendation letter for an undergraduate student, who is applying for an internship job.

The problem that I am facing is that I know this student quite well, so it is fairly easy for me to write a letter that is two pages long. However, I encountered some online advice that suggests that I should keep my letter concise, within one page.

For example, from How to Write a Reference Letter With Examples:

A letter of recommendation should be more than one or two paragraphs; a letter this short suggests you either do not know the person well or do not fully endorse them. However, you want to keep the letter concise and focus on a few key points, so avoid writing more than one page [emphasis mine]. Three or four paragraphs that explain how you know the person and why you are recommending them is an appropriate length.

Question: How important is it for me to keep my letter within a single page, or is it generally acceptable to write a longer letter if I have more information which I wish to include in the letter?

  • Can you decrease the font size to fit more on one page? :D – Smock Nov 5 at 16:03
  • Just a side note, it is actually a common practice to have the recommended person draft the reference letter. Having the draft the recommender can edit or provide edit suggestions accordingly, and then sign the reference letter upon both sides agreement. Usually it's easier this way since recommended person can decide certain aspects (like length of reference) he/she need for the particular letter. – tweray Nov 5 at 16:04
12

The purpose of the letter is for you to say "I know this student, I've seen her work, and I think she'd would be a great fit for this role." It's nothing more than a sanity check (especially for an internship job.)

You really shouldn't need to take more than a page to say that sort of thing (probably not even that - just a couple of paragraphs would be fine.)

If you start taking multiple pages and really over-doing it, it's more likely to have the opposite effect to a recommendation (it becomes clear you know this student personally, and it therefore sounds more like a personal favour than a considered academic opinion.) Keep it short and to the point.

  • 1
    Completely agree with this answer. Put yourself in the shoes of the employer - if you receive an overly long recommendation letter, which clearly took the writer a lot of time, you'd probably think that they are friends, the employer wants to know they are a good employee, not if they are a great person to go to the pub with. Same goes for being overly complimentary in the letter – Bee Nov 5 at 15:06
  • +1 here as well, perhaps even not paragraphs but a few bluepoints highlighting the strong suites – Strader Nov 5 at 15:12
  • Is it really a negative thing if I do know this student on a personal level, and I mention this in the letter? I happen to have worked quite closely with her because I am the coach of the case competition team and she is an active member of the team. – I Like to Code Nov 5 at 15:40
  • 1
    @ILiketoCode Yes, it's bad IMHO, as it potentially detracts from your ability to provide an impartial academic recommendation. (There's also a difference between working quite closely with someone and knowing them on a personal level - I've worked closely with many students whom I never knew personally.) – berry120 Nov 5 at 15:48
4

Good letters of recommendation have the obvious elements:

I know person since date and I believe she will do good work wherever she goes.

She was a student in my xxx course and my yyy course. She showed extraordinary curiosity (or some other claim about her work). Fore example, she did extra research and found xxxx.

I subsequently hired her as a teaching assistant or whatever followon relationship. In that work she proved to be adept at explaining complex material. For example, whatever whatever.

Full name will do good work for you.

Notice the structure:

  • lead with your recommendation
  • make some claims about the person
    • experience (how you know and evaluate your student)
    • claim about personal attributes
    • proof of claim by example
  • close by repeating your recommendation

Now, if you have seven distinct claims about your student, by all means include them all in your letter. As I hiring manager I have put high value on that kind of reference letter. For one thing, the recommending person put some thought into it. For another, I can get an idea what to expect when the person shows up for work.

If you can boil it down to one or two claims, that's good too. But don't be constrained by length.

0

A message should be communicated cleanly, concisely, with as little fluff as possible; do you really think it takes 2+ pages to communicate that the undergrad would be a valuable asset?

(Now imagine this answer was 17 paragraphs long. Would it be better that way?)

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.