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Requesting Letters of Recommendation

I have reluctantly decided to put some guidelines forward in order to make writing letters of recommendation easier for myself and those who request them. I am reluctant because I do not want to discourage requests for letters for graduate and professional school admissions, fellowships, grants, or jobs. I am dedicated to helping you advance and achieve your best dreams; these guidelines are designed to assure that I have the information and time I need to write the best letter I can for each of you.

These guidelines do not apply to my Ph.D. job seekers. I know that special, short-notice letters are the norm.

Each year I am asked to write more than 100 letters of recommendation of various kinds, and, of course, I am doing all of the work professors do. For that reason, I will write no more than 8 letters per year for any individual. A letter for a dossier counts as one letter.


For me to write for you, you need to:

  • Request a letter from me at least three weeks before the deadline and preferably a month in advance.
  • Supply your statement of purpose, grant proposal narrative, resume or c.v., and any other written materials that will help me write a specific, up-to-date letter. Please be sure information about the fellowship, position, etc., is included. I will not write until I have received these documents, and you must provide them at least two weeks and preferably three before the letter is due.
  • Fill in all blanks, including my name, title and institution on forms.
  • Include a list of all letters to be written with due dates. Please list in the order the letters are due. Please do not send me emails saying, Oh, yeah, please write to X University, too.
  • If non-electronic letters are required, please send an envelope with all forms and addressed envelopes. Please do not stamp the envelopes. If they are too heavy, I will have to hunt a stamp or the letter will be returned to me because of insufficient postage. Please indicate if I have the option of submitting a personal letter.

Other important things to keep in mind:

  1. I do not write non-confidential letters. There are two reasons: the first is that they are not taken as seriously and the second is that I do not feel free to answer the question about where I would rank you and your application. I do not want you to tell other students that you were the best in a class!
  2. Please be sure that I know you as a hard-working, dedicated person with a record of achievement and participation in an intellectual community, even if that community was a lower-level undergraduate class. In other words, do I know that you set high standards for yourself? Is what you do carefully researched, prepared, and presented? Do you help and mentor others? If I have no recent evidence of these things, someone else will probably be a better recommender.