Letters of Recommendation

Inspired by Brandon Stewart's letter of recommendation instructions.

Am I the right person?

First, make sure you ask yourself if I am the right person to write your letter. Have we had some substantial interaction (TA, RA, co-author, advisee etc.)? Is there something unique that I can attest to? The best letters are those which can share some unique information about the candidate. Thus you probably only want me to write a letter if we have had enough experiences together that I will be able to offer that perspective.

What to do?

If you still think I am the correct person, send me an email as soon as you know you will want the letter along with the deadline(s). In a timely fashion, please followup with the following information:

  • the deadline and procedure for submitting the letter;
  • any special requirements of the letter (length restrictions, criteria for what is to be covered etc.);
  • a summary memo (explained below);
  • PDF versions of all documents you are sending to the organization (e.g. CV, research proposals, personal statements, transcripts, test scores); and
  • optionally, any excellent examples of your work (a great paper/final project/etc.).

Summary Memo

A summary memo is not a draft letter—it is a set of bullet points that you want in my mind as I write. Please do send me an actual PDF though as it is easier to keep track of than an email. Please include:

  • a brief statement about who else is writing your letters and what if anything that you are hoping my letter will speak to that your other writers cannot;
  • any application specific-requirements or suggestions about what the letter should contain;
  • a short description of how you are pitching yourself or your research;
  • anything you want me to highlight, especially relevant anecdotes that illustrate characteristics of you or your work (now is not the time for modesty!);
  • plausible explanations for anything negative in your record, if any; and
  • anything you don't want me to forget (don't assume I will remember things if you exclude them).


Please give me as much lead time as possible (minimum 2 weeks!). Sending me a reminder a week before the deadline would be advisable. My assistant or I will send confirmation once the letter has been submitted. If you haven't received a confirmation (or can't see it in the system), please don't assume it has been sent. Professors send a lot of these all about the same time so it is easy for things to be lost.