Monday, February 16, 2009

How to write recommendation letters?

As I wrote in an earlier post, I had been invited to attend a workshop on Effective Communication in July 1999 at the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur, India, where I learned ‘How to write recommendation letters?’

Recommendation letters or letters of reference are central to our professional growth. We need them all the time. From applying for scholarships to applying for jobs and applying to work for new translation companies, we always need these references. A reference letter is a testimonial that a person writes for us, detailing our strong points and how we would be appropriate for a particular assignment. Reference letters for different purposes must be written in various ways. For instance, a reference letter for someone applying for a fellowship should be different from the one where someone applies for a job.

I would like to quote from a reference letter that I received from someone. I have left out some portions, for obvious confidentiality reasons. However, you would get the drift of the letter.

We highly recommend Roomy Naqvy for complex technical translation services….He is an extremely talented, professional and prompt translator and we consider him an asset to our team.

The original reference above is not more than 70 words in all and the extract above is 27 words. So, letters of reference could be short. They could also be long. Look at the text above. It says ‘we’ uses active voice; ‘highly recommend’, not ‘recommend’. The person could have written: ‘We have no problems in recommending Roomy Naqvy for translation services’. However, ‘no problems’ is actually negative in tone and stating ‘for translation services’ does not have the same effect that ‘complex technical translation services’ would have.

If you look at the second sentence, the person could have easily written:
1. We are happy with his work.
2. We are satisfied with his translations.
However, such sentences would have been examples of a ‘neutral’ tone and would convey a kind of flat response. Instead, the person writes: He is an extremely talented, professional and prompt translator and we consider him an asset to our team. You cannot have anything more positive than such words. I am indeed thankful to the person who wrote such a glowing reference for me.

If you wish to run down people and if you don’t want them to progress in life, you should write flat and neutral letters of reference.

I hope you liked this little post about letters of reference. I would follow this up again in more detail. In future posts, I would also give you examples of some letters of reference that I have written for other people. Do keep on reading and do tell your friends about it.