What to Avoid in a Letter of Recommendation


A quick Internet search will tell you what to put in a letter of recommendation; but it is just as important to know what to leave out. Using certain words, phrases, and information might cause your reader not to admit your student or hire your former employee. These are the most important to avoid:

To whom it may concern

Address your letter to a real person. If you cannot find that person’s name, send a professional recommendation to the “Hiring Manager” and an academic recommendation to the “Admissions Committee.”

Think and believe

Rather than write that you “think” or “believe” someone will be a good fit or has a certain quality, use facts to tell your reader a brief story. Facts are more convincing than opinions. If you think Bianca has strong public speaking skills, recall a great speech she gave and what made it memorable. Anecdotes and concrete words always persuade a reader faster than thoughts and feelings.

Clichés such as quick learner, organized, team player, creative, passionate, and dedicated

These descriptors are so overused they have become meaningless. Rather than use one of them to describe your candidate, write a quick story that illustrates that word. Instead of using team player to describe Ahmed, write a sentence that describes his working 18-hour days during a strike to provide the media with the company’s up-to-the-minute information. This will make your letter fresh and original, your recommendation clear and meaningful.

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Comments referring to the person’s age, sex, disability, race, national origin, or religious beliefs

Colleges and businesses may not discriminate, but an innocent comment in a letter of recommendation that alludes to someone’s race, age, sex, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, or religion might trigger unconscious bias affecting a reviewer’s opinion. Rather than mention the mission of the organization where Jordan volunteered, highlight the work she did for the organization.

Your credentials

Although it is important to explain why you are qualified to write the recommendation, mention only your role in the candidate’s life and how long you have known the candidate; do not expound upon your own career path. Write only what will allow the reader to weigh what you say about the candidate.

Unnecessary words

Letters of recommendation have to be short, but you need to convey the qualities of the person you’re recommending. That’s why it’s important to remove unnecessary words. To ensure your writing is clear and concise, use an editing tool like WordRake, the editing software that suggests changes to documents written in Microsoft Word and emails written in Outlook. You can try WordRake for free on your letter of recommendation and any of your other writing free for 7-days.

About the Author

Caroline Engle is WordRake’s Marketing Communications Specialist. She convinced WordRake to hire her as an intern after placing in editing competitions and writing a novel in a month. When she isn’t editing or writing copy, coordinating conference logistics, or helping improve WordRake’s functionality, she’s reading, going on ten-mile walks, or looking up flight prices. Connect with her on LinkedIn here.

What if you had an in-house editor at your fingertips?

WordRake enables you to create precise, highly polished writing.

It’s easy! Try it now.

Our Story

WordRake founder Gary Kinder has taught over 1,000 writing programs for AMLAW 100 firms, Fortune 500 companies, and government agencies. He’s also a New York Times bestselling author. As a writing expert and coach, Gary was inspired to create WordRake when he noticed a pattern in writing errors that he thought he could address with technology.

In 2012, Gary and his team of engineers created WordRake editing software to help writers produce clear, concise, and effective prose. It runs in Microsoft Word and Outlook, and its suggested changes appear in the familiar track-changes style. It saves time and gives confidence. Writing and editing has never been easier.