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:

Awkward Introductions

Avoid beginning your letter with "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" or "Program Director."

Also avoid listing all 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.

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.

WordRake helps you find and remove words like "think" and "believe" to make your statements stronger. This will also alert you to places where you should make sure you're adding supporting facts. For example:

I believe Francis will excel in any role due to her strong work ethic and interpersonal skills.

I think Paloma is a caring, articulate individual who engages with clients warmly and conveys information effectively.

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.

An editing tool like WordRake is a quick and easy way to remove other business jargon and overused clichés which don't add to your meaning and can annoy or confuse readers. For example:

There were many moving parts It was complicated, but Tara found an elegantly simple method for keeping track of the team's responsibilities and progress.

In light of Given this situation, Malcom brought handouts to support both his learning and his classmates'.

When push comes to shove Ultimately, we can count on Angel to resolve conflicts ASAP quickly and in a diplomatic way diplomatically to meet everyone's needs.

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.

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.

WordRake also helps you find opportunities to use more inclusive language. If you come off as insensitive to the reader, it could trigger subconscious bias that will hurt the chances of the person you're writing the letter about. Use WordRake to find replacements for words that carry baggage. For example:

Cecille knew that deciphering the archaic assembly language code wouldn't be a cakewalk easy, but she readily took on the challenge.

When Cameron learned our organization needed support preparing for an important annual powwow meeting, he took the lead right away.

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, concise, and convincing, use an editing tool like WordRake to get track-changes style editing suggestions to improve brevity and simplicity. Here are some examples of WordRake edits:

For the reasons articulated above, I am happy to give Patrick my highest recommendation for your linguistics program.

Ariel is always thoughtful and thorough when answering any questions our board members may have our board members' questions.

Haedyn not only has a deep understanding of complex topics within his field, but he can explain them in a way that is easy to understand clearly to team members in other departments.

She deserves the award because her findings came from her approaching the research in a novel and surprising way differently.

Participating in team-building activities fosters Team-building activities foster better collaboration, and he uses this strategy well to improve his team's performance and work satisfaction.

WordRake is editing software that suggests changes to documents written in Microsoft Word and emails written in Outlook. You can try WordRake on your letter of recommendation and any of your other writing—it's 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.