Avoid these words and phrases 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, organizedteam playercreativepassionate, 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.

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 at this link.

Writing Tips in your Inbox

Recent Posts

About Gary Kinder

Gary Kinder
Gary Kinder has taught over 1,000 writing programs for the American Bar Association, the Social Security Administration, PG&E, Kraft, Microsoft, and law firms like Jones Day, Sidley, and WilmerHale. His critically-acclaimed Ship of Gold in the Deep Blue Sea hit #7 on the New York Times Bestsellers List.

In 2012, Gary and his team of engineers created WordRake editing software to provide writers a full-time, reliable editor; to save them time and money; and to give them the confidence their writing is as clear and concise as they can make it. The U.S. Patent & Trademark Office has awarded nine patents to WordRake's unique technology, and Harvard Law School has recognized WordRake as "Disruptive Innovation."