get good letters of recommendation

Information You Should Supply

Research shows that strong reference letters tend to be longer (Trix and Psenka, 2003) and cite specific examples of your initiative (Madera et al., 2009) ,  i.e. make substantive comments about academic and/or research characteristics

as well as demonstrate personal knowledge of examples. So it is helpful for letter writers to have details on hand that they can draw from, if they wish. Make sure that the language you supply to letter writers is not identical to what you wrote on your application.


  • What you are applying for, and why
  • The deadline
  • Weblink, email, fax number, if available
  • Your overarching interests, career goals if known – and how this opportunity fits in
  • What big theme you want me to get across in my letter (i.e. perfect opportunity at this stage in your career, you have a lot to contribute to the program, etc.)
  • My relationship with you: advisor, professor (name course(s) and include date(s)), dept chair
    • include the approximate date when we first met (they always ask: “how long, and in what capacity, have you known the applicant?”)
  • Your major
  • Academic background
    • List relevant academic experience
    • Favorite classes, sections of classes or labs and why
    • Examples of academic achievements, successes, accomplishments, showing originality, what you initiated and influenced, other qualities
  • Research background
    • Where, when, on what, with whom
    • Senior thesis: title, mentor
    • Co-author on abstracts, publications?
    • Any presentations?
  • Any international experience?
  • Any awards, other recognition?
  • Extra-curricular background
    • Relevant internships, other experience
    • Examples of highlights, showing leadership, what you initiated and influenced, other qualities
  • Personal qualities/strengths
    • Examples of relevant attributes: perseverance, determination, oral/written communication skills, etc.
  • Anything else you want me to be sure to mention? Maybe explain any irregularity in your record?

Trix F., Psenka C. (2003). Exploring the color of glass: letters of recommendation for female and male medical faculty Discourse and Society: 14(2): 191-220.

Madera et al. (2009) Gender and Letters of Recommendation for Academia: Agentic and Communal Differences: 94, No. 6, 1591–1599.