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When requesting a letter of recommendation, keep in mind that the effort you invest in soliciting this appeal effects the type of recommendation you receive. Below you will find some simple guidelines to assist you in this process.
Choose an Appropriate Professor
Give careful consideration to which professor you request a letter of recommendation from. Hundreds of students pass through his or her classroom every semester-- what was it about you that he or she will remember? Your sparkling personality and handsome features may not be enough, so consider these questions first:
Do Not Wait Until the Last Minute!
A professor has classes to teach, papers to correct, and articles to write. Respect his or her time and make your request three to five weeks before the recommendation is due.
E-Mail Versus U.S. Mail
You are petitioning for the professor's time, so be prepared to offer yours. Be polite and make this request in person. Stop by during his or her office hours, or schedule an appointment. If this is not possible, pick up the phone and remind him or her of who you are.
If he or she expresses an interest in aiding you, type a formal request for a letter of recommendation, stick any applicable forms in an envelope, and visit the Post Office. If you decide to go the e-mail route, make the request as politely and as formally as you would a typed letter.
Writing the Request for a Letter of Recommendation
A successful request for a letter of recommendation has a formal, polite tone, adheres to conventional letter writing formats, and makes it convenient for the professor to assist you. Avoid contractions, slang, spelling errors, and poor grammar.
Address the Letter Using the Professor's Appropriate Name and Title
Do not neglect the salutation, and do not use just their first name. He or she is a professional, and so are you, so behave accordingly.
Content of the First Paragraph
Start the letter by politely asking what you want (a letter or recommendation). After that, be sure to include the following information:
Content of the Second Paragraph
Now it is time to remind your former professor of who you are and of the relationship that you had with him or her. Include the following information:
Content of the Third Paragraph and Beyond
Include considerate hints as to what you would like your professor to say about you if he or she agrees to write this letter. Subtly interject information about yourself (such as your study habits, your creativity, or your industry) that can be drawn upon to provide you with a positive recommendation. If you are requesting letters of recommendation from other professors, be sure to mention what you are hoping for from this one in particular.
Help him or her help you. Include where the letter of recommendation needs to go, who it needs to go to (the recipient's formal name and title) and when it is due. If there are any forms that need to be filled out, make sure to include them, with any portions applicable to you already completed. Present the professor with options. If it will be easier for him or her, perhaps you can pick up the letter during his or her office hours and mail it out yourself; otherwise, include an addressed envelope with postage.
Provide information about how you will follow up with the professor. If you made this request through e-mail, let him or her know where and when you will drop off any relevant forms and envelopes. Mention to him or her that you will also send out a letter or an e-mail a week before the recommendation is due, as a courteous reminder of the approaching due date.
Concluding the Request
Thank him or her! Regardless of whether or not your chosen professor writes the letter, it is in your best interest to acknowledge that you respect his or her time and appreciate any effort that was put forth on your behalf.
A Few Words Regarding Polite Reminders
Use gratitude when you send out a reminder regarding an upcoming due date. Thank him or her for his or her time, mention how much this letter of recommendation means to you, and tactfully remind the professor of the upcoming due date.
Once he or she has sent out the letter, be sure to send out a neatly written thank you letter, via the U.S. postal service. If his or her letter helped you obtain a position, or entrance into a graduate school, be sure and let him or her know. Not only is this the polite thing to do, but maintaining a pleasant connection will prove beneficial if you ever require another letter.