A quick guide to painless recommendation letters

It’s long been my policy to post an ideal recommendation on my office door.  That way even freshmen can see the virtues I value:  conscientious attendance, winsome collaboration, imaginative work which marries theory and practice, and so on.  When seniors request a letter, I ask them to bring examples of work which merits it or engage them in a conversation about which paragraphs to excise.  The onus is thus on them from day one, and not on me to justify the language of a letter I will send to grad schools and employers. No point surprising student consumers in cap and gown when a letter on the first day of class gives them a bull’s eye to shoot for.

January 19, 20xx

The Job You Really Want
123 Hopes and Dreams Blvd.
Chicago, IL 12345

Dear Employer or Grad School:

Please allow me to speak in favor of Mary Smith, a former student of mine in several production courses/a departmental work study/a hired collaborator on my summer research project.

Mary was an exemplar of class participation and esprit d’corps. She cheerfully offered her talents to others. As a result, students frequently sought her as a collaborator in their projects. She did not wait to be told what to do. She did not expect others to solve problems on her behalf. She was a proactive colleague and a winsome leader.

Mary further distinguished herself with imagination and invention. Her work often exceeded what a grading rubric might expect of a conscientious technician. Her grasp toward craft and artistry revealed itself from script and storyboard to the finishing touches of post-production.

Finally, Mary seemed able to integrate knowledge of the broader liberal arts into her media production work. She was particularly literate in media history and theory in ways that deepened her production projects.

I’m pleased to recommend Mary for the available position, fully expecting her to improve both your reputation and mine.

Sincerely,
Professor X, M.F.A.

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