What should I know about letters of recommendation?

Faculty members expect to write letters of reference. It is a fundamental part of our involvement in students’  graduate careers. The most effective letters are tailored to the position or program you are seeking, are specific and detailed, and thus indicate that the referee knows you well. For this reason, you should ask professors if they feel comfortable writing a positive letter of recommendation for you (and you should select among those instructors for whom you have done your best work).

In addition, you should provide your referee with as much information as possible:

  • The due date for the letter (please make your request at least one month in advance)
  • A specific mailing address, preferably with a name and title if this is available
  • Details of the program or position you are applying for
  • If you have written it, a copy of your application letter
  • A copy of your C.V. or resume
  • A note on what courses you’ve had with the referee (including undergrad if applicable), or other kinds of engagement such as work supervision, training, club or event activities (include approximate dates). Ideally, you should also have copies of work you completed for that faculty member—including that faculty member’s responses to it—so that the letter can include the most pertinent details from that work.

Keep in mind that the less information you provide the more generic a letter will necessarily be. Help us to do our best for you. In addition, you should inform the Director of Graduate School of where you are applying. Our faculty may know faculty in our areas from conferences and so on, and may be able to put in a brief email word for you.

Confidentiality: Be aware that forms for a letter of reference ask you to check a box indicating whether the letter is confidential (you will not see it) or whether you waive confidentiality (you can see it if you like). For all practical purposes, this is not a choice. If the letter is not confidential, it will not be given much credence.

Mechanics: Some programs or employers ask referees to send letters directly to them (in hard copy or electronically); others ask the candidate to gather them and send them in one package. In the latter case, you should request that the referee seal the letter in a letterhead envelope and sign across the sealed flap.

UAH does not have a central service to keep letters on file to send out at your request. Many universities that used to provide such a service are now using an on-line service, Interfolio.com, and you might find it advantageous as well. If, for example, you are applying to a great number of programs, or plan to continue applying for a few years, using Interfolio may be an efficient option. Your referees send letters to the service, and you instruct the service when and where you want letters sent. There is an annual fee and a fee for each request. Visit their website for complete information: www.interfolio.com.

Finally, be sure to let us know the results of your job or program search.

Master’s Program in English & Technical Communication Certificate
University of Alabama in Huntsville
English Department
301 Sparkman Drive
Morton Hall 222
Huntsville, Alabama 35899
256-824-6320 or ehgrad@uah.edu