How to Write a Character Reference Letter

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People need character reference letters for many different reasons. Potential employers and landlords may request character references. The military asks for reference letters when people sign up. If someone has been convicted of a crime, the judge may take character references into account when imposing a sentence. It is flattering to be asked to write a reference letter, but many people are not sure how to do it properly. The following suggestions will help you craft a strong, compelling letter.

Provide the Basics

In the first paragraph of the letter, explain who you are, how you know the person in question and how long you have known him or her. For instance, you might write, "I am a professor at University X. Over the past three years, I have had John Smith in four of my classes. I have also supervised his work on his senior honors thesis." If the relationship is less formal, you could say something along the lines of. "I am the pastor of X Church. Jane Doe and her parents have been part of my congregation for three years and Jane participates in my Bible study group for young adults."

Be Specific

One of the first lessons writers learn is "show, don't tell." In other words, don't just say the subject is a loyal person or a kind person. Give specific examples of a time when he or she demonstrated loyalty or kindness. For instance, "John attended one of my classes even when he had a terrible chest cold because he had promised another student he would take notes for him that day" or "Jane shovels snow for the elderly widows in her neighborhood."

Be Brief

The people who read reference letters don't have time to make their way through a book. They want to get a good idea of the subject's character in the shortest amount of time possible. Although it's a good thing to give specific examples of the subject's behavior, as discussed above, avoid long and confusing stories. Don't repeat yourself. Keep the tone of your letter businesslike and matter-of-fact. At the end of the letter, provide your phone number and other contact information and encourage the person receiving the letter to get in touch with you if he or she wants additional information.

Stay Positive

Don't use the character reference letter to say bad things about the subject. Of course, it is also important that you be honest. If someone you don't like or trust asks you to act as a character reference, decline politely. You might say, "I don't feel I know you well enough" or "I wouldn't be comfortable doing that." A character reference letter can help people in a number of ways. If you follow these guidelines, you will be able to write an effective character reference letter.

Cite this page: N., Sam M.S., "How to Write a Character Reference Letter," in, January 26, 2016, (accessed August 7, 2022).