Tuesday, August 28, 2007

How Not to Write

I helped a friend proofread today a recommendation letter (via Google Talk), and I groaned about it because all the sentences were ugly, clunky, and entirely too vague for a recommendation letter. For one thing, such a letter should contain definite concrete examples of why they are such a great person. Another? Don't use the passive voice.

In the interest of providing concrete examples, I thought I'd post a version of the letter with all the identifying particulars left out to demonstrate how not to write.

I am writing this letter to give my highest recommendation in support of [Student Smith], a candidate for the [People Who Gave Us Money] Scholarship.

I have known Student for 12 years through a combination of ways. I’ve known him as a student through the [X] School District, with the [Random Church] Youth Group as his youth advisor, and last year he came to the [Academic Department] at the University as [department] student. In high school, he ranked one of the top students in the class all four years. This young man was always a favorite with all his high school teachers in the classroom, and he always worked hard with outside activities and projects.

[Student] has always exceeded all expectations as a young leader, an honor student who is devoted to his education, and I have every expectation that he will be successful with his life’s goals. Since coming to the department, he has established the interest to go beyond a remarkable level of interest and dedication to his college career proven by his GPA and ranking [nth] in the [level] class in the first semester. He has always been the type of student that shows leadership and sets a great example amongst his peers.I am confident that [Student] will provide considerable service again to any department and to the University and I am looking forward to seeing him develop here and as a future [career title].

In conclusion, I believe that [Student] is an energetic, well-respected and talented individual who represents the “best and brightest" of [academic discipline] students and is therefore worthy of your consideration.

Please contact me directly if you have any questions regarding my support for [Student Smith] and his application for the 2008 [People Who Gave Us Money] Scholarship.

I know where to start on this atrocity (and I already named a few ways), but I'm interested in what you think. How could this letter be stronger? I'll post a revision tomorrow.

1 comment:

the secret knitter said...

The main problem I see is that it reads like Recommendation Letter Template. Fill in the proper nouns and move on.

I couldn't help but skim it early on. It doesn't have to be turned into a creative writing assignment, but it needs to be more engaging. Get to the point faster too.