How to write a reference letter

How to Write a Reference Letter (For Supervisors to Use as Template)

by Oluwatoowo Onifade

At one point or another, each one of us has at least once or twice needed a person to speak up for us, vouch for us or back our claims for one thing or another.

This vouching can either be as word of mouth or as a written piece – a reference letter.

In this article, I will guide you on how to write a reference letter for your students or employees – as a supervisor.

What is a Reference Letter?

A reference letter is a document in which a writer- usually a supervisor or superior- attests to the qualities, characteristics, and capabilities of the person being recommended in terms of that individual’s ability to perform a particular task or function. 

It is also known as a reference or letter of reference, recommendation letter, or a letter of recommendation (you could come across it as any of the above mentioned, it can also be called a job reference or employment reference in the case of a job).

It is a positive endorsement of a person’s skills and attributes, written by someone familiar with their work, character, and accomplishments.

A letter of recommendation from a teacher, supervisor, or mentor is essential when a person applies to a university or a job.

As a writer of the recommendation letter, you are seen as a witness to a university or company on the applicant’s behalf.

Importance of a Reference Letter

A recommendation letter explains why the company or graduate school should choose the applicant of the letter for a job, academic program, or volunteer role.

It helps to verify the skills, knowledge, attitudes, and attributes of an individual concerning the course or position. It is a better claim to all you say you are and have.

Read also: How to write a business report: Definition, format and samples.

Things to Note Before Writing a Reference Letter

A lot has been said about a reference letter for a student or employee and its importance, and you might be wondering how to write a reference letter or improve one.

Here is a guideline on how to go about that. 

  1. Understand what a reference letter is 

You might need to read over the request letter again from the beginning and be sure you understand it fully.

If you think you are not in the best position to write it, for one reason or another, there is no reason to be pitiful. You can decline.

This is the very first step to how to write a reference letter. 

  1. Get every information you need

If you have decided to write a  reference letter for a student or employee, you must be duly informed.

What type of recommendation letter is needed, what the person is applying for, where the person is applying to, what course or job, what school or company, is it a scholarship, etc. You need to be informed.

  1. Know the format

When writing a reference letter, enquire if there is a specified number of words (maximum), font, font size, or a particular format.

If no format is specified, please, your reference letter for student/ employee should not exceed a page.

Use a traditional font such as Times New Roman, Arial, or Calibri. The font size should be between 10 and 12 points, so it’s easy to read, and use single space. Make it a matter of duty  to proofread before you send. 

  1. Content of a recommendation letter

This is the most important part of writing a reference letter. What exactly is your recommendation letter made up of, and what should not be inside your reference letter.

Read also: Meeting minutes: Importance, essentials and how to write a good one.

How to Write a Reference Letter

Here is the content and how to write a recommendation letter:

  1. Address

Both your address and that of the recipient should be the first thing on your reference letter unless not required. 

  1. Salutation

When writing a reference letter for a student or employee, you should begin with “Dear Mr/ Ms. Last name”.

If you do not know the person’s name, use “Dear Hiring manager”, do not write Dear HR. If the applicant is applying for an academic endeavor, please, write “Dear Admission Committee”.

If you are writing a general letter, you could write “to whom it may concern” or start your letter with the first paragraph.

  1. First paragraph

The first paragraph of the reference letter explains your connection to the person you are recommending, how you know them, your relationship with them, how long you have known them, and why you are qualified to recommend them for the position or course. 

Also, mention the course or position they are applying for and at which school or company. 

A reference letter example would be, “I have been Oluwatoowo’s supervisor at ABC Company for the past five years. I am pleased to recommend him for the position of an internal auditor at WXY Company.”

Read also: How to write a professional cover letter for job application in Nigeria. 

  1. Body (second, third, and fourth paragraphs)

The middle paragraphs of the reference letter contain information on the person you are writing about, including why they are qualified and what they can contribute. 

If necessary, use more than one paragraph to provide details. Be specific and share examples of why this person is a qualified candidate.

Ensure that you describe the qualities and skills of the applicant that relates to what you are writing the recommendation letter for.

If it is a job reference, you can also request the applicant’s CV; it will help. An example is if the applicant is applying for the writer’s role, focus on the person”s writing skills and related abilities; if it is academics, focus on the person”s academic vigor and past endeavors.

  1. Closing

A grand opening without a great closing is as good as no opening. In your conclusion, offer to provide more information concerning the applicant and that you are open to answering further questions. 

Emphasize that you recommend the person without reservations.

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  1. Signature

End the letter with your signature (handwritten- sign after you have printed, even if you are to send a scanned copy), followed by your name, first name, first, last name, last, email, and phone number.

In case there is a need to put a call through, remember to put a country code in your phone number.


There you have it — a complete guideline on how to write a reference letter for a student or employee. 

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About Author

Avatar of Oluwatoowo Onifade
Oluwatoowo Onifade
I am Oluwatoowo Onifade
A graduate of English Language from Obafemi Awolowo University.
I am a content writer, fashion designer and a baker.
Belief- learning never ends. You can learn from anywhere, anytime and from anyone.
My hobbies are arithmetics and reading.

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