The Confusion Around Reference Letters

The Confusion Around Reference LettersI recently needed to write a Court Character Reference Letter for a young man very close to me, who had gotten in trouble with the law. I went to the Internet in search of some information to help me write my letter. I was blown away at how little information there was on the subject. With so little information available regarding this subject, it is easy to see why there is a great deal of confusion about the many different types of reference letters.

Reference letters are often referred to in many different ways, including the following:

  • Recommendation Letters
  • Letters of Recommendation
  • Reference Letters
  • Letters of Reference
  • Commendation Letters
  • Performance Evaluation Letters

So what’s the Problem?




The biggest problem here, obviously, is that these terms are often used interchangeably. For example, people often throw around the term “Recommendation Letter” when what they really need is a “Character Reference Letter” – without really understanding that there is a HUGE difference between the two.

If someone asks for a recommendation letter, and the person being asked has a totally different concept of what is being requested you’ve got a big problem! The contents of a reference letter for someone seeking employment will be much different than a reference letter for someone seeking college admission. Both of these will be much different than a general character reference letter.

Each type of reference letter has a different audience and a different purpose. It simply stands to reason that the content of the three will be much different.

It’s critical for both the writer and the requester to be VERY CLEAR about what type of reference letter is required so that the result is what is really required.

The truth of the matter is that there are only three main types of reference letters:

  1. Employment Recommendation Letters
  2. Academic Recommendation Letters
  3. Character Reference Letters

Good Luck!

Lyle MacPherson
Author
How to Write a Great Reference Letter

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