Monday, August 31, 2009

The Perfect Letter in 6 Quick & Easy Steps

This article will show you a simple, step-by-step formula to quickly and easily write a character reference letter that you can be extremely proud of.

If you've ever been asked to write a character reference letter, you know the anxiety that the request can create. The first thought is usually "how in the world do you even write one?" And this thought is quickly followed by such questions as "what do I say?" and "what if I say the wrong things and make the person look bad?"

The fear and unanswered questions can be very troubling. But, rest assured that if you know the person you're going to write about and use the information presented in this article, you won't have anything to worry about.

But understand this. If someone you're not comfortable with asks you to write them a character reference letter or if you can't think of enough good things to say about the person, then it will be better if you can find a way to get out of writing it. However, if you just can't say no to them or can't get out of doing it, well, just follow the information presented here as best you can.

So What Is A Character Reference Letter All About?

A character reference letter (also sometimes referred to as a letter of personal reference or personal recommendation) is used to recommend someone for a position within a company or for some capacity within an organization. But, the primary objective is to share how the person you're writing about possesses the character traits that make them best suited for the position they're seeking.

A character reference letter is different from an employee reference letter and even a letter of recommendation.

A character reference letter is usually written by someone you know outside of work which could be a friend, neighbor or relative. It can also be written by a person with whom you have shared an experience with, like a teammate or fellow volunteer. And because of this, the tone of the letter is usually more casual than a letter of recommendation.

Character reference letters generally describe a person's positive qualities. Meaning, all of the good things are written about them while leaving out any of the bad. You want to put the person you're writing about in the best light possible without going overboard.

Steps To Organizing and Writing Your Character Reference Letter

Character letters that have the greatest impact are personal and heartfelt. So, the more you can write in your own words, the better it will be. But know that although a character reference letter might be less formal, you shouldn't just randomly include words in it.

A character reference letter speaks of your relationship to the person you're referring and your assessment of that person's abilities. It provides evidence from your personal observation that the person meets certain criteria and the letter centers itself on specific attributes to prove its effectiveness. So to organize such a personal testament for someone, your letter must have a proper structure.

The letter should be relatively short, usually no more than one typewritten page. The paragraphs only need to be 2 to 4 sentences.

Just follow the 6 steps and you can write a winning character reference letter in no time!

First Things First - Get Prepared

The first thing you should do once you've decided to write a character reference letter is to do a little prep work. You need to get information from the person who has asked you to write the letter.

- If possible, get the name and/or title of the person to whom the letter should be directed.

- Get the address of where or to whom you should mail the letter.

- Depending on what you're writing the letter for, get the job description or qualifications needed for the position they're seeking.

- Make sure you know exactly by what date they need the letter completed or mailed.

- Think of at least 3 strong, positive qualities that the person possesses that relate to the position they're seeking.

Start Writing The Letter

STEP 1: Date & Address

The person reading the letter will want to know that the reference is current and not from 5 or 10 years ago so include the date. Also include your full address

STEP 2: Salutation

Start with a salutation. If you know the full name of the person the letter is being addressed to, use it. Using their first and last name will increase the professionalism, and therefore the credibility of the letter.

If the person being addressed is not known or if you're unsure who it is or if the letter is being used for general purposes, simply use "To Whom It May Concern". However, if you know the title of the person being addressed, you can write, for example, "Dear Human Resources Director" to personalize the letter a little more.

Avoid using "Dear Sir or Madam" as well as Miss, Mrs., Ms., or Mr.

After all, how much credibility would your letter have if you wrote to "Mrs. Sydney Smith" only to find out that "Sydney Smith" is a man?!

STEP 3: The Opening

The opening is usually a paragraph of only a sentence or two. The opening paragraph explains who you are, how long you've known the person you're referring, and how you know them.

STEP 4: The Body

The body is the largest part of the letter. It can be several paragraphs. This is where you make the case for the person you're referring by describing your experiences with them and giving examples of the person's outstanding qualities or abilities.

It's best that you construct the letter around 1 to 3 of the person's best qualities. And try to keep these qualities somewhat related.

For example, suppose the person you're writing about is friendly, honest, intelligent, creative, responsible, and hardworking. Now, suppose also their seeking a supervisory position. A supervisor should be, among other things, friendly (able to get along easily with others), honest, and responsible. So it's best to build your letter around these qualities.

The examples of these experiences provided should be focused and direct, making them very easy for the reader to grasp. Usually, a paragraph of no more than 3 sentences for each quality should be enough.

Two pieces of very strong advice: When writing a character reference letter, don't go overboard sharing the person's positive qualities and be honest.

You need to understand something. The person who will be reading your letter already assumes that the letter writer is "pumping up" the person they're referring. So, to keep your letter more credible, you should provide proof that your high opinion of the person is legitimate. You can do this by explaining very specific events concerning the person you're referring.

An effective way to keep the credibility in your letter without it sounding like a bunch of hype is by telling one or more short, believable stories that you know personally about the person. In doing this, the experiences should illustrate the person's positive qualities. They should be examples of how the person behaves.

In the event you mention more than one incident, divide them into 2 different paragraphs and end the paragraph with the quality that should be highlighted with each example.

STEP 5: The Closing

The closing is the last part and doesn't have to be long. It summarizes and reinforces your belief in the person you're referring, why you believe they meet the qualifications, and contains your actual recommendation.

This is where you can say something about yourself by mentioning your credibility as to what qualifies you to make an assessment of the person's ability by way of the type and duration of your relationship to them.

STEP 6: The Valediction

End your letter with a valediction or complimentary closing, such as "Sincerely".

Leave three spaces and type your name. Include your title if it will help the person you're writing the letter for.

Complete the letter with your signature.

On a side note, include contact information so the person reviewing your letter can use in the event more information is required. But, adding this information can sometimes be a judgment call.

Final Comments

The bottom line is a character reference letter should be recently dated, short and to the point, and very professionally presented.

If you have excellent penmanship, the letter can be handwritten, but even still, it would better if you used a word processing program.

It may not be the best decision to show your finished letter to the person whom you're writing for. Reason being is the person may ask you to change something or to include some other information. Or, they may even feel disappointed that you didn't "pump them up" enough.

Be sure to mail the letter without delay.

Save yourself a ton time by going to and getting FREE character reference letter templates as well as many other business and personal letter templates. Just add your personal touch to them and BINGO! You have the perfect instant letter right when you need it.

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