How To Write a Positive Letter of Recommendation (With Samples)

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Has a student, volunteer, or employee asked if you would be willing to provide a recommendation letter for them? If you agreed to the recommendation letter request, you may be wondering exactly how to write a letter that will impress recipients.

Recommendations can carry weight in a job candidate's application, so it's important to write an effective letter of support. Your letter will support the applicant's candidacy and can help them secure an offer.

Discover what elements to include in your note to make it successful, and see two sample recommendation letters that you can use for inspiration as you write your own recommendation letter

What To Include in a Recommendation Letter

Effective recommendation letters contain the “who, why, where, when, what, and how” (five Ws and How) that you may be familiar with from journalism. Modified for business correspondence, this means you should explain:

  • Who you are writing for
  • Why you are willing to write on the person's behalf
  • Where and when you worked with the person you're recommending
  • What is so special about the person (their unique strengths)
  • How they demonstrated these special qualities to you

The most powerful letters provide specific examples and descriptions of the talents and contributions of the person you’re recommending. Like any good piece of writing, these letters should show how an individual shines rather than just stating it.


If you don't believe you can provide a strong endorsement, it's better to politely turn down the request for a reference.

How To Write a Recommendation Letter

Before you start your letter, make a list of the strengths you want to include. Then provide examples of how the candidate exemplifies those qualities.

  1. Make a list of strengths: As you sit down to write your letter, think of what has impressed you about the person you are recommending. Try to come up with at least three unique strengths.
  2. Provide examples of those strengths: Then, come up with specific examples of how the person displayed these characteristics. Are they, for example, reliable? If so, how have they demonstrated this? By perfect attendance? Or, if they are detail-oriented, did they show this through their consistently error-free monthly reports?
  3. Write your letter: This will be easier once you've generated examples of each of the individual's strengths.

Tips for Writing a Reference Letter

Get the details: Ask the person you’re recommending to provide examples of the kinds of skills, abilities, and experience that will be especially valuable in the job for which they’re applying. If possible, ask for a copy of the job description and their resume, so that you can be sure your memory is accurate.

Review examples: Review recommendation letter samples before writing your own letter. Be sure to customize your final product so that it accurately reflects their strengths and skills.

Proofread and edit: Have a trusted friend proofread your final product, paying special attention to the spelling of company names and personal names (of supervisors, coworkers, etc.). 

Sample Positive Recommendation Letters

Here is a sample letter demonstrating the “5Ws and How” at work in a positive letter of recommendation for a student. Download the letter template (compatible with Google Docs and Word Online) or see below for more examples.

Screenshot of a sample reference letter

Positive Recommendation Letter Sample #1

Jane Evans 
123 Main Street, Anytown, CA 12345 

March 21, 2022

College Scholars Program 
University of Tennessee 
123 Business Rd. 
Business City, NY 54321

To Whom It May Concern:

It is with much enthusiasm that I recommend Joe Bloom for inclusion in the College Scholars Program at the University of Tennessee.

I was Joe’s instructor for multiple English classes during his four years at Morristown-Hamblen High School, including AP English his junior year. In our classes, Joe displayed a level of creativity, wit, and analytical thought that is quite rare among high school students.

His writing and research skills are truly phenomenal—for his major essay project in AP English, he researched and wrote a remarkable study of visual imagery in the works of Edgar Allan Poe.

Joe’s wide-ranging intellect is such that he would be bored by most freshman- and sophomore-level Liberal Arts courses. He is ready to assume and excel in upper division classwork, and possesses the self-motivation to successfully create and execute an independent course of honors study.

Joe’s academic strengths are complemented by his demonstrated leadership skills. He was our band’s drum major for two years and served as Vice President of the Student Council and Editor of our high school yearbook. He is also very active in his church and in the Sierra Student Coalition.

Please let me know if I can provide any more information to strengthen Joe’s candidacy for the College Scholars Program.

He has a very special spark, and I trust he will go far in making our world a better place.


Jane Evans (signature hard copy letter)

Jane Evans

Positive Recommendation Letter Sample #2

John Smith
123 Main Street, Anytown, CA 12345

March 17, 2022

ZBS Community Hospital
123 Business Rd.
Business City, NY 54321

To Whom It May Concern:

Kathleen Doe volunteered for four years in the Women's Health ward at ZBD Community Hospital, where I am head nurse. During this time, she was a dependable volunteer who never missed a shift.

Kathleen was an asset to the hospital. She was always cheerful and willing to assist with any task. In addition, Kathleen was motivated and interested in learning. To this end, she often accompanied our care teams on their rounds so that she knew the status and needs of each individual patient.

Kathleen is relocating due to family circumstances, and, unfortunately, we will no longer be lucky enough to have her services.

She will be missed and I highly recommend her to any future employer or volunteer organization.


John Smith, R.N.

More Recommendation Letter Samples

Here are more letter examples for academic and professional recommendations:

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  1. Purdue Online Writing Lab. "How to Write a Lead."

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