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Letters of Reference - Defined

Letters of Reference - Definition

As it states on the main page of this Web site, a letter of reference is normally more general in nature than a letter of recommendation and IS NOT addressed to a specific requestor. Typically, "letters of reference" are addressed as; "To Whom It May Concern" or "Dear Sir/Madam".

The most common letters of reference are:

  • Employment-related - general reference letter

  • College-related - general reference letter

  • Character reference letter - general-purpose personal reference

  • General reference letter - various subjects

Employment-Related Reference Letter

These are more general letters that are often requested by employees when they leave the employ of an organization. Normally factual in nature, they are usually addressed, "To Whom It May Concern" and provide basic information such as: work history, dates of employment, positions held, educational credentials, etc.

These reference letters sometimes contain a general statement (as long as a positive one can be made), about the employee's work record with the company that they are leaving. Employees often submit these letters with job applications in the hope that the letter will reflect favorably on their chances for the new position.

College-Related Reference Letter

These letters are very similar to college-related letters of recommendation, EXCEPT that they are not addressed to a specific individual or requestor. In the college and university context they are typically addressed to officials such as: Director, Admissions or Chairman, Scholarship Selection Committee, etc.

These college-related letters can be as specific as a recommendation letter when it comes to describing the subject/person about which the letter is written, but they are more general/generic in terms of targeted addressees. That's because at the time they are written it is often not clear exactly to which businesses or institutions they will be sent. For example, a person plans to apply to a number of colleges but when the letter is written, the specific colleges are unknown.

Character Reference Letter

Character reference letters are always written about a specific person by someone who knows them fairly well, and usually focus on a person's general personality characteristics. They are often used in business and community service situations. Typically, a person will ask for a general character reference letter when they are leaving a company or service organization.

The focus of character reference letters are such personality characteristics as: honesty, integrity, trustworthiness, dependability, work ethic, values, community service, and other widely accepted indicators of individual character attributes. These letters are almost always used by people who provide personal and domestic services, where trust is an important factor.

These letters are typically addressed in a general way using "To Whom It May Concern" or "Dear Sir/Madam".

General Purpose Reference Letters

These reference letters deal with general situations that are not covered by the other reference letters described above. Typically, they address special situations such as tenant to landlord letters, business customer references, pet owner testimonials, etc. These letters are always addressed in a general way using "To Whom It May Concern" or "Dear Sir/Madam".

Letters of Reference - Typical Situations

The following link goes to a page that contains a list of some of the more typical situations for which "letters of reference" are required.
Letters of Reference - Typical Situations

Letters of Reference - Writing Resources

This Web site contains various resource pages designed to help you write your own letter of reference, should you wish to write one yourself. Following are links to those resources:
Letters of reference - Writing Resources

Letters of Reference - Writing Assistance

If you need to write your own reference letter, or if you have been asked by someone else to write one on their behalf, given the tricky and critical nature of these letters, you might want to consider getting some expert help.

It just so happens that the Webmaster of this Web site, Shaun Fawcett, has written what is considered by many to be the definitive number one resource in the world on how to write ALL types of reference and reference letters. That's right, it's the number one resource on the planet, on this particular subject!

It's called Instant Recommendation Letter Kit - How To Write Winning Letters of Recommendation. In addition to extensive how-to information, that writing kit eBook contains 79 real-life templates of actual, fully-formatted letters that you can download immediately onto your hard drive and use as you wish. You can check it out at the following link:
Instant Recommendation Letter Kit

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