Reference Letter Checklist
A brief guide for faculty members who are writing letters of support/recommendation for students and postdoctoral fellows.
Most reference letters/letters of appraisal will be read by multi-disciplinary selection committees. It’s important to keep that audience in mind, and ensure that your letter speaks to the applicant’s specific research and skills, but is also comprehensible to a general academic audience.
The following is a checklist to help you ensure that you’ve covered the most important components of your evaluation. In general, it’s best to distribute the weight you give to each component mostly among the first two broad categories (the candidate and the research plan), but do plan to address the research dissemination plans and how the applicant and their research fit within the Faculty, where applicable.
Note: Requirements will vary for each agency and/or position. These categories are intended as a guideline only. Contact a grants facilitator if you have any questions!
*The first thing you should do is to establish whether any conflict of interest exists. Don’t hesitate to ask for guidance if you’re in any doubt.
Briefly: how you know the student, the nature of your work with them
Background & Preparation
Written and Oral Skills
Proficiency in languages needed for the research (if applicable)
The originality and significance of the research
The theoretical framework and its relevance to the field
The research methodology
Students who will be trained, where applicable
Planned venues for publication and other dissemination
Planned audience – within and beyond the Academy
Likely impact and outcomes of the research
Services and support the applicant will receive
The appropriateness of the institution that will award the degree (where applicable)
Infrastructure, research support available, etc.
Matching funds or in-kind contributions to be provided, where applicable
Reasons why the applicant and his/her research are a good fit within the Faculty
Guidelines for Completing the Letter of Appraisal (SSHRC)
Checklist for Reviewers (Economic and Social Sciences Research Council, UK)
(checklist for those writing external assessments, but quite helpful)
GSAS Guide for Teaching Fellows on Writing Letters of Recommendation (Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Harvard)
(Geared towards writing letters of recommendation for students; contains some helpful sample sentences)