What to Avoid in a Recommendation Letter

pile of letters in envelopes


When it comes to recommendation letters, they play a crucial role in helping individuals secure various opportunities such as jobs, scholarships, or admissions to educational institutions. A well-written and thoughtfully crafted recommendation letter can make a significant difference in the recipient’s chances of success. However, it is equally important to be aware of the potential pitfalls and avoid certain common mistakes that can undermine the effectiveness of a recommendation letter. In this article, we will explore what to avoid in a recommendation letter, providing insights and guidelines to ensure your letters are impactful and successful.

What to Avoid in a Recommendation Letter

Writing a recommendation letter requires careful consideration of the content and tone. Here are some key aspects to avoid when crafting a recommendation letter:

Lack of Specificity

One common mistake in recommendation letters is being too vague or generic. It is essential to provide specific examples and instances that showcase the individual’s strengths, skills, and accomplishments. Instead of using generic phrases like “hardworking” or “team player,” provide specific instances where the individual demonstrated these qualities. This specificity adds credibility and depth to the recommendation letter.

Exaggeration or False Information

While it’s important to highlight the positive aspects of an individual, it is crucial to maintain honesty and integrity throughout the recommendation letter. Avoid exaggerating or providing false information about the individual’s skills, qualifications, or experiences. Remember, your recommendation is a reflection of your credibility as well. Stick to factual information and present an accurate representation of the individual’s abilities.

Lack of Balance

In recommendation letters, it is essential to strike a balance between highlighting the individual’s strengths and acknowledging areas of improvement. Presenting a one-sided and overly positive perspective may raise suspicions about the credibility of the letter. Offering constructive criticism or mentioning areas where the individual has room for growth shows a more comprehensive and genuine evaluation.

Irrelevant Information

When writing a recommendation letter, it’s crucial to stay focused on the purpose and relevance of the letter. Avoid including unrelated or unnecessary details that do not contribute to the recipient’s understanding of the individual’s qualifications. Instead, focus on specific experiences, achievements, or skills that directly relate to the desired opportunity.

Grammatical and Spelling Errors

A recommendation letter represents your professionalism and attention to detail. Grammatical and spelling errors can significantly undermine the impact of your letter. Make sure to proofread and edit your letter thoroughly, ensuring it is free from any errors. Consider using online tools or seeking assistance from a trusted colleague to ensure your letter is polished and error-free.

Inappropriate Language or Tone

Maintaining a professional tone and language is crucial when writing a recommendation letter. Avoid using casual or colloquial language that may diminish the letter’s credibility. Be mindful of the recipient and the context in which the recommendation letter will be evaluated. Use appropriate language and tone that aligns with the expectations of the recipient.

FAQs about What to Avoid in a Recommendation Letter

Q: Should I mention weaknesses or negative aspects of the individual in a recommendation letter?

A: While it’s important to present a balanced perspective, focus primarily on the individual’s strengths and positive attributes. However, if there are specific areas where the individual has shown improvement or growth, it can be valuable to mention them in a constructive manner.

Q: Can I use a template for recommendation letters?

A: While templates can serve as a helpful starting point, it’s important to customize the letter to reflect the individual’s unique qualities and experiences. Avoid using generic templates without personalizing the content.

Q: Is it necessary to include personal anecdotes in a recommendation letter?

A: Personal anecdotes can provide valuable insights into an individual’s character and abilities. However, make sure the anecdotes are relevant to the recipient’s evaluation and add value to the overall letter. Avoid unrelated or excessive anecdotes.

Q: Should I address any potential weaknesses or concerns about the individual in the recommendation letter?

A: It is not necessary to highlight every weakness or concern in the recommendation letter. Focus on providing a fair and balanced evaluation while primarily emphasizing the individual’s strengths. If there are significant concerns that might impact the recipient’s decision, it’s important to address them tactfully and constructively.

Q: Can I use humor or sarcasm in a recommendation letter?

A: While humor can add a personal touch to a recommendation letter, it should be used sparingly and with caution. Avoid sarcasm or humor that may be misinterpreted or undermine the professionalism of the letter.

Q: How long should a recommendation letter be?

A: Recommendation letters should be concise yet comprehensive. Aim for a length of one to two pages, focusing on the most relevant and impactful information. Avoid unnecessary repetition or lengthy explanations.


Writing a recommendation letter is a responsibility that should not be taken lightly. By avoiding common mistakes and adhering to best practices, you can ensure that your recommendation letters effectively portray the individual’s qualifications and contribute to their success. Remember to be specific, honest, and balanced in your evaluation while maintaining professionalism throughout the letter. With these guidelines in mind, you can confidently navigate the process of writing recommendation letters that make a positive impact.