UPDATED DECEMBER 2023

Possibly the only thing harder to write than your own resume and cover letter is a recommendation for someone else. And no, I'm not just talking about the recs you feel pressured to write for people you probably shouldn't be recommending in the first place. (Though what follows will definitely make that odious task less painful). Reccs have always been important but in the "reputation economy", they're even more valuable. So you want to get them right. That's why I use the Position-Rationale-Proof Strategy™.

How to plan a recommendation or reference

The Position-Rationale-Proof Strategy from The Word Factory

Completing the PRP

Start with your POSITION since that's the most important thing you want people to know. After that, move to the RATIONALE COLUMN. I like to work across, stating my reasoning and including the proof points, but you can also work down each column. Experiment to find the way that works best for your brain.

Drafting from the PRP

The most obvious way to start drafting is with your POSITION. Putting your opinion or recommendation right up front helps readers know where you stand. Then work across the document from RATIONALE to PROOF and then down. In some cases, you can create one paragraph working all the way across. In others, each RATIONALE or set of PROOF points might need to be its own paragraph.

Example recommendation or reference

Here's how I used the PRP to write a recommendation for a colleague who used me as a reference for a cool new gig.

How to write a letter of reference

And here's the result:

Susie is an excellent copy editor. She catches 5 percent more errors than our last copy editor, who was very good. She also knows AP Style cold and has a very strong grasp of spelling, punctuation, usage and grammar. Susie also is responsive and fast. Her turn-around time is very good. Each week, she copy edits an entire newspaper in an afternoon’s time. She always gives a reasonable estimate of the time needed – and usually beats it.

And just so you know, she got the job!

Try this the next time you have to provide a reference or recommendation for someone.

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