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). Recs have always been important but in the "reputation economy", they're even more valuable. So you want to get them right.

Steve developed a strategy called the What-Why-How™ Strategy to help kids write better papers, especially opinion papers. Turns out, it works just great for grown-ups, too. Here's what it looks like:

Completing the W-W-H

Always start in the WHAT column: what you think or the most important thing your reader should know. Then work across to the WHY and HOW. Your WHAT should be a complete sentence, but the rest of the strategy can be completed with phrases or placeholders. Here's an example:

Drafting from the W-W-H

The most obvious way to start drafting is with your WHAT. Putting your opinion or recommendation right up front helps readers know where you stand. Then just work across the document from WHY to HOW until you finish the section. In some cases, you can create one paragraph working all the way across. In others, each WHY/HOW or HOW might need to be its own paragraph. Here's an example:

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.

Give this a try next time someone asks you for rec on Linkedin or as part of their job search. Click here for tips on writing longer letters of recommendation using the WWH.



The What-Why-How Strategy © 1995 Teaching That Makes Sense, Inc. Used by permission.