How to ask for a reference letter without being intimidated 

Requesting a reference letter is one of the most important steps a graduate student may take on his or her way to permanent academic employment, but it’s also one of the most perplexing. Asking a professor for a letter of recommendation, or several letters, can be stressful, and students are rarely taught proper etiquette. The procedure, fortunately, does not have to be daunting and as a result, we will discuss how to ask for a reference letter without being intimidated. 

This article is aimed at providing the important etiquette to ask for a reference letter without being intimidated. We will also discuss who to choose and when to approach them, samples of what to say, how to say and how to get ready. 

Featured inside 

  • introduction
  • Featured inside 
  • Understand your perspective referees
  • who to choose 
  • When to approach them
  • What to say and what to give them
  • How to get ready
  • Finally thought 

Understand your perspective referees

The first thing to remember is that most professors are aware that writing letters of recommendation is a necessary part of their job. Even better, most teachers take pride in being able to assist their students in achieving academic success, and they recognize that students may not know how to approach them in the most effective way. Some even go so far as to include instructions on their websites for students seeking letters. However, some people disagree, and if you’re one of them, here are some pointers on how to collect the references you need. 

Who should I choose?

Not every professor is a good referee, and some are better suited to specific types of cases than others. As a result, it’s critical to choose which instructors you’d like to get letters of recommendation from. These should ideally be faculty members who are familiar enough with you to write an honest appraisal without reserve. 

Although there is little specific study on this topic, anecdotal information from academics with selection committee experience suggests that you should select referees based on three characteristics (in order of importance):

  • How well did I do in the professor’s class(es)/as a TA or RA? 
  • What is the professor’s knowledge of me and/or my work, and how current is it? 
  • Will the selecting committee consider the professor’s reputation? 

Because professors are expected to rank their students’ past and future talents in any letter of recommendation, it’s pointless to ask for a recommendation from someone who can’t declare that your work is exceptional. Convincing letters also give the reader the impression that the professor is familiar with the student. As a result, more recent information is more reliable. Finally, a professor who is well-known by the committee has a higher level of credibility.

When should I Approach them?

It’s time to start thinking about how to best ask for a reference letter once you’ve identified these folks inside your department (and possibly across campus). Make a list of prospective referees five to six weeks before the letter is due, and include at least one or two more names than you require (in case professors are less impressed than you are with your record or simply are not available to write). 

When you’ve determined who to approach, see if any of the professors have policies regarding reference letters. If they do, you should follow their instructions. If not, approach your teachers in the manner with which you are most comfortable. Make an appointment to speak with a possible referee if they have always been slow to respond to emails. A well-written email is ideal if you know a professor loves to work from home. 

What should I say to them and what should I give them? 

When requesting a reference letter, one of the first things you should do is make sure your professor is aware that you require one. At some time during the semester, this is commonly achieved by sending an email or a note. An example of a typical email would be:

“Dear Professor X,

I am applying for a postdoctoral fellowship in bioinformatics and would like to request your recommendation. I hope you are well and look forward to seeing you next week.”


This is a polite way of letting your professor know that you need their support and will be counting on them for help. It also gives them an opportunity to reply if they are busy or unable to write a letter for you.

Make certain that each professor you include in your initial approach knows who you are; realizes that you need a good reference; understands why you need a letter from them in particular; recognizes that you have a deadline. Have in mind that a reluctant recommendation can be worse than no letter at all.

Top Recommendations

How should I get ready?

Be prepared to provide any referee with a package of information about you immediately. Make sure that you have all of the necessary materials ready when asking for your letter(s). You should have already gathered all of your transcripts and copies of any publications relevant to the position in question. If this is not possible, then make sure that you ask for anything else that may be needed (such as GRE scores) as soon as possible so that it does not become an issue later on in the process.

Some of the importance document you provide should include:

  • An updated resumé or curriculum vitae 
  • A polished draft of your statement of purpose or research proposal for inclusion in your application. 
  • Unofficial transcripts of your academic history, along with an explanation of any anomalies (poor grades, missing years, etc. ); 
  • Any paperwork that the referee will be required to complete. 
  • Fill in all of your personal information ahead of time, as well as as much of the professor’s as feasible; 
  • a separate sheet with your personal contact information;


You should find out how your lecturer prefers you to collaborate with them. To do so, ask your referees whether they’d like a writing sample and/or a copy of the professor’s remarks on your work, as well as for you to mail the letters. A week before the letter is due, send a reminder note or call. This data will assist you in learning more about your referees. Furthermore, always inform your professor if the application was successful. If you plan on requesting more letters, give a yearly update on your progress. There are no more tokens of gratitude required, but if you insist, a kind, thorough email that your referee can include in his or her teaching dossier, is a good idea.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Share via
Copy link
Powered by Social Snap