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I read the article link. And I can’t help but think the author was preaching to the choir. “Letter of recommendation” literally entails recommending somebody for some job or position. So, some of the complaints about it were out of touch with commonsense. It’s pretty obvious, as the name literally suggests, letters of recommendations are supposed to persuade the committee(s) to hire or admit this person; it’s structure and content are necessarily positive due to the nature of it.

However, I do agree about the concern of exaggerating a positive image of the candidate. As such, perhaps instead of a “letter of recommendation” how about have a “letter of evaluation”? Evaluation includes both positive and negative aspects of the person. The cost, however, is that it will probably contribute to the low self-esteem of the candidates and probably make hiring even harder than it is now. The benefit is that it will provide a more truthful description of the candidate.

Since we’re not going to do away with letters of recommendation anytime soon, it’s best to read them carefully. Letter of recommendation tend to be rhetorical. Look for specific examples of why or how the candidate is good or competent in the letter. The person (academic) writing the recommendation letter should not commit elementary mistakes like using hyperboles, vagueness, emotional language, etc.

It’s not hard to tell whether a person is good at something. I use the words “thus” a lot because of my high school pre-calc teacher. He taught us in “premise-to-conclusion” form. I was already familiar was logical argumentation even though I didn’t know it at the time. It was made explicit once I actually took a philosophy class. Using basic logic to teach math was quite innovative and new I thought. It actually helped a lot.

Try to be less vague and back up your praise with evidence or concrete examples. If somebody did something great or innovative, people will mostly likely remember it.

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