Requesting a recommendation letter can be intimidating. You’re asking someone to do you a significant favor, and want to simultaneously make sure that they are entirely aware of what your application is about and inconvenience them as little as possible. This thinking—though understandable—needs to be abandoned. Chances are, if you’re asking someone to write you a recommendation letter, they like you and will be happy to help. It is your responsibility to ensure that they have all the information they need to write an effective and relevant recommendation.
Following this checklist can help answer the question of how to ask for a letter of recommendation and make sure you keep your recommender informed and keep the process of writing your letter of recommendation as easy as possible.
Sending an email with an initial request and then following up by phone a day or two later is generally a good approach. This allows the recommender time to read and process the request, after which you may speak to them and elaborate on the application.
Be as detailed as possible. When speaking to your recommender it is crucial to fully convey what you hope to achieve through your application. This will allow them to tailor their letter to your application, which will maximize its purpose and add weight to your application. Discuss your long term goals—if applicable—and make sure they understand why you are doing this and what you hope to gain from this experience.
Follow up by email and thank them for taking the time to do this for you. It is important to let your recommender know that you appreciate their contribution to your application. Further, it is helpful to outline your discussion so they have an easy point of reference when they write your letter.
Take care to ensure timely submission of your letter of recommendation. Submitting recommendations on time shows promptness and willingness to contribute on your behalf and can also help expedite your application process. If you feel as though your recommender is procrastinating or has forgotten your letter of recommendation, do not be afraid to email or call to remind them. Be tactful when reminding them of deadlines, and if you continue to have trouble getting them to submit, refer the issue to the organization to which you are applying, so that they can send them reminders as well. Oftentimes, they just need a little push to get things going.
Walking through these steps can greatly aid in pulling together a positive and effective letter of recommendation. Keep in mind that someone has taken on a significant amount of responsibility related to your life, and respect that they cannot always drop everything in their lives to take care of your letter. Give adequate time and notice when asking for a letter of recommendation, and be sure to express your gratitude upon receiving one.