Recommendation Inflation

Letters of recommendation are a standard requirement of most academic and program admission applications, and most people have either written one or had one written for them in their lives. But are letters of recommendation an honest appraisal of the candidates and applicants that they describe?

In The Chronicle of Higher Education, Howard Gardner argues in a blog post that letter-writers can rarely be frank about the flaws or shortcomings of candidates for fear of harming their chances of admission on employment. This leads to “letter inflation,” in which most if not all recommendations have a positive slant. These letters, then, have lost their usefulness as truthful descriptions.

What can the writers of letters of recommendation do about this situation? Gardner offers a few points of advice, including refusing to complete rank orderings and checklists along with a letter, making clear and descriptive statements about the subject, and being prepared to say “no” when asked to write a letter for people you do not know well.

Click here to read the piece via the Chronicle.

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