You have been asked to write a character reference for someone going to court because this person has broken the law. A character reference.
At some point in life, you’re almost certainly going to have to write a reference letter for someone. It might be a former employee or student, or even a family friend. Here’s what you need to know about the purpose of reference letters and how to write the most effective letter possible.
Note: I will be using “candidate” to refer to the person who the reference letter is about, “you” to refer to the person writing the reference letter, and “recipient” to refer to the person receiving the letter. I’ll emphasise here, though, that reference letters are not only for job or academic “candidates”, it’s just a handy term to use to keep this article straightforward!
A reference letter is usually written to testify to a person or (occasionally) a company’s skills, character and/or achievements. Sometimes a reference letter is known as a “recommendation letter”. It is a formal document, and should be typed and written in a serious and business-like style.
Reference letters are used in a wide variety of situations; there is no definitive list that covers all possible scenarios. The most common examples are:
If you are approached and asked to write a reference letter for a job candidate, a student or a company, consider whether you can legitimately do so. A reference letter is a formal document, and it is crucial that you do not lie or fudge the truth in it, or there could be legal repercussions. If someone wants a reference letter from you:
The exact structure of a reference letter will differ slightly depending on the type of reference it is, but this is a good basic outline:
If you are writing a reference letter for an academic course, you will need to confirm the person’s academic grades.
Things to avoid
Make sure that you avoid:
There are a number of good templates for reference letters available on Business Balls. I’ve included one below, which would be appropriate for a general-purpose reference – if you were writing a reference in your capacity as the candidate’s former employer, you would need to include more specific details:
To whom it may concern
I confirm that I have known (name) for (number) years.
(State relationship – social, business, working together in some other capacity, club, activity, project, etc.)
At all times I have found (name/him/her) to be (state characteristics – eg, dependable, reliable, hard-working, conscientious, honest, peace-loving, courteous, etc – to be as helpful as possible think about what the reader will most prefer to see, in terms of satisfying concerns, or seeing evidence of relevant required skills or characteristics).
I’m happy to provide further information if required. (optional)
Yours faithfully, etc.
You can find examples of full reference letters on About.com’s “job searching” section. They list letters appropriate for a variety of different situations: here’s one from a previous employer in support of a job candidate:
To Whom it May Concern:
I highly recommend Jane Doe as a candidate for employment. Jane was employed by Company Name as an Administrative Assistant from 2002 – 2005. Jane was responsible for office support including word processing, scheduling appointments and creating brochures, newsletters, and other office literature.
Jane has excellent communication skills. In addition, she is extremely organized, reliable and computer literate. Jane can work independently and is able to follow through to ensure that the job gets done. She is flexible and willing to work on any project that is assigned to her. Jane was quick to volunteer to assist in other areas of company operations, as well.
Jane would be a tremendous asset for your company and has my highest recommendation. If you have any further questions with regard to her background or qualifications, please do not hesitate to call me.
If you are still unsure what best to include in the reference letter, imagine yourself in the position of the candidate’s prospective employer, or of the panel reading his/her academic application. What information would they need to know? What qualities would they like their candidates to have? Obviously, you should never lie or mislead in a reference letter, but you should try to focus on areas which will give the recipient the most useful information possible about the candidate.
If you’re in the position of requiring a reference from a past employer or from someone who taught you at school or university, then you need to approach them in an appropriate way.
“Appropriate” might be quite formal or quite informal, depending on your relationship with them. For instance, if you’re approaching a lecturer who taught you along with dozens of other students and who does not know you well, it’s appropriate to be quite formal; if you’re approaching your former line manager, who you shared nights out and weekends away with for years, then being formal would seem strangely standoffish.
In a fairly formal context, you might write something like this:
I hope all is going well (at their company / in their department).
I’m applying for (give brief details of the role or position you’re applying for). Would you be able to provide a reference letter for me? I’d be very grateful. You can send it to (add the name and contact details here)
With thanks in advance,
If you’re approaching someone who you’re on very friendly terms with, it’s really up to you to decide what to say.
Whatever the situation, it often makes sense to mention particular points that it would be helpful for the reference to cover (e.g. “The company is especially keen to know about my experience with summarising complex information quickly, as that will be a major part of the role.”)
It can also be helpful to include details that the person writing the letter may not be aware of. For instance, if you took part in significant extra-curricular activities at university alongside your studies, you may want to mention this.
When you’re writing a reference letter, you should:
If you’re asking someone to provide a reference letter, you should approach them in an appropriate way, and give them the information they need in order to write you a good reference.
For each question, select the correct answer.
Want to improve your English in five minutes a day? Get a subscription and start receiving our writing tips and exercises daily!
Read the guidance to understand what you should include when asked to provide a reference for someone.
An effective reference letter could mean the difference between a candidate's acceptance or rejection. You may be a person requesting a reference letter, or you may be a person writing a reference letter. In either case, the information in this article can make both requesting and writing the letter easier. A reference letter is essentially the same as a recommendation letter but the reference letter is sent to an unknown employer, whereas a recommendation letter is sent to a known employer. Primarily, a reference letter is used to introduce a person and vouch for his integrity, character, and abilities.
This article discusses:
Are you the right person to write a reference letter? If you are asked to write a letter of reference, you may need to discuss this subject with the requester. Can you honestly write positive things about the person who has requested the letter? If not, you should bow out gracefully at the beginning. On the other hand, if you feel you qualify, brainstorm with the requester so you can write what he or she wishes to be said, and be sensitive to his/her deadlines.
Have the person give you a list of accomplishments, organizations that he/she belongs to, or any other relevant information. It might surprise you to see how much that person has done outside of your personal contact with them. This can also help you get a more accurate picture of the individual. Having the person give you a copy of his/her resume is an easy way to have this information at hand. Keep in mind, however, that you can only vouch for what you know from your own personal experience with the individual.
Here are some easy guidelines (in no specific order):
Here are some additional things to keep in mind:
Appearance. Type your reference letter. Your reference letter casts a reflection on both you and the candidate. Appearance may even determine if it will be read or not. Print the letter on good quality ink-jet paper.
Specifics. Concentrate on several different aspects of the person. Be specific when you refer to his/her skills, attitude, personal attributes, contributions, performance, growth, etc. during the time period you have known the candidate.
Attributes. The National Association of Colleges and Employers compiled the following list of attributes. They can be exceptional topics to address as you describe the candidate:
Intangible qualities. The ASCUS Annual listed the following intangible qualities as important when evaluating teaching candidates—a good list to consider for other vocations as well:
You have been asked to write a character reference for someone going to court because this person has broken the law. A character reference is a letter and includes your opinion of this person.
The magistrate or judge will read the character reference before deciding what penalty to give.
The reference will be more helpful if you have known the person for a long time or you have had lots of contact with them. You must also be of good character and not have been in serious trouble with the police before.
Write the character reference so it is formal but speaks honestly about this person.
Below are questions that the magistrate or judge usually wants to know about. You do not have to answer every question in your reference. Only comment on things you actually know about the person.
Who you are
Your relationship to the person
Your knowledge of the person’s charges
Write the reference like a letter. Type it up and put it on a letterhead if you have one.
See the example character reference (below).
Give the reference to the person going to jail. Do this well before the court date. Or send it to their lawyer. You can also call the lawyer to discuss the reference.
14 February 2013
The Presiding Magistrate
Melbourne Magistrates’ Court
[Who you are]
My name is Peter Johnson of 1 Temple Court, Keilor Park, architect.
[Your relationship to the person charged]
I have known Jane Citizen of 123 Alphabet Street, South Melbourne, retail assistant, for five years. We used to work together.
[Your knowledge of the person’s charges]
I understand that Jane Citizen has to attend court about a theft charge. She is very upset about the charge and I believe she is sorry for what she has done.
[Your knowledge of what is going on in the person’s life]
She has been under stress due to her mother’s difficult battle with cancer. Even though she has been charged with theft I would continue to trust Jane with my money and belongings.
[Your opinion of the person’s character]
I can say that in all the time I have known her, Jane Citizen has been a decent, hardworking and trustworthy person. I believe any behaviour she displayed that caused her to be charged with theft was a one-off event.
Find out how you can get help with going to court for a criminal offence.
Learn how to write a reference letter. Professional writer Larry Barkdull shares must-know reference letter writing tips.
Citations indicate that you have used external sources in your text. Reference styles contain rules on how to format the citations. You should always use the style recommended by your supervisor or teacher. Sometimes you have a free choice, and it is then important that you are consistent in the style you have decided to use. KI have produced reference guides for APA and Vancouver, the two styles used by most programs at KI. These guides can help you format the citations correctly.
The most important reasons why you use citations in an academic text are that:
Reproducing something verbatim and not crediting the source is cheating and can lead to negative consequences. Some examples of what is regarded as cheating by KI's Disciplinary Committee are:
A reference appears in the reference list or bibliography and provides enough information for the reader to find the source (title, author, year and other details depending on the type of source).
In your text, it is important that you show from where you have taken information that originate from other sources. The rules of the reference styles govern the format of the citations in the text. However, you also need to integrate the citations in your own text and put them in context. In The Academic Phrasebank (produced by the University of Manchester), you find useful examples.
APA (American Psychological Association) is a reference style commonly used in psychology and health sciences. KIB's reference guide to APA is intended primarily for students at Karolinska Institutet. References are to be considered as recommendations based on APA 6.
KIB's reference guide for APA
Citations in the text include the authors' surnames and dates. You can use author and date in parentheses or mention the author or authors in the sentence and add only the date in parentheses.
... Rodriguez (2014).
Rodriguez (2014) shows that ...
In the text, APA citations have the same format regardless of the type of source. A citation that refers to a book, article or report will contain the same information, author(s) and date. Citations with different numbers of authors will on the other hand differ a little bit from each other. Read more about how to handle special situations, for example more than one citation in the same parentheses and more than one reference by the same author with the same date. On this page you will also find instructions on how to insert page number(s) in the citation. This is mandatory if you use quotations.
In the reference list you should include author, title and other information that makes it possible to find and identify the reference. The references in the reference list will look different for different kinds of sources. You will find templates and examples in the reference guide.
The reference list is sorted alfabetically after the first author, editor or other entry term. Read more about how to sort the references in the reference list. The reference list is placed in the end of the document, before appendices.
The complete manual for the APA style is only available in print, but you will find answers for many questions here:
Vancouver is a reference style established by the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors. It is commonly used in the field of medicine. KIB's reference guide to Vancouver is intended primarily for students at Karolinska Institutet. References are to be considered as recommendations based on International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE)s Sample References and Citing Medicine, an e-book on the Vancouver Style by National Library of Medicine.
In the reference list you should include author, title and other information that makes it possible to find and identify the references. You will find templates and examples for different kinds of sources in the reference guide. The reference list is placed in the end of the document, before appendices.
KIB's reference guide for Vancouver
In the text you should use numbers in parentheses. More information and examples are found below.
|The citation is listed with numbers in the text.|
|The citations are numbered sequentially.|
|The reference list is numbered and is arranged in the order the citations appear in the text.|
|The numbers are enclosed in parentheses.|
|Square brackets and superscript numbers can also appear in the Vancouver style.|
|Only one author is written out in the text, followed by et al.|
|Example: In Sweden, about 30,000 cases of lung cancer are diagnosed annually (1). Between 1986 and 2005, the number of cases among women has increased by about 3% per year, while the increase among men has stopped (2). The differences between the sexes is connected to the differences in smoking habits in men and women, respectively. Because it takes a long time for lung cancer to develop, these changes reflect smoking habits of many years ago. Smith et al. have indicated a delay of an average of 30 years (3).|
More than one citation
|Each reference appears in the reference list only once, and when a reference is cited more than once, the same number is used as when the it was cited for the first time.|
|If more than one reference is cited at the same time, they are separated by a comma and a space.|
|If more than two sequential references are cited, they are written with a hyphen in-between them.|
|Example: Among non-smokers, lung cancer is significantly more common among women than men. Fifteen per cent of all women who get lung cancer have never smoked, while five per cent of men who suffer from lung cancer are non-smokers (1, 3). It is still not clear why this is. Several studies have investigated women's exposure to known risk factors for lung cancer, such as radon (4, 5) and passive smoking (4, 6-8), but no statistically significant link has been found. Studies investigating the link between hormone replacement therapy and lung cancer have arrived at contradictory conclusions (5-7).|
Placement of citations
|Citations are placed next to the statement they refer to and before the full stop when they are placed at the end of the sentence.|
|If superscript numbers are used, these are placed after the full stop when the citation is at the end of the sentence.|
|Example: Lung cancer is more common among female smokers than among male smokers (1), and a possible cause of this is a greater sensitivity to the carcinogenic effect of cigarette smoke among women. Several studies come to the conclusion that women have a greater sensitivity (9–11), while Bain et al., in a large cohort study, could not demonstrate any difference in sensitivity between the sexes (12).|
More than one statement with the same source
|If an entire paragraph or more than one statement have the same source, this can be shown in the text and the citation only needs to be included once.|
|Example: Studies indicate that lung cancer may grow more slowly in women. Lindell et al. (13) showed that 85% of the lung tumours that took the more than 400 days to double in volume were found in women. This result is a reflection of the higher incidence among women of forms of cancer with a slower disease progression such as alveolar cell carcinoma and adenocarcinoma, but Lindell et al. found that the time it took for the volume to double was greater in women, regardless of the histological type of lung cancer. Their study also showed that …|
|If you use quotations in your text, you should give information about page number(s). Include the page number(s) after the citation in the same parentheses . Use the abbreviation p./pp. for page number(s).|
|Example: "Evidence based medicine is the conscientious, explicit, and judicious use of current best evidence in making decisions about the care of individual patients. (1, p. 71)|
There are examples for different kinds of sources on the web in the reference guides for APA and Vancouver. Please note that other kinds of sources than those under the heading Web might be relevant, for example reports (Rapporter) and legislation and other kinds of governmental publications (Offentligt tryck). Choosing the right type of source and deciding what information to include in the reference can be difficult. You are welcome to ask for advice and to discuss possible solutions in KIB-labb.
If you use a published dataset you should cite it in the same way as you cite other sources. The following information should be incldued:
You will find templates and examples in our guides to APA and Vancouver.
There is no exact standard for how the source of images with unrestricted licences are to be stated, aside from always providing the name of the creator or copyright holder. If you would like to use material with a Creative Commons licence, it is recommended that your acknowledgement includes:
Example of how a citation might look for a Creative Commons image.
The copyright holder may often give permission for the image to be used and distributed to a certain extent, for example in a non-commercial context. If you have been permitted to use an image in a certain context, as a rule you must state it's source. There is no exact standard for how the source is to be stated; according to the Swedish Copyright Act (1960:729), "the copyright holder must be stated to the extent required by good practice." What is considered good practice depends on how and when the image will be used. It is best to look at how the copyright holder is usually identified in similar contexts.
You find examples on how to refer to different types of images in the reference guides for APA and Vancouver (choose Sound & Images). There are more examples on APA references on the APA Style website
A comprehensive collection of examples of Vancouver citing is found on the website of the Auckland University of Technology, New Zealand.
Before submitting your assignment you should always check the references, both the citations in the text and how you have formatted them in the reference list. This checklist might be helpful. Please note that you need to use the guide for APA and Vancouver for detailed information about the format of the citations and references.
Finding referencing tricky? Ask us in the library what the citations and references should look like!
Writing a student's reference doesn't need to be daunting – or a chore. UCAS expert, Charlie, shares some tips on getting it right.