Not too long ago my beautiful and jaw-gapingly-brilliant younger daughter, Hannah, was asked by a student of hers to write a letter of recommendation to the college to which she was applying. Hannah had been this young woman's scuba instructor over the summer and had developed a special rapport with her which led to the request for a letter.
It's flattering, and also a bit daunting, when you're 21 to be asked to write a college recommendation letter. And Hannah was feeling a bit overwhelmed by the task. She had never done it before and wasn't sure how to proceed. Worse, she was afraid that given it was a college recommendation letter that she had to sound "smart."
You know what smart means, yes? That you use long sentences and big words. Usually big words slightly incorrectly.
Hannah turned to me for help and I sent her this note in which I numbered what each paragraph in a letter should do.
1. Say who has asked for a letter, to what she is applying and that you're pleased to lend your enthusiastic support.
2. Say how long you've known the person and in what capacity.
3. Saying something unique about the person, something they did while in your sphere that attests to their character or highlights their attributes.
4. Wind up with an offer to speak over the phone on their behalf.
That Hannah took this outline and wrote an exemplary letter is not today's point.
Today's point is how to approach anything--a meeting, a music session, a talk with your boss, a piece of copy.
1. Organize your thoughts. Know what you're going to say and why.
2. Let each point build on the previous one.
3. Assert your values. And what you value. Let your personality in.
4. Offer to do more.
One more thing, if you can.
Keep it short.