Poorly Written Letter of Rec

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Poorly Written Letter of Rec

by cfoley » Mon Oct 06, 2008 7:48 pm
My current supervisor (who is not a native English speaker) emailed me a copy of one of the letters of rec he wrote for me, and while the letter happens to be very complimentary, it's also really poorly written. It's pretty much a mess; it doesn't always answer the questions directly (although it does hit on all the major points over the course of the letter), there are strangely worded phrases, odd uses of punctuation, a few grammar mistakes, some repetition, and a non-sequitor or two.

Will admissions committees generally be able to look past the writing and consider the content of the letter, or will a poorly written letter get in the way too much?

His name does not necessarily give away the fact that he is not a native English speaker, so I don't really have that to fall back on. He gave me the opportunity to give him some input, and I don't feel comfortable flat out telling him that he is a terrible writer, or rewriting the letter myself or anything like that, so I just made some really basic suggestions so that what was there was a bit easier to read.

Anyway, what do you think? Am I in trouble, or will adcom look past the poor writing and see that it is a great endorsement?

(By the way, I'm applying at UCLA, Stanford, HBS, and maybe Chicago and USC, in case it's relevant.)

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by Graham » Mon Oct 06, 2008 11:54 pm
Dear CFoley,

Thanks for posting to the forum!

I am sorry to hear that one of your recommendation letters is not as well written as you would have liked. There are a few points to keep in mind about this sort of thing:

1) In many ways, the schools view your selection of recommenders and the end product they produce as a test of your judgment and management skill. In other words, candidates who pick appropriate recommenders and then manage those writers to ensure strong letters typically come across well in the admissions process. Whereas applicants who poorly select their recommenders (not using direct supervisors, going for a 'big name' or alum, using a subordinate, etc) or who choose recommenders that submit poorly written responses will not be viewed as favorably.

2) When it comes to grammatical issues specifically, it's safe to say that your recommenders have a bit more leeway than you do in your essays - but not much. In other words, no admissions officer will dismiss your candidacy over a typo or gramatical slip in your rec letter. Of course, if a letter is riddled with grammatical mistakes, hard to follow or does not answer the questions posed, it could impact your candidacy in a negative way - since the adcom will either assume that the author didn't care enough to take the time and get it right, or that they simply aren't terribly bright (neither of which will reflect well on the applicant).

While I know you are reluctant to sit down with your boss and point out the issues, it might be a worthwhile conversation to have - assuming this hasn't already been submitted.

Best of luck,

Graham Richmond
Clear Admit, LLC
[email protected]
215 568 2590

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Junior | Next Rank: 30 Posts
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by cfoley » Tue Oct 07, 2008 6:58 am
Graham -

Thanks a lot for your quick response.

I work for a small business, and have no other supervisor to ask for a recommendation. I know adcom will be aware that I work in a small environment, and my boss does make it clear in his letter that I am essentially second in command at the organization. He also mentions that he is a Fellow of the Society of Actuaries, so I'm hoping that the committee will get the impression that he is an intelligent guy (which he is) who just doesn't write all that well in English.

I have cleaned up the grammar in his letter and tried to streamline the phrasing and organization without changing or adding any content. I think what gets submitted will be seen as not necessarily well written, but no train wreck either.

My other recommendations will come from my supervisor at a previous job (who was also the business owner) and from a former co-worker for whom I have done contract work and with whom I've recently started a small business. Both of those letters will be more well written, but may not have the same impact as they are not from current supervisors.

Given that information, should I still be worried about adcom second-guessing my choice of my current supervisor as a recommender?

- C