Actually, it is clearer for whom I will not write letters.
If you were in one of my really big classes (100 students or more), you
cannot expect a very good (that is, detailed, personalized letter).
So, to be clear, I will NOT be writing a
letter for you if you took my 600 student course (Poli 244) [This is a change in
policy]. If you
took a smaller class that still had a TA, then submit the materials below to
your TA. They will write the letter and then send me both the draft and
the materials. BUT this only works if you give the TA time and if you ask
within a reasonable time (6 months or so) of the class since the TA will not
remember you for years nor will they be around forever.
If you did poorly in my class (B- or worse). It is better to get a
letter from someone else than a mediocre one from me. This should be
obvious, but ....
Those who need instant responses (see below). Writing letters of
recommendation is only one part of my job--I simply cannot drop everything else
that I am doing to write a letter. Since most programs want the letters to
evaluate the student's maturity and organizational ability, asking or demanding
an instant letter is probably not a good idea.
One other note: markets have shifted so choosing law school or graduate
school should only be the decision of someone with a passionate interest and
very high ability. Other folks will be wasting time and money, as neither
option is a good way to delay entry into the job market.
1. You will complete fully all factual parts of
any required forms (there are limits to this for web-based forms, of course).
1a. I will only write
eight letters for you in a
given year. Each one
2. You will waste your time printing my name, title,
etc., rather than count on me to waste my time. Check out the forms; they
often call for my printed or typed name, title, name of institution, phone
number etc. YOU will complete this factual material as well. Your failure
to do this may cause a delay that affects you adversely.
I will not fax letters for you. If you give me the stuff too late for
it to go through the mail, you are out of luck.
3. Every form will be attached to a
pre-addressed envelope unless it is an online process. And,
yes, I now prefer online recommendations.
4. In so far as possible, you will send me all the
forms and all the requests at once--in print (not email and not email
attachments--getting all of the paper together means that less gets lost). You should give me at least two weeks
to write the letters.
5. You will provide me with a typed list of 3-5
adjectives or adjectival phrases that capture some of your distinctive
strengths, specifically those that I've seen and that you think
THEY want to hear about.
6. For each of these "strengths," you also will provide
me with a brief anecdote that illustrates that particular strength; this
example also should be something I observed in our work together (or
plausibly could have observed).
7. Again, if you were a student in
one of my large classes (one in which there was a TA), you
should give all of the stuff to your TA since I probably do not know you.
The TA will write the first draft of the letter and then send it to me along
with the materials you gave them. I then revise and print out and mail.
This means more time needed to complete the process--more advance
notice is obviously required for these situations. For students in
such large classes, you should seek letters from other profs who know you
8. You will email me a heads-up email, alerting me to
the need to get your letters out, EXACTLY 3 days before they need to go
into a regular delivery mail box.
By the way and just in case the above conditions sound
burdensome, this is an effort at both burden-sharing and efficiency. The
less time I have to spend on administrivia, the more care I can take writing a
Please let me know what happens with your applications. The
information is useful for the next generation, plus I am curious about what
* Much of the text above was lifted from Prof. Paul Dawson's website.
One of my big regrets from my Oberlin experience was not taking any of his