Letters of Reference Defined

Thursday, December 5th 2019. | template


Letters of Reference Defined

As I note on the main page of my referral and referral resources website, there is a great deal of general confusion about the differences and similarities between referral and referral letters. For example; Which is which and why? How are they different? How are they similar?

It is confusing enough for the average person who only needs to write one of these letters from time to time. However, if you, like me, go into detail and find that many of the so-called “experts” do not even know the differences between a letter of reference and a letter of recommendation, the general state of confusion is very understandable.

Based on extensive research on the subject, I define a “reference letter” as one that is generally more general than a letter of recommendation and NOT addressed to a particular applicant. Typically, “reference letters” are addressed as; “Who it is” or “Ladies and Gentlemen”.

The most common reference letters are:

o Employment-related – general letter of reference

o College-related – general reference

o Character reference letter – general personal reference

o General letter of reference – various topics

EMPLOYMENT-RELATED letter of reference

These are more general letters that are often requested by employees when they leave the company. As a rule, they are relevant and are addressed to “who it concerns”. They contain basic information such as work experience, employment data, positions, educational credentials, etc.

These letters of recommendation sometimes include a general statement (if a positive statement can be made) about the employee’s record of work at the company he is leaving. Employees often submit these letters along with applications in the hope that the letter will positively reflect their chances for a new position.

COLLEGE-RELATED Reference Letter

These letters are very similar to letters of recommendation for the college, except that they are not directed to a specific person or applicant. In colleges and universities, they are usually addressed to the following officers: Director, Admissions or Chair, Scholarship Committee, etc.

These college-related letters can be as specific as a letter of recommendation when describing the topic / person the letter is written about, but they are more general / general with respect to the addressed addressees. This is because, at the time of writing, it is often unclear to which companies or institutions they are sent. For example, a person plans to apply to a number of colleges, but when the letter is written, the specific colleges are unknown.


Character reference letters are always written about a particular person by someone who knows them fairly well, and usually focus on the general personality traits of a person. They are often used in business and non-profit situations. Normally, when leaving a company or service organization, a person will ask for a generic character reference letter.

Character references focus on personality traits such as: honesty, integrity, trustworthiness, reliability, work ethic, values, community service, and other universally recognized indicators of individual character attributes. These letters are almost always used by people providing personal and domestic services where trust is an important factor.

These letters are usually addressed with “To whom it depends” or “Dear Ladies and Gentlemen”.

GENERAL PURPOSE Reference letter

These references address common situations that are not covered by the other references described above. As a rule, they are aimed at special situations, eg. For example, letters from tenants to landlords, references from business customers, pet owner testimonials, etc. These letters are always addressed generally as “who cares” or “ladies and gentlemen”.

Watch out…

Over the years, the line between “letters of reference” and “letters of recommendation” is rather blurry, and many people and institutions now use the two terms interchangeably. For both organizations, both letters are exactly the same.

Accordingly, many colleges and universities as well as some companies and institutions use the terms “reference letters” and / or “reference letters” when referring to exactly what many other universities, universities, companies and institutions refer to as “reference letters”. Letter of recommendation “and / or” Letter of recommendation “.

So when you’re dealing with these types of organizations or institutions, you need to make sure that you use the term they use as they use it. DO NOT try to translate them into your terminology. This will only confuse things and you will pay the price.