Thoreau once wrote, “The language of friendship is not words but meanings.” In the case of a character reference, the language of friendship involves both words and meanings. If you’re tasked with writing a character reference, then your mission is to write about your friend and all her amazing qualities.
How exactly can you fulfill this mission of writing an outstanding character reference? This guide will help you through the writing process with a template for your letter. To begin, let’s go over the purpose of a character reference.
What’s the Purpose of a Character Reference?
You might have a friend, relative, or neighbor ask you to write a character reference. You usually base this reference on your personal, rather than professional, relationship with the subject. There are a few different reasons why someone might need you to write her a character reference.
In the Professional World...
Some people need a character reference for a job. Hiring managers could ask for one as a way to get to know the candidate on a more personal level. They might also want to make sure the candidate is trustworthy, particularly if the job calls for a high level of ethics.
My friend, for instance, recently provided a reference for his friend applying to the U.S. State Department. If the applicant didn’t provide at least three great character references, then there was no way he was getting high level security clearance.
Another reason that a job candidate might seek a character reference is to use it as a supplement to her application. If she’s young and hasn’t had many jobs before, then she may add a personal letter to support her cause.
Outside the Professional World...
Outside of job applications, there are other circumstances that call for a personal recommendation. Someone might be applying to a position in the community, like membership in a local club. Students could need a character reference as they apply to scholarships or awards.
People looking to adopt or provide foster care for a child often need character references. They also seek them when trying to buy a house or condo. Finally, character references can also be used to support someone in court.
The purpose of your letter will shape what you say to some extent. For this article, I’ll focus on a character reference that gives insight into someone’s personal attributes and could most realistically be used for a job or volunteer-type position.
In a general sense, all character references share the same mission: to reveal the subject’s personal strengths and to show support. If you’ve taken on this mission, how can you produce a memorable character reference? This guide will lead you through the writing process, step by step.
Whether your friend wants to get a job, buy a house, or go on the next mission to Mars, your character reference should explain why she's the best person for the role.
Writing a Character Reference: 4 Steps
While there are several ingredients that go into producing a strong letter, there are two in particular that stand out. The first is organizing your thoughts in a clear and meaningful way. The second is giving specific examples to paint a picture of the subject.
These are two of the most important lessons in crafting a strong letter, but also two of the most challenging to carry out. To help you meet this challenge, I’ve broken down the writing process into four steps. The first, you might be happy to hear, doesn’t require you to do any writing yet!
Step 1: Speak to the Candidate
The responsibility for this first step of the letter writing process actually falls on the shoulders of the person asking for the letter. She should share details of the letter’s purpose, whether it’s for a job, community position, or house, for example.
She might have ideas for qualities or stories you could share in your letter. If the position seeks someone with a strong code of ethics, then the candidate should let you know to highlight instances when she showed honesty and integrity.
The subject of your letter might also share her resume or any other relevant materials. By getting all the important details, you can make sure your character reference is customized and relevant. You both might brainstorm ideas together, too, which brings us to the next stage of the reference writing process.
Step 2: Brainstorm Ideas for Your Reference
This second stage of your character reference writing process is all about preparation. Take a few moments to gather your thoughts and sort through your ideas for the letter.
What qualities jump out when you think about the candidate? What anecdotes could you share to support your evaluation? Why does she deserve to get the position or move into the neighborhood?
Some qualities that could jog your thinking include,
Ethical, honest, trustworthy
Determined, goal-oriented, hard-working
Generous, giving, helpful
Considerate, empathetic, kind
Loyal, committed, reliable
Charming, funny, lighthearted, charismatic
Patient, supportive, sensitive
Good communicator, well-spoken
Once you’ve brainstormed qualities, pick out three or so to highlight. These should really capture the subject, as well as be relevant to the situation. If you’re writing a letter for a babysitting job, then you might want to zoom in on the candidate’s caring and responsible nature. If you’re supporting someone’s application to buy a house, then you might focus more on her reliability or neighborly qualities.
Once you’ve chosen your top three, think about specific anecdotes you could share when the candidate demonstrated those qualities. As you’ll see in the template below, you should share two to three specific examples to really illustrate the person and validate your description. Once you’ve thought of some ideas, you’re ready to start drafting!
Ready to start drafting? Use the roadmap below to reach your destination!
Step 3: Draft Your Character Reference with this Template
Once you’ve arrived at the drafting stage, you should have some idea of what you want to say in your character reference. You know what the letter is for and have thought of some ways to describe your friend.
Once you have your ideas, you can follow a pretty straightforward structure for producing your letter. The following template will go over this structure, piece by piece. To begin, let’s start with basic contact information.
Insert Contact Information at the Top
Ideally, you can address your reference to a specific person. Writing to a specific person is more personal than, “To Whom It May Concern.” If it’s not possible, though, then a more generalized greeting is fine.
If you have official letterhead with your contact information at the top then you should go ahead and use it. If not, then you might write out your contact information on the top left margin, followed by the addressee’s contact information.
Your contact information could look something like this:
Fun Among Us Daycare
5 Main St.
Anytown, CA 90210
Below your contact information, insert the details for the person to whom you’re writing, like this:
60 School St.
Booktown, TX 73344
Below this contact information, start your letter with a salutation of, “Dear [name].” Once you have your contact information set, you can start in on the introduction.
Paragraph 1: The Introduction
Now you’re ready to start your letter. You should start out strong with a statement of support. Some positive phrases include,
I am honored to support...
I am pleased to provide a reference for...
I am delighted to be called upon...
I am happy to recommend...
I have no hesitation in recommending...
It’s my pleasure to recommend...
Here are a couple examples for starting your letter:
1. It’s my pleasure to recommend Jackie to the position of Intelligence Operations Officer with the U.S. Secret Service.
2. I’m very happy to recommend Aaron for membership in the Hometown Community Service Club.
3. I’m pleased to provide a reference for Alisha as she seeks a nannying position with your family.
In addition to starting out strong, you should also explain who you are and how you know the candidate. Qualify the nature of your relationship so that the reader understands why your opinion is a valuable one. Here are a few examples for your next sentence.
1. I met Jackie, my assigned roommate, on the first day of college, and we continued to live together for the next four years. Despite living in different cities after graduation, we've remained close friends.
2. Aaron and I developed a strong friendship since he moved in next door four years ago.
3. As Alisha's aunt, I've watched her grow up into a mature and responsible young woman who's always her cousins' first pick for Saturday night babysitter.
Once you’ve introduced yourself, you could give a brief summary of what qualities you’ll touch on in the rest of your letter. For example, these lines set up the content in the next couple of paragraphs:
1. Jackie inspired me with her ethics, intelligence, and ambition throughout our college years and beyond.
2. Aaron's an exceptional neighbor and friend who actively contributes to the well-being of our community.
3. Alisha's a reliable, warm, and creative person who's skilled at caring for children of all ages.
Overall, your introductory paragraph should consist of three to five sentences. Show your support right off the bat, and make sure to explain who you and why your reference holds weight. Indicate the reason for the reference, and give a brief description of the candidate. Then you can flesh out this description in two to three body paragraphs.
You could include two to three body paragraphs, depending on what qualities you want to touch on. Each paragraph should have a specific focus; for instance, you could highlight one facet of the person’s character and pair it with an anecdote.
You should order the body paragraphs starting with the most relevant point. Consider what qualities the reader of your letter is looking for. What will be most helpful and impressive? Put that quality first.
Here are a couple examples for body paragraphs.
1. Jackie is a person of high moral character. Her strong sense of ethics came through in discussions in and out of our political science classes. A real-life ethical test came along junior year, when she found a wallet with hundreds of dollars of cash outside. Keeping any of the money didn’t seem to occur to Jackie for a second, and she tracked down its owner and mailed it back first-class. She’s always someone I can trust to do the right thing and is the first person I think to call when confronted with my own moral dilemmas.
2. Aaron is motivated by a strong sense of social responsibility. He makes a difference everyday in his position as physical education teacher at the middle school and volunteer coach of the soccer and wrestling teams. Last year, the district recognized his contributions with the Coach of the Year award. One of his soccer players, who’d been identified as an at-risk student, said a few touching words about how Aaron believed in him and helped him feel reconnected to school. Aaron's a much-loved teacher and coach who’s committed to the well-being of his students.
3. Alisha is a creative person who’s able to keep even my energetic kids engaged and happy. She’s chock full of ideas for art projects, sports competitions, and make-believe games. Last time she watched her cousins, they ended up putting together and acting out their own production of Frozen. She’s great at devising activities that are fun, safe, and surprisingly effective at getting kids active and away from their iPads.
Of course, your body paragraphs will be customized to the individual. The basic formula of “description + anecdote” is useful to keep in mind as you draft these. You’ll find a summary of a basic template for the body paragraphs of your character reference below. First, though, let’s consider the final paragraph of your letter, the conclusion.
Conclusion and Signature
After wrapping up the body paragraphs, you’ve reached the end of your character reference. Your conclusion can just be three to five sentences long, and its content is pretty straightforward.
First, you can reiterate your support or high opinion of the candidate. Here are a couple examples of how to do this:
1. In closing, I'd like to reiterate my unequivocal support for Jackie as she seeks appointment to the Secret Service.
2. As you can tell, I think the world of Aaron and recommend him for membership in Hometown Community Service Club without hesitation.
3. Alisha has my highest recommendation as a childcare provider and all-around great human being.
Then, you might summarize the points you’ve made or add a few more descriptive words. Remember that the conclusion is your final chance to communicate your recommendation, so you want to leave the reader with a lasting good impression. For instance, you might say something like this:
1. Jackie is not only brilliant, but also a highly ethical person and loyal friend.
2. Aaron's made countless contributions to our community and will be able to extend his reach as a club member.
3. Alisha is responsible, patient, and sensitive to the needs of children.
Finally, invite the reader to contact you for any further information. Show that you’re happy to confirm your character reference or add anything else via email or phone. You can also thank the reader for her time.
1. Please don't hesitate to contact me for any further information. Thank you for your time.
2. Please feel free to get in touch with any questions. Thank you.
At the end, sign your name and print it beneath, perhaps with your phone number and email if they're not at the top of your letter. Then, you’ve reached the end of your character reference!
To review, let’s put all the pieces together into this final template.
Use the template below to shape your letter from a rough ball of clay to a polished final product.
Drafting your Character Reference: Final Template
The personal recommendation letter template below reflects the above structure, including the contact information, introductory paragraph, body paragraphs, conclusion, and final signature.
Position [if relevant]
Workplace [if relevant]
City, State, Zip Code
Position [if relevant]
Company [if relevant]
City, State, Zip Code
Dear [Addressee's Name],
It's my great pleasure to provide this character reference for [name] for [purpose of letter]. I've been close friends with [name] for the past [number of years]. [Name of candidate] is [two to three descriptors], and I have no doubt that he/she would make an outstanding addition to [company, club, etc]. Please allow me to give three examples of her personal strengths.
Body Paragraphs 1 - 3: [Name] stands out for his/her [quality]. Last year, for example, he/she [specific example]. He/she consistently [description of personal attributes]. [Name] is unique for his/her [specific qualities].*
*Present 2-3 main characteristics of the candidate in the body paragraphs, each with a specific example if possible. Put them in order of importance and relevance. Use strongly positive language, but try not to sound over the top.
In closing, I'd like to restate my wholehearted support for [name's] as she seeks [purpose of letter]. He/she is [most important qualities]. I have no doubt that she will continue to have great success with [company, club, etc]. Please don't hesitate to contact me for any further information. Thank you for your time.
Position [if relevant]
Of course, the body paragraphs leave a lot of space for customization. This space allows you to make your personal recommendation letter unique to the candidate. Once you’ve drafted your letter, you just have one more important step in the writing process.
Step 4: Edit for Clarity
Before sending off your character reference, take a few minutes to edit and revise. First, make sure there are no spelling or grammar errors. Beyond fixing any mistakes, take a look at your writing and make sure it’s clear.
Whoever’s reading your letter may not have a ton of time to look closely at every word. Your letter should leave a powerful impression without requiring a big time commitment from the reader. In other words, your goal is to be concise.
If you can make the same impact with fewer words, do so. Eliminate unnecessary adverbs and adjectives that add bulk but not meaning. If a sentence feels cluttered, try your best to clean it up.
Once you’ve tightened up your writing, your letter is ready to submit! You’ve produced a well-structured reference that compliments the candidate and gives specific examples that speak to her character.
In closing, let’s review the key points to remember about drafting a character reference.
This wary cat has no reason to worry. Her canine roommate just finished writing an excellent character reference. He didn't even mention her habit of clawing the couch or knocking over glasses of water.
Key Points: Writing a Character Reference
If you’re writing a character references, chances are you’re writing about a friend, neighbor, or relative. Your task is to write about this person’s favorable attributes and describe what makes him/her special.
The content of your letter will largely be shaped by what it’s being used for. If you’re writing for a job, then you may want to shed light on the subject’s personality and relevant qualities, like ethics and trustworthiness. If you’re writing for membership in a community club, then you might talk about the subject’s community connections or leadership.
Whatever your letter’s purpose, it should be strongly positive and use specific examples. Rather than turning into a list of adjectives, your letter should have anecdotes that reveal positive things about the subject.
By telling stories and using a clear and concise structure, you can produce a stand-out character reference and impress your readers!
Are you interested in professional letters of recommendation for jobs? This guide contains a recommendation letter template to help you through the writing process.
Ready to read some reference letter samples? This article has nine free samples of recommendation letters, including a character reference!
Interested in recommendation letters for college? This guide has four amazing recommendation letter samples written by high school teachers.
ing on volunteering in the community, stress that civic activity during adolescence has lasting consequences (Youniss et al., 2002; Youniss and Yates, 1997; Youniss, McLellan, and Yates, 1997; Yates and Youniss, 1996). Their work is based on the theory that behavior drives attitude change. For example, high school volunteers in a soup kitchen, over the course of their service, developed empathy for the homeless as fellow human beings, reflected on their own advantages, and more generally began to consider broader political and moral issues as they thought about the circumstances of their own lives. In so doing, these youth had the opportunity to experience themselves as citizens, to develop a sense of efficacy as effective political agents, and to become more highly motivated to engage in their communities as adults.
Confirming evidence for the benefits of volunteerism has been found in data from the Youth Development Study. The data show that volunteer participation during high school is part of the lives of a substantial minority of Minnesota youth; 37 percent reported at least some volunteer activity while in high school (Johnson et al., 1998). Youth select themselves to volunteer on the basis of previous orientations (e.g., high educational aspirations, higher educational plans, higher grade point averages, higher academic self-esteem, and a higher intrinsic motivation toward school work). However, when the effects of previous attitudes are taken into account, participation in volunteer work was found to foster intrinsic work values, including the importance of service to society as well as enhanced anticipation of future involvement in the community as adults (Johnson et al., 1998). Volunteering also reduced the propensity toward later illegal activity as the respondents began the transition to adulthood (Uggen and Janikula, 1999). In this study, volunteering did not exert an independent effect on educational plans, academic self-esteem, or grade point average.
Furthermore, Verba et al. (1995) found that high school extracurricular activities, particularly participation in school government and clubs (but not sports), predict later political participation. Studies of social movement activists likewise support the conclusion that civic participation during adolescence and young adulthood encourages responsibility in youth, as well as more responsible and active political participation in adulthood (e.g., McAdam, 1988; Fendrich, 1993). Moreover, the effect of volunteering in high school on volunteering during the following four years has been shown to be significant, when numerous relevant background variables as well as prior altruistic and community-oriented values are taken into account (Oesterle et al., 1998; Astin, 1993). The extent to which volunteerism influences activities immediately after high school, such as postsecondary education or military service, is not known.