Most graduate and professional programs require letters of recommendation from undergraduate course instructors as part of a successful application. Full-time faculty members expect to write these letters of reference as part of their job, but they may receive dozens of requests each term and are not required to accept individual requests. Instructors who are adjunct faculty members or graduate students working as teaching fellows are not paid to write reference letters, though they may accept your request. Instructors may decline your request if they don’t know you very well, you haven’t given them enough notice, they have already written many letters of reference in a term, or their schedule doesn’t allow them adequate time. To lessen the letter-writing workload (and by extension, making the potential referee more likely to say ‘yes’ to your request), and to support the instructor in writing a strong reference letter for you, we encourage you to follow this guide.
Who to Ask
To decide who to ask you will need to:
When to Ask
How to Ask
Once you know who you are going to approach, speak to the instructor in person or compose a message outlining the following:
Once You Have Received a ‘Yes’
Submit the following to the referee:
After the Instructor Submits the Reference Letter
Step 1: Do you really need to send an email?
□ Is your question particularly complex? It may be best to ask in person or during office hours.
□ Is this question inappropriate to ask in person? If so, it is also inappropriate to ask via email.
□ Can you find the answer to your question elsewhere? Read the course syllabus, check OnQ (announcements, discussion board, instruction sheets for assignments), and check lecture slides.
□ If you can’t find the answer to your question, and it is something you’d feel comfortable saying to your professor or TA in person, then go ahead!
Step 2: Subject line
□ Includes the course code.
□ Includes your last name.
□ Includes the general topic of your email.
Step 3: Addressing your email
□ Uses formal writing conventions (e.g., ‘Dear Dr. Smith’, ‘Dear Instructor Smith’, or ‘Dear Mr./Ms./Mx. Smith’).
□ Is addressed to the appropriate recipient (your TAs are often responsible for answering students’ questions).
□ The recipient’s name is spelled correctly.
Step 4: The content of your email
□ Paragraph/sentence 1: Introduces yourself (including your full name, student number, and the course you are taking), and the context of your email.
□ Paragraph/sentence 2: Specifies why you are sending an email. Ensure your question is easily identified and understood, with all relevant information needed by the recipient.
□ Paragraph/sentence 3: Elaborates on additional information/useful context.
Step 5: Signing off on your email
□ Sign off with your formal regards, name, and contact information.
□ If emailing from an iPhone or other mobile device, be sure to check that “sent from [x]” is not included in your email – this looks unprofessional. If possible, take the time to write your email from your laptop.
□ Ensure you are sending your email from your Queen’s student email account. Spam filters will sometimes catch emails sent from external servers and may not make it to your intended recipient.
Step 6: Including any relevant attachments
□ If you reference attaching a document, be sure to include it before you send your email.
Step 7: Proofreading and checking the “tone”
□ Ensure that your email contains no typos or grammatical errors.
□ Review for the “tone” of your email – ensure that it is professional and respectful. Don’t use slang, shorthand, colloquial language, all-capital letters or incomplete sentences. Avoid using contractions if possible.
See Communicating with Professors and TAs on the Queen’s Student Academic Success Services (SASS) website: https://sass.queensu.ca/resources/online/communicating