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Writing a reference

Personal Tutors are frequently asked to provide references for current and past students in response to enquiries by prospective employers and by institutions offering postgraduate courses.

Students are advised that they should in the first instance ask their Personal Tutor to be their referee, but if they feel it would be more appropriate, they can ask their Dissertation or Project Supervisor.


Reference writing best practice

When writing references it is helpful to bear in mind the following points:

  • Refer to facts and then your own opinion on whether they might be suitable for the opportunity.
  • Use hard evidence (eg. How long you have known them, in what capacity etc)
  • Try to make only positive points, and do not use ambiguous language
  • If a pro-forma is provided, do not try to comment on aspects which you are not in a position to assess or feel obliged to answer for example disability, political beliefs etc
  • Avoid giving out references over the telephone as you have no control over what the person at the other end of the phone actually writes down

If you are asked for an opinion on an issue on which you have limited knowledge, such as the subject's honesty and integrity, use qualifying phrases such as, " I know of nothing that would lead me to question X's......".

  • Be aware of legal considerations and compliance with Data Protection . You cannot mention exam results, attendance, sickness record etc unless you have written permission from the student
  • Write the reference and share this with the student first before submitting it to a third party
  • Remember that students have the right to access all the recorded personal information the University holds on them, in both electronic and manual formats


Writing a reference for a student you do not know well

If you have been asked to supply a reference but do not know the student very well, it would be good to talk to them first and find out a little more about why they are interested in the opportunity. You can also find out anything else they would like you to mention such as volunteering, part time-work and role in a club or society.

In some cases, it can be very difficult to write a reference for a tutee who has not attended any scheduled Personal Tutorial meetings. Tutors can refuse to write references for students, but it might be that in certain cases a colleague who taught the student is in a better position to write a reference.


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