Whether you’re providing a character reference for someone you know well or you’ve been asked to endorse a former employee who’s looking for a new role, writing references can be tricky. Here are some key points that you need to include and some that you need to avoid…

1. About You

It’s a good idea to start off by introducing yourself. This will help to establish your credentials as the right person to be writing this reference. Keep this brief though, no more than a couple of sentences – this isn’t about you, it’s about the person you’re providing a reference for.

2. About Them

Include some details about your relationship to the person in question. This should include how you know them, how long you’ve known them for (ideally three years for a character reference) and an overview of their professional conduct.

3. Cover The Basics

Confirm the facts the reader will need to verify your reference. If it’s for a job, for example, then make sure you mention the person’s title, role and the dates of their employment. It’s also handy if you provide your contact details in case they need to clarify or follow up on any of the information you provide.

4. Be Positive

The phrase: ‘If you can’t say anything nice about someone, don’t say anything at all’ is particularly relevant when writing references. The level of praise you give someone will depend on how much you want them to succeed but this isn’t an opportunity to air past grievances. At worst, negative criticism or defamatory comments could even constitute libel. If you’re not happy to recommend someone then it’s far better to simply turn down a request for a reference.

5. Give Examples

Your judgement as a referee is important but try to provide some firm evidence to back up your views. Give a couple of appropriate instances where the person displayed some of the qualities that you’re commenting on, something that reveals their enthusiasm or their dedication or their expertise. This works wonders as it allows the reader to see the person’s ability for themselves.

6. Keep It Short

There’s no need to provide a detailed 5,000 word character study on the person you’re providing the reference for, concentrate on the information that the reader needs to know. It might be useful to write a rough draft first and then spend a bit of time working back into it to pick out the most relevant points.

7. Be Formal

Remain professional and business-like. You might want to get across an aspect of your relationship by including in-jokes, sarcasm or irony but these may not come across in the way you intended and could have a negative effect. Try and stick to the kind of qualities the reader will be looking for and avoid sounding too casual.

8. Don’t Get Personal

Don’t mention any personal information that isn’t absolutely relevant to the reference. This includes race, nationality, religious or political beliefs, marital status, age and general health. Follow best practice and be aware of Equality Legislation and Age Discrimination laws.

9. Follow The Format

Submit your reference in the manner it has been requested and make sure this complies with your own HR department policy. Also remember that this will most likely be very important to the person you’re writing it for so spelling mistakes, rushed writing or impersonal, generic responses will make it seem as though you simply don’t care about them.

10. Be Aware

Under Data Protection Act regulations, there’s a chance that the subject of the reference could make a request for their personal information – and this might include your reference. This is worth bearing in mind if it’s for someone you see regularly or in a social setting…

Have you got any other handy tips or things to think about when it comes to writing references? We’d love to hear about them.