Many have suggested me to include a sentence like this while asking for recommendations:

"Do you feel that you are able to give me a strong reference?"

I am afraid that my third referee, who was only a professor of one my courses, knows me but not well enough to give a "strong reference". So if I asked him this way, he might ignore my request.

I could also tell him that this is the third letter, so he does not have to exhaustively write about my every strengths. But telling him that he is only the "third” might be considered impolite? Because, emotionally, everyone wants to be regarded as an important person.

What shall I do?

2 Answers 2


This answer basically echoes the comment of Andreas Blass.

I agree that calling it the "third letter" may offend the professor, so I wouldn't use that phrasing. But the general idea of acknowledging that the scope of the letter will be limited, and that you have other letters as well, seems fine.

Dear Professor A,

I am applying to grad schools, and I wondered if you would be willing to write me a letter of recommendation. I know that the only course I took with you was BASK 301, and so I understand that your letter would only really be able to discuss my work in that course. But if you feel you would be able to write a strong letter on that basis, I would greatly appreciate it.

I am also requesting letters from Professors B and C, who will be able to write about my [other coursework / research / internship / relevant skills / etc], so I feel that between the three of you, a committee will be able to get a broad sense of my record.

If you are willing, the letters would be needed starting on [date].

Many thanks!

Sincerely, etc.

If the course involved particular elements that you think would be helpful to discuss in the letter (e.g. a project on which you thought you did noteworthy work), then you can mention those specifically.


No, do not do this. It is an immediate insult, and done so from a point both of need and of ignorance. At best, the person would (as a good grandfather or grandmother) understand your militantly naive foolishness, and lack of intent of insult, but... Don't

Also, most application systems do not "rank" letters, so all your letters of recommendation will be taken with equal weight... depending on the degree of acquaintance the writers claim to have with you.

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    I agree with this answer, but I think it would be OK to mention something along the lines of "I realize that I took only one course from you, but I think your letter would nevertheless be useful. I'll have another letter from a professor from whom I've taken several courses." (Assuming of course that the last sentence is true. If it's still true with "other letters from professors" in place of "another letter from a professor", then you could say that. Commented Oct 27, 2018 at 1:09
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    To clarify my previous comment: If you asked me for a letter after taking only one course from me, I wouldn't immediately say no, but I'd probably suggest that it would be better to get letters from people who taught you in more than one course. If you're getting one or two such letters in addition to mine, then I'd feel more comfortable about the situation. Commented Oct 27, 2018 at 1:15

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