I am a lecturer in a European university. A student from my department asked me to write a recommendation for a program somewhere in the US that he wants to attend.
I have read the horror stories about American recommendation letters, where apparently "He is not only quick at learning and good at solving complicated problems, but also with a logical and creative mind that enables him to raise some insightful views. I was also deeply impressed with his diligence and outstanding communication ability, compared with my other students." is considered lukewarm(!) and grounds for rejecting the applicant.
I have found a few sample recommendation letters and advice from different universities/people around the internet and I've used them as inspiration to spruce up what I had initially written. I have also asked colleagues, but understandably they mostly write letter for other European universities, where such superlative language would usually be reserved for sarcasm or toadying.
However, one thing that is rarely consistent is how formal the letter should be. More precisely:
- How should I start the letter? "Dear colleagues"? "To whom it may concern"? "Esteemed organizers"? Similarly, how to end it? "(Best) regards"? "Sincerely yours"?
- How to refer to the applicant in the letter? "Jane"? "Jane Doe"? "Mrs. Doe"?
I would rather not penalize the student because I do not understand foreign cultural norms.