I'm applying to grad schools in the US for a PhD in math and have managed to convince five professors to write a letter of recommendation for me. One of my referees requested me to send a "rough draft" of the LOR after mentioning that she's very busy currently due to exams and "would modify it accordingly".

I've read several posts here that indicate that this is a bad sign, but I've met her in person recently and did well in her class and it seems that she is genuinely willing to write a strong LOR, but is just hard pressed for time. I think the best course of action here would be to provide her with a list of relevant questions and topics that she could address, while also politely stating that my direct involvement in the writing process would be unethical or unproductive as these are meant to be confidential.

Kindly let me know if there are any good guides out there for writing a LOR so that I can prepare such a questionnaire for her, as most of the guides that come up are about how to ask for a LOR. If this would not be the best course of action, then kindly let me know how to handle this situation. She is number 3 on my list by seniority and a lot of universities ask for 3 main and 2 supplemental LORs. Would it be wise to swap her with a supplementary letter writer who has been very helpful and involved in my application process?


2 Answers 2


My suggestion is that you give her an outline, rather than a draft. In the outline mention what you think are the important points, not just in your immediate relationship with her but overall. But don't neglect to include some personal 'interaction' material to remind her.

I've had students ask me for letters after a long gap (not your case, of course) where I generally remember them as good students with potential, but forget the details. I've asked them for such to help me write a better, less general, letter.

Sort the outline points in order of importance as you see them. Add a few personal details if you like.

The reason for an outline and not a draft is that she will use her own wording, making it more authentic.

If that doesn't work for her then migrate your outline into a draft.


I do not think this is a bad sign: professors are overwhelmed with tasks, among them writing reference letters. It often happened to me that a professor agreed to submit a reference letter, but that I had to write it myself (context: Western Europe) - after them revising and approving it, of course.

To build on Buffy's answer, I would even suggest that you submit both an outline (to show the professor what are the important points and requirements for the letter) and a draft (so that the professor can use your wording to save time). If that does not work for them, they will let you know.

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