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My university did not have English letterheads. My professors asked me to go to the IT division and ask for one, so, I went and received an image of the letterhead, then I put the letterhead in a word document and sent it to my professors in order for them to write a letter of recommendation for me in it. They wrote in it and sent it to over 10 universities.

Now, I realized that the Word document that my professors sent their letters in has MY NAME as an author because I was the first one to create a word document. Even the ones that converted the Word document into a PDF also have my name as the author.

Are the university admissions committees going to go to the properties/metadata of the files and recognize this? I'm afraid they might think I wrote the whole letter, while I didn't!

I am so nervous right now, and I don't know what to do.

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    I've never looked at metadata... not only to avoid inadvertently "snooping", but also because it's mostly informationally worthless garbage: people "duplicate" other peoples' documents and edit-from-their, etc. Possibly "the Word Document" is one of the oldest living electronic documents, and is a single organism? :) :) Commented Jan 24, 2023 at 23:15
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    In the 1800s, Mr. Akers owned a mill. The road to his mill was called Akers' Mill Road. When the city grew up, the mill was replaced by residential flats. Inside lived an academic job applicant. A number of rejection letters were sent to Acres Mill Road and Aker's Mill Road, the address "corrected" by the rejecting institutions.
    – Paul
    Commented Jan 26, 2023 at 8:31
  • I may be mistaken, but I don't think it is uncommon (or at least unheard of) for people to write their own recommendations and have the "recommender" sign it as their own.
    – chepner
    Commented Jan 26, 2023 at 16:00
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    Probably most of my posters are created "by" one of our PhD students, because she was so kind to create a template.. the rest is probably by some guy called "local admin".
    – Mark
    Commented Jan 26, 2023 at 18:20
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    If they find out it probably won't worry them. If it worries them, they will ask you. If they ask you, give the above explanation. I really don't think they will suspect you of any misdemeanour.
    – David
    Commented Jan 27, 2023 at 2:30

3 Answers 3

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This is very unlikely. One normally only looks at the metadata if one already suspects fraud. And then, about half of the people in my department would not even know where to look for them. If I were to suspect something is fishy about your letter, I would first contact the letter writer to find out indirectly whether they wrote the letter. I would then either not act on my suspicion (if you would have written the letter, admission will be rescinded) or wait until I get some clarity. Finally, it is common to ask the people that ask for a letter of recommendation for technical help, so you are not the only one in this situation. In fact, I heard about professors that let the student write the letter and then signed it (or asked for changes).

Applying is very trying and people usually get very nervous about it, starting to fret about irrelevant details. I would like to tell you to stop doing that, but I doubt I or many in your position would be able to do that. In a couple of months, you will know.

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    You meant to write "to find out directly"? Commented Jan 24, 2023 at 18:39
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    I have supplied letters of recommendation to law schools. I usually have the person asking for it prepare the "rough draft", then I'll edit as much as I think necessary before sending. The metadata would usually show someone other than me as the original author. Commented Jan 24, 2023 at 18:50
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TL;DR Hanlon's Razor - never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity

No, I don't think you (or your document or the meta data) is stupid. Rather, this is an example of something where the plain explanation (you helped get the letterhead) actually makes more sense than you writing your own recommendation letters.

The Word (and similar applications) meta data is a bit wacky and unreliable. In addition to your situation (you created a blank and sent it to someone else who wrote the real text), there are similar problems if a computer changes ownership (existing documents continue to show old meta data unless explicitly changed, even though new documents show new meta data), if one persons sets up documents for a group, etc. The meta data often has "junk" info if the computer was set up generically and then handed to a user (username = user, password = password1, etc.) And on top of all of that, I think the average user has no idea the meta data even exists!

I was once involved in a situation with some legal documents that showed something like 3am as the edit time. I am fairly well convinced (this was before most computers used automatic internet time setting) that it was not foul play in the middle of the night but rather an AM/PM problem when setting the clock on the computer.

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    Totally unrelated to Academia: If you fly to another time zone, and your phone or computer doesn't display the right time, please please please change the timezone, and not the time. That avoids most AM/PM problems. Or you might be in London and look at a legal document that was modified at lunchtime in Los Angeles, and shows 10pm GMT.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Jan 26, 2023 at 13:01
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Put yourself in the shoes of the members of an admissions committee. You have to go through hundreds of applications, and your time is limited. And, above that, you still have your routine work to do -- research, teaching, grading, writing grant proposals. Will you have time or desire to investigate the metadata of the documents? Of course, you won't -- unless you come across something totally bizarre and abnormal (in which case you will first get in touch with the recommenders). So please calm down. The chances of this happening are asymptotically approaching zero. Good luck with your applications!

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