How should a professor proceed when a student or colleague asks for a letter of recommendation and the professor does not have a high opinion of that person?

  • 20
    In short: Just say no.
    – Dan C
    Aug 1 '12 at 13:30
  • 7
    At the risk of putting anyone on the defensive (I don't mean to); when would the answer ever not be "say no"? The letter writer would be doing the student/colleague a huge disservice by writing a weak letter but letting their expectation remain that they have a strong recommendation. Aug 1 '12 at 21:43
  • @JohnMoeller I asked because this answer suggested that some people think differently. Aug 2 '12 at 8:05
  • Fair enough. I suppose that you could say, "I'll write you a recommendation, but it will have to be somewhat weak." Aug 2 '12 at 19:45

Although it may be quite awkward, it is certainly acceptable to tell the student/colleague that you do not feel you can write a strong LoR for them, and to suggest that they ask someone else. This may seem rude or even unkind, but it's much better for the student/colleague in the long run than a lukewarm or poor letter.

  • 7
    In fact, in some cases students don't understand that they should get the best letters possible, or that it's not all perfunctory. Aug 1 '12 at 15:31

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