I need a academic reference for application of a PhD program. I believe this is the same as what is called a Letter of Recommendation, at other institutions.

I am getting one from my potential supervisor, and I need one other. I thought through all the lecturers I had, and came up with a priorities list of people to approach. Taking into account (in rough order of priority): How likely they are to remember me, How relevant their units/expertise are to my intended course of study, How well I did in their Unit/s, and How research/project focused the Unit/s I did under them were.

The person I found most suitable is currently lecturing me, and has done serveral times before.

I figured I would basically send him an email saying:

"Looking at continuing my studies on X, that I mentioned to you before, with a PhD. For this I need a academic reference. I thought you might be suitable because of (reasons outlines above). Could we meet to discuss this some time in the next few weeks? I am free on Monday mornings, Tuesday afternoons ..."

I thought, fairly casual, not really a big deal kinda thing. But then I got looking around the internet, and it seems like maybe it is a big deal. There seems like there is lots of advice and template letters out there.

So is it actually worth worrying too much about? Should I spend say a hour or so checking over my request email, to make sure I am giving all the right information and that it is formatted nicely and perfectly grammatical?

Or is it more of a casual thing, the email serves its purpose to give the key points of information and to arrange a meeting. It will be a throw away communication.

Is it different because he is currently lecturing me, so it is not so much of a cold call?

If it is cultural depended I am in Australia. I am applying to the same institution I am currently doing my undergraduate/honours at.

  • I'd keep it even shorter, but I'd write whole sentences. Better yet, just ask in person after class. Reason: Don't waste his time with longwinded email ping pong. Sep 14, 2014 at 14:28

1 Answer 1


If the person who you're asking for a letter of reference knows you well enough to write a good letter of recommendation, you don't really need to be worried about the formality of the request. You should be able to ask: "I would like to talk to you about writing a letter of recommendation for me. Could we set an appointment?" or something similar to that, and it should be fine.

Remember: writing letters of recommendation is one of the responsibilities of faculty members (and other instructors)!

  • 2
    +1. They've gotten the same request many times, and it is part of their role as instructors. The worst they're likely to say is "Sorry, but I don't think I know you and your work well enough to write a good recommendation."
    – keshlam
    Sep 14, 2014 at 14:45
  • 1
    It may be their job, but make it a pleasant one. You want the work to go into saying nice things, not in clicking through google and four or five screens or emailing you back and forth finding out where to submit the recommendation or other particulars. So it becomes your job to supply the web links, name and email address, or other necessary information, and email is probably the best medium for supplying all that. If the graduate program require forms sent in the post (how quaint!), supply the postage stamps. Requests lacking these details risk that the letter will never arrive or worse.
    – Paul
    Sep 14, 2014 at 19:49
  • @Paul: Yes, you want to provide all of that information—but only after they've agreed to the request!
    – aeismail
    Sep 14, 2014 at 20:18

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