I have received a letter of recommendation which clearly has been written by my referee's assistant, rather than himself. That in itself wouldn't be a problem if it didn't contain phrases such as what's more... and like event study etc.

What should I do about this? Do I just forget about the reference? Do I very carefully suggest to the assistant to make some minor changes (this letter is based on a previous draft I was asked to submit)?

It may also be worth noting that the referee is the first supervisor for my thesis and I do not want to seem ungrateful by requesting changes to my letter of recommendation.

It seems to me that the use of the phrase what's more in a letter of recommendation is per se unacceptable, but my native language is German, so any comments by native speakers of English in this regard is appreciated.

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    If you're applying for something in the US, you should never see your own recommendation letters. – JeffE Dec 8 '14 at 14:39
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    @JeffE What do you mean by this? It should go straight from referee to the receiver? Or you should receive it and not look at it, else it will create unnecessary stress? – user25300 Dec 8 '14 at 15:48
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    What do you mean by your "referee?" Is this a role different from or in addition to being your thesis adviser? Is the letter signed by the assistant, or by the supervisor? It probably matters whether you're in the US or Europe. My understanding is that European letters are usually very brief and rely on the prestige of the recommender, whereas US letters are fulsome odes of praise. In the US system, I don't think a strong letter written in bad English would be discounted if it was being read by people who knew the writer by reputation and knew that his/her native language was Hungarian. – user1482 Dec 8 '14 at 16:55
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    Note that "what's more" is not in itself an error or particularly casual: collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english-thesaurus/what-s-more Of course the letter might not use it appropriately: you've seen it and I haven't, so your call whether to request correction. – Steve Jessop Dec 8 '14 at 18:50
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    @Committingtoachallenge Recommenders send their letters directly to your target departments. – JeffE Dec 9 '14 at 2:20

I would certainly request a corrected version. Like you said, in a careful measure, I would keep the tone of the message somewhere along the lines "some minor mistakes, happens to all of us, but these little changes go a long way in credibility of the letter". In other words, don't criticize, put together a list of things you want corrected and send them to the referee. I deduce from your question that the letter was proxy-written, i.e. you haven't been told that it was the assistant who wrote it. That's why I'm recommending to contact the referee and not the assistant. However, if that is not the case, include both of them.

I can't see why someone other than an extreme ego-maniac would choose not to correct their own grammar mistakes. Even it they for whatever reason do, it's still better than just to "forget about the reference".

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Start in an e-mail to the referencer "Dear Dr. X, Thank-you ever so much for the reference letter." If there was something nice brought up in it like "Constantin was an excellent student", thank them for the kind words while citing the letter. Then, after you say your thanks, bring up the minor errors (don't list them exhaustively) asking if they could correct them, please. Thank them for their time in reading your e-mail.

If they can't correct it, say thanks. If they can correct it, say thanks and that you really appreciate them taking time out of their busy day.

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  • Perhaps I need to clarify, there don't seem to be any grammatical mistakes in the letter. Rather, it uses simple, almost naive and inappropriately casual style ( for example, the letter describes the methodology I used in an event study simply as event study etc.). This is much harder to bring up. The general tone of the letter is however very positive. – Constantin Dec 8 '14 at 17:20
  • @Constantin Oh, that. Yes, I've had recommendation letters like that too. They aren't too uncommon from professors and the like. Long story, I won't delve into theories on why this is. If you need the recommendation letter to stand by itself, just thank the individual and after doing so say "because this is the main piece, do you mind adding a bit more detail to X, Y, and Z so that the reader has a better grasp on it". – Lan Dec 9 '14 at 2:29
  • @Constantin If this is one letter of a few or is accompanied by something written by you further describing your work (CV or Cover Letter with attached references) and unless the quality is very bad, you should be content with the letter as it is. Writing a proper/great letter of recommendation is difficult after all. If they go into details, they risk running three times as long as you need. If they try to be brief, a letter possibly like yours arises. – Lan Dec 9 '14 at 2:30

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