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I have been working with 2 faculty members on the same project. I took a class from each of them, and the three of us meet in person on a weekly basis. I think it's reasonable to assume that they've seen the same level of research ability from me.

I am planning on applying to graduate school, so I was wondering if it's appropriate to ask them for a joint letter? My motivation behind this is

  • the two of them mentor me on the same project, so 2 separate letters may have unnecessary overlap?
  • applications typically require 3 letters (I already have 2). For schools which you can submit > 3 letters, I would think they still value quality > quantity
  • may be slightly less work for both of them (?)

I don't want to come off rude by asking the two of them to co-write a letter of recommendation for me. Is it generally deemed appropriate to ask two faculty members to do this? I think this is quite uncommon because on applications I only get to designate one writer per letter of recommendation (i.e. provide just one name, his/her title, email, phone, etc). If so, how should I phrase the question of asking both of them to co-write a strong letter of rec for me?

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    Concerning your last point: Writing letters of recommendation might be different from other writing tasks, but I have so far never found jointly writing something to be less work than writing it on my own, so I think that question mark is probably well warranted. – sgf Jun 23 '17 at 14:41
  • @sgf, surely jointly writing research papers is less work than writing it by yourself? – user2768 Jun 23 '17 at 15:13
  • Before going down the path of getting one letter from two people, you might want to determine if it makes more sense to not go forward with a letter from one of the other two people who have already agreed to write letters and, instead, proceed with two distinct letters from the two faculty members you mentioned in your question. (You might also consider editing your question to elaborate on who your other two letter writers are and why you think those letters are helping to strengthen your application.) – Mad Jack Jun 23 '17 at 15:48
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    Two professors offered to write me a joint letter of recommendation for graduate school. I had not worked particularly close to any of them, but had taken classes with both and we were all participating regularly in a seminar. Both professors had previously attended the school I was applying to and I got accepted. In this case the school welcomed 5 letters and I had 4. – Improve Jun 24 '17 at 0:34
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I have received applications that have had such a letter in them (well, at least one). It came from a lab director and the applicant's immediatiate postdoc supervisor in that lab. I thought the letter conveyed the student's experience in that lab very well, provided a nice bottom-to-top view, and it was more clear than if it were two letters, as I didn't need to put the connection between two letters together in my own head.

The letter did not raise any eyebrows, and it seemed entirely appropriate to me.

It's probably not the right thing to do more often than it is the right thing to do, but when it's right, it's right.

To directly answer the "how do I ask" question, something along the lines of "given the limit on the number of recommenders allowed, it occurs to me that there may be certain advantages to getting a joint letter from you and Dr. X, especially because ... [reason goes here]. Do you think this is an OK approach, and are you amenable?"

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To be honest I have never heard of such a thing. Even when getting letters from professors who co-advise all their students (such as husband and wife profs), I have been given distinct letters.

I would recommend picking one of them. If in their letter they were to say that they're working with you along with Professor Plum and the letter writer believes Plum shares his/her sentiment, that would be fine. But co-signing does seem very unusual.

PS. If you were applying someplace that required exactly one letter, there might be some stronger case for combining them. Given that there are 3 but you've already allocated 2 of them, I think it would be really odd to try to have the 3rd cosigned: it's like you're cheating to get 4 people to recommend you when you're allowed 3.

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