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Adolescent Diary Weblogs and the Unseen Audience

Conversations in the Blogosphere: An Analysis "from the Bottom Up". Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences (HICSS-38) Best Paper Nominee.

Weblogs as a bridging genre

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The Performativity of Naming: Adolescent Weblog Names as Metaphor

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Last Updated November 22, 2005.

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New books are added but reading status is rarely accurate.

January 12, 2006

Writing Letters of Recommendation

Bardiac has a post on Writing Letters of Recommendation that breaks down the process very nicely. If you have to write letters for students this is good advice, likewise it is good reading for those of us that will one day be asking for such letters. This post, which I have sampled below, is very good reading for anyone for whom letters of recommendation factor into their working lives.

First, I try to figure out what my audience needs: I think, mostly, employers and graduate admissions folks want to know that the student is smart enough to do whatever it is, communicates well (verbally and in writing), listens, has ideas, and has at least the potential to contribute to whatever community is at stake. In order to "trust" my evaluation, the reader has to know how or why I've come to have my opinion, and then needs some good examples to see that my opinion is well-founded.

So, I start out with an introductory paragraph that tells a little about how I know the student, and for how long. The first sentence usually says something about how pleased I am to write on my student's behalf. That "pleasedness" is somewhat coded, of course. But I don't push that coding with any real skill, I'm afraid. I'm generally "pleased" or "very pleased" to recommend student X to program Y. If I'm not pleased (and for some reason haven't convinced the student that I'm a BAD choice), then I am just writing this letter for student X, rather than recommending student X. (I've written perhaps one of those letters?)

In the introductory paragraph, I introduce the student by first and last name, give information about classes (with semester/dates, if appropriate), advising, and so forth, being as specific as possible.

In the next section (which may be one or two paragraphs), I talk about the student's written work, again, as specifically as possible. This is where my previous advice about getting papers for letter writers helps me tons. I can quickly glance over the paper, get the title, thesis, and my response. I can also remind myself how well the student constructed the argument or whatever. If I've had the student several times, I emphasize the most recent work, and may also talk about the student's growth over the time I've known him/her. I use Ms/Mr X to talk about the student in this section.

In the third section, I talk about the student as a member of the community, in class, in the department or university, and so on. At this point, I generally switch to using the student's first name because I think this reflects the more personal nature of this sort of evaluation. If I don't switch, the letter seems cooler, somehow. Again, if I've known the student for a while, I can talk about his/her growth, his/her interests, and so on. I try to be as specific as I can; it helps a LOT if the student gives me his/her letter of application or statement of purpose, or reminds me about activities s/he's been involved with.

This section is where I deal with apparent problems in the application. For example, a couple years ago I had a rather wonderfully smart student who just didn't apply him/herself much. C had good ideas, was an intelligent, helpful participant in class when s/he was there, and was very capable. I LEARNED from C's work. C was also busy with things in life that had nothing to do with school, and so managed mediocre grades.

A few years after graduating, C decided s/he wanted to go to graduate school, and came to talk to me about a letter of recommendation. I responded honestly that while I thought C had great potential and could certainly do the work of graduate school, his/her grades didn't reflect that very well, and so forth. We talked a good bit about why C wanted to go on, what C wanted to do, and so forth, and I agreed to write the letter. In this section, then, I talked about our conversation, C's grades, C's strengths which I believed could lead to great success, why I thought C was ready to take real advantage of opportunities, and why C would be a wonderful member of a graduate school community. Whether because of or in spite of my letter, C was accepted to the graduate program s/he most wanted, and appears (from recent communications) to be thriving there.

In the final paragraph, I quickly reiterate my recommendation and offer to provide further information if the reader wants it. Here, again, I should probably do more with the code words, but I just don't seem to have them down in a meaningful way.

Posted by prolurkr at January 12, 2006 05:57 PM

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