Professors take the job of writing recommendation letters very seriously and expect students to do the same. Professors will vary in their particular expectations and practices, but here are some general guidelines to help you get the best possible letters.
1. Choose a faculty member who knows you well. Graduate schools, law schools, and employers read hundreds of letters. Specific and detailed reference letters can get you noticed and taken seriously as a candidate. The more a professor knows about you, the more specific and detailed the letter can be.
2. Make a formal request (by e-mail or appointment). Explain the purpose of the recommendation and why you have chosen the professor. Give the professor time to consider your request. It is helpful if you can provide a draft statement of purpose when you make the request. Ask for feedback as part of the process.
3. Ask early. Make an appointment at least three weeks, preferably a month, before the letter is due, particularly if you are asking for multiple letters from the same professor.
4. Provide specific detailed information. Find out what the particular professor wants from you, but as a general matter you should provide all of the following:
> a comprehensive list of all the courses you have taken with the professor, grades received, and details of any special projects you completed (you may provide copies of papers or presentation slides if the professor requests);
> an updated resume that highlights your qualifications for the desired position;
> a list of your other references;
> a list of talking points you would like the professor to emphasize; and
> if you haven't already provided your statement of purpose, do so now.
5. Complete all parts of the recommendation form that can be filled out by you and if the letter of recommendation form has a waiver always check the 'yes' box.
6. Provide all of the application forms and materials. Nowadays many, if not most, graduate schools accept on-line recommendations. Make sure that the professor receives the e-mail and link to the necessary forms. Provide any hard copy forms along with an addressed and stamped envelope well in advance of deadlines.
7. Follow up to make sure all of your recommendations have been received, and send a gentle inquiry to the professor if it is getting close to deadline and the letter hasn't been submitted.
8. Send a thank you note and let the faculty member know how your applications work out.
Adapted from longer document at: