How to ask me for a reference


I'm writing this at the height of the reference season (February 2007) and it occurred to me to make some notes about what I need from you, the candidate, so that I can write you the most useful reference possible.

Firstly, will I write you a reference? Yes, if I've taught you. Or if I know you well because you have been to see me a lot about something or other. The second sentence of any reference is: 'I taught [x] for [length of time] in weekly seminars and feel I know him/her well'. If I can't write a convincing second sentence I can't write a reference.

So: here is what I need from you:

1. Your name. Obviously. But also: a photograph. Sorry about this, but I've now taught thousands and thousands of students, and my memory (always awful for names) is even more awful than it was.

2. Your transcript. What marks you've got, so far.

3. Full details for the second sentence. When did I teach you (give the dates: eg semester 1, 2006), and in what course/s?

4. All the paperwork for the reference.

5. A copy of your application form/s, so that I can see what you are telling them about yourself.

6. Feedback sheets that you've had about your work (copies). This is very important.

7. A statement from you to me about what you would like me to say about you, what your strengths are as manifested in your contact with me, and so on. If agree with it, I will put it in the reference. As much of this as possible, please.

8. Anything else you feel is relevant or useful. The more you give me, the more I can say about you.

If you can do some or all of this by email, with attached documents, that's fine. The rest please put in one big envelope or file with your name clearly on it, and get to the office (or mail it to me) so that it ends up in my pigeonhole.

I'm sorry if this seems a lot of work for you. References are important. This will help you get the placement you want. Please spend time and care on it.


For anyone who wants them, my details are:

Mr (not Dr) Tom Davis

Lecturer in English

English Department

The University of Birmingham


Birmingham B15 2TT

phone: 0121 414 5680

fax: don't use it