What is a Character Reference Letter?

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  • Written By: Malcolm Tatum
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 16 July 2018
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Character reference letters are written communications that are used to recommend an individual for a specific position within a company or for some capacity within a community or non-profit organization. Sometimes known as a personal letter of reference, such a letter is usually written by friends or family members. The main purpose is to indicate that the individual who is the subject of the letter possesses specific character traits that make him or her ideally suited for the position.

This is different from an employee reference letter. Letters of recommendation prepared by current and past employers focus more on the specific talents or skills the individual has to offer. By contrast, a character reference letter is more likely to address such issues as the degree of honesty and integrity the individual expresses in relationships and in his or her activities in the community.

Because of the purpose of the reference letter, the tone is often much more casual than a formal letter of recommendation. When written by family and friends, the letter is likely to include specific examples that help to illustrate the character traits that make the individual qualified for the position. For example, if the individual is applying to become a volunteer mentor at a children’s home, the letter may provide one or two examples of how he or she interacts successfully with children and young adults.


In general, it is a good idea to include three related attributes within the body of the letter. Examples of those attributes are provided, based on the perspectives of the writer of the letter. In order to achieve the purpose, a character letter should be relatively short, usually no more than one typewritten page.

A simple format for a character reference letter involves creating an opening. The opening identifies who the writer is and what relationship he or she has to the subject. Typically, the opening will also be the place to briefly state the three attributes the writer believes makes the individual qualified for the position or task under consideration.

The main body of the letter will provide experiences that help to illustrate the attributes identified in the opening. The examples of these experiences should be direct and focused, thus making them very easy for the reader to grasp. Generally, a paragraph for each attribute composed of no more than three sentences will suffice.

The closing essentially reiterates the good character of the individual under consideration and ends with a direct recommendation from the writer. It is not necessary for the closing to be long; two simple sentences will cover the purpose with ease.

A character reference letter may be handwritten, or prepared using a word processing program. In both cases, the letter should be signed by the sender and include contact information that the recipient can use in case more information is required.


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Post 4

@Panda2006- I just wanted to say that the only experience I have had with character references involved my children when they were applying to another school.

The teachers at my children's current school had to to fill out a character reference form regarding my children's behavior and intellect.

My children are applying at a prestigious private school that required not only the academic transcripts and standardize testing scores but also asked for a character reference.

They do not request a letter, but they do ask questions regarding the temperament of the child as well as their intellectual capacity in a form that the parent has to give the school.

The school then sends the form to

the prospective school in order to complete the file for admissions testing.

The parent never sees what the teacher wrote and they have to sign a waiver to indicate that they will not pursue the information given by the teacher in any legal manner.

This allows the teacher to be as candid as possible.

Post 3

Sometime you might be brought an application form with a basic reference letter template that you just have to fill in; if not, it's good to ask the person who asks you for a reference to make sure you know what they need you to talk about.

Post 2

@Catapult, that happens a lot for teachers and professors as well. Students often have to get more than one from different types of teachers or advisers, and so it gets very complicated. When you need an employer reference letter especially, make sure you choose a teacher who not only has a good opinion of you, but knows your work well and can actually give a good recommendation. Someone who has never taught you, but led a field trip you took, is going to write a lot of things like "I think this, but I am not sure."; not the most convincing thing.

Post 1

Many students, both high school and college age, need personal reference letters. They usually need to get them from teachers, coaches, and other adults in their lives for things like the next stage of school, scholarships, summer programs, or internships and jobs.

I had to write several when I was in college because, as someone who had been on Residence Life, many of my younger friends wanted me to write their recommendations when they applied. While I never had to write one for someone I didn't approve of, there were people who did; it can be really hard to write a recommendation or reference letter for someone you don't think would do a good job, because you have to be honest, and they came to you hoping for something positive.

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