Department of English

How do I...


...Request a Letter of Recommendation?

(Adopted from the website of the Department of English, Harvard University)

Every academic year, faculty receivemany requests for letters of recommendation from students and former students. Faculty members take considerable time to write in detail and make every effort to present a candidate in the best possible light. The reasons for these letters include: graduate, law, business, medical, and other professional schools, summer fellowships, travelling fellowships, study abroad programs, Phi Beta Kappa, prizes, employment, and internships. Following are some suggestions to facilitate this process:

  • Give at least three, preferably four or more, weeks notice for any request. Even if you know that the instructor has a letter already on file, do not assume that it can be changed and quickly printed. Letters may need significant revision best to fit a particular purpose.

  • Include a written statement of the due date and whether it is a postmark or a receipt date.

  • Provide a written description of the purpose of the letter and/or a copy of instructions intended for the person writing. If there are multiple letters for different purposes, provide a description for each (e.g., graduate school, law school, travelling fellowship).

  • Provide copies of class papers and of any other papers directly relevant, with instructor's original comments if possible.

  • Fill out any forms as completely as you can. Do not expect the person writing for you to fill out any information that you yourself know.

  • It is advisable to provide a copy of your transcript (an unofficial one is fine) and a CV (if available). At the very least, provide a list of classes and dates taken.

  • Offer to have an individual conference about the reasons for your application(s). At the very least, explain these reasons either by including a written statement or by including a draft of your project or statement of purpose submitted with your application.

  • Include fully addressed envelopes for each letter.

  • Affix sufficient postage, even if it's going elsewhere in the university (letters are often mailed from home or from other locations). Don't make someone else pay.

  • Make certain to fill out any waiver request, either yes or no. This is easily missed.

  • Note that some hiring committees take a letter more seriously if the candidate has waived their right to access.

  • Do not email requests for letters along with attachments. Print out everything and give or send all materials to the person whom you are asking to write for you. In other words, don't expect the person writing for you to print out your work or to visit a web site (unless strictly required by the party receiving the letter).

  • Never assume that a letter can be faxed or emailed at the last minute. This puts unacceptable constraints on the person writing on your behalf.


...write a Curriculum Vitae?

(Adapted from the website of Susan Hegeman, University of Florida)

Curriculum Vitae Q & A

Who should have a c.v.?

Anyone who has so much as gone to a conference should start a c.v. It's easy to set up in a word processing file. You can then simply add to it as you present papers, develop new courses, get publications, win teaching awards, etc. Having a c.v. file will not only save you time when you start applying for jobs, it will give you an opportunity to think about and record the development of your professional credentials.

What kinds of categories should I include on my c.v.?

The holy trinity of academic evaluation is Research, Teaching, and Service -- with the first two of these HEAVILY weighted in significance. Your c.v. should address your experience, skills, and accomplishments in all three of these areas, if possible. The categories you use to organize the information should be broken down so that they are easy to comprehend, but you should also manipulate them to signal your strengths.  Here are some typical categories of information in a suggested order of presentation.1-7 and 11 are required; 8-10 are more or less optional.

 1. contact information: addresses, e-mail, phone number
 2. Education: degrees, institutions
 3. Awards: teaching awards, fellowships, etc.
 4. Publications (see below)
 5. conferences attended
 6. Teaching experience and interests:  don't simply list course numbers; they are meaningless outside your home institution!
 7. Service:  involvement with student groups, Student Council, conference organizing, etc.
 8. other professional experience: editing, writing, other teaching and lecturing, web design, fundraising, etc.
 9. other professional skills: lanugages spoken, unusual skills
10. professional affiliations: organizations you belong to: MLA, CCCC, etc.
11. References

How long should a c.v. be?

When you apply for academic jobs, you can plan to send a full-length c.v., which includes whatever information you consider it important to convey -- including the kind of info you might not have room to put in a job application cover letter (e.g., that you had an interesting career before going to grad school, or that you have major technical skills working with computers). In other words, there is no practical limit to the length of a full c.v. You can edit down this full-length c.v. to accommodate the occasional requests you may get (for example, with a call for papers) for a "brief" c.v. (usually 1 to 2 pp. in length).

How fancy should a c.v. be?

Academics are relatively conservative when it comes to the aesthetics of professional credentials. I don't advise being too fancy with the graphic and typographical elements, or departing too radically from the standard format. Also, don't bother to buy gorgeous 20lb mauve paper. It's a waste of money, and not too impressive.

What can I include under the heading "Publications"?

You can include anything under this heading that has been published, or that has been accepted for publication. In the latter case, you need to describe it as "forthcoming" or "in press." It is not cricket to include in this category anything you have submitted for publication but haven't received a decision on yet. And wouldn't it be embarrassing to have to tell a prospective employer that your essay isn't "forthcoming" from Journal X after all…. If you have multiple types of publications, you may want to consider breaking down this heading to reflect that fact, or to emphasize your most important publications. There is a rough hierarchy of kinds of academic publications. In descending order of prestige they are as follows: books, edited collections, articles in refereed journals, articles in books or unrefereed journals, long reviews, short reviews, encyclopedia and reference book entries. Non-academic articles or reviews, fiction, poetry, etc., should be listed in categories separate from academic publications.