How to Write a Personal Reference Letter: 3 Tips That Experts Use

How to Write a Personal Reference Letter
Personal reference letters are informal in nature. The content is more personal than professional, and can be written by family members, friends or neighbors. Here are a few tips to help you draft it...
Penlighten Staff
Last Updated: Mar 26, 2018
A personal reference letter is, in most cases, written by a person belonging to your inner circle of close relatives and friends. This is because the content of these letters is rather personal in nature, being more like a character sketch.
The highlight of these letters is the description of positive attributes that maybe known solely to people closest to you, outside your sphere of work. These letters are usually not required on the professional front, but maybe requested by individuals or agencies in matters regarding the following -
  • Adoption procedures
  • Club memberships
  • Child custody matters
  • Employment in fields related to community service (babysitters, caregivers, etc.)
Personal reference letters are not expected to be drafted in a rigid, formal format. Having said this, these letters cannot be overtly casual either. The tips that follow will help you understand the aspects that need to be kept in mind while writing personal letters of reference.
Tips to Write a Personal Reference Letter
To begin with, personal reference letters need that unmistakable personal touch. The letter should not, in any manner, seem detached or hastily written. This is because, the reader expects deeper insights into the subject's character, which will only be known to those close to him/her. Keeping this in mind, make sure that you cover the following areas in the prescribed format.
Writing the Introduction
The introduction is expected to be concise and crisp. Although this letter may not be stiffly formal, one cannot take liberties with it. Begin with writing a few points about yourself, and explain your relationship with the subject. Mention how long you've known him/her, and the fact that you're glad to be writing this letter for the person concerned.

Here's how you may go about it-
"It gives me great pleasure to write this recommendation for my dear friend, Miles Massey. As proud members of the town welfare committee for 12 years, I had the opportunity to experience his fondness and dedication to the cause of bettering our community life in many different ways."
Developing the Main Content
This space is to be prudently used to lavish appreciative comments on the subject. A point to remember is that as the writer, you need to refrain from using over-the-top flattery, as it can only appear to be insincere. Stick to the facts, and stay away from being negative or harsh. Ensure that the tone of the letter remains earnest, and does not go on to become desperate.
Since the body of the letter can comprise 2-4 paragraphs, you may choose to describe a few anecdotes that depict the subject in a positive light, and sound heartfelt and genuine. This is the section where you can launch into the details of the subject's character and build on his/her best attributes.
Here's an example-
"As a neighbor, I have had the privilege of experiencing Matt's helpful nature, firsthand. In fact, among the many stories relating to his resourcefulness, the one that immediately comes to mind is this one, where he helped me trace my pet cat after a long and arduous search.
My cat had been gone for over a month, and we'd tried every trick in the book to trace him or lure him back. Eventually, it was Matt who did a lot of research and suggested that we launch a manual hunt after 1 am one night, as that's when these domesticated felines come out of their hiding spaces. As it happened, we found our pet two nights later, emerging out of an abandoned garage, a block away.
Despite his disinclination towards keeping pets, Matt was perceptive enough to understand our distress at losing our beloved pet, and willingly offered his assistance at a time when we needed it the most. If that's not a stellar neighbor, I don't know who is."

Closing Comments
As we've always been taught, the conclusion should ideally be a brief recap of what's already been described. The same rule applies while writing the conclusion for reference letters. Reinstate the qualities of the subject as a parting shot, so as to leave an impact on the reader. However, keep yourself from going overboard with praise, as it may again cast a doubt on the genuineness of your writing.
A conclusion like this seems acceptable-
"Michael's comforting presence in our community has been a source of unwavering support for all of us here at Wisteria Lane. I could go on describing other wonderful qualities that make Michael the gem that he is. However, I'd simply like to reinstate how much I appreciate his nature and his presence, and wish him all the success in any endeavor he decides to embark upon."
Remember to end the letter with a greeting and place your signature below it. As mentioned above, the most important feature of a personal reference letter is the insider's viewpoint it provides. So, try to be as genuine as possible while drafting this letter.