Writing references

Most academic staff will be asked to write references for students applying for graduate study and employment opportunities. This section of our website is designed to provide information on why employers use references and some guidelines on good practice in reference writing.

Employers use references to confirm claims made on a CV or application form and to receive an opinion on an applicant's suitability for the position. In some cases a reference request may come to you in the form of a short questionnaire about the candidate allowing you to tick boxes which apply to each factor for which information is sought. At other times, you may be referred to a job description and asked to indicate how well the candidate meets the requirements of the position applied for.

Generally to confirm student/graduate status of UCD and to confirm grades, GPA and final classification achieved. In addition, you may be asked to comment on, for example, a candidate's ability to work effectively with others, to be creative, accept responsibility or make effective presentations, for example:

  • Team work/leadership- how has the student interacted with peers (perhaps through tutorials, peer mentoring) and academic staff- perhaps as a class representative.
  • Motivation/Self Management- how well does the student meet deadlines, strive to succeed and persist to achieve success. Does the person plan work and organise it well to meet deadlines?
  • Communication skills- can the applicant organise their written and oral communications well. Do they display good use of grammar, punctuation and avoid including text language in their written work. Being able to organise and deliver effective presentations is also important in the graduate workplace.
  • Analytical- employers will look for evidence of critical thinking skills and an ability to engage in both intellectual and operational problem-solving.

In addition you may be asked to comment on a student's character, for example, trustworthiness, integrity, self-confidence and drive. Employers value this information because it helps them consider the contribution the applicant may make to the employers workplace in general.

There are some generally accepted dos and don'ts when it comes to reference writing, here are some of the main points to bear in mind:


  • Reply to a request for a reference quickly as the employer/course provider is unlikely to make a job offer without your reply. This may mean that the student loses the offer of a job or course.
  • Format your reference in the layout requested. If you do not, the reference may be invalid.
  • Be fair to both the candidate and the person requesting a reference. Be factual.
  • If possible, share the reference with the candidate before sending it on.
  • If you feel that you cannot positively support an application, please contact the applicant and ask that they source an alternative referee.


  • Use ambiguous language.
  • Provide information that is defamatory which could be used against you in legal proceedings.
  • Provide references over the telephone if at all possible as you then have no record of what was said and by whom.
  • Draw attention to a candidates weaknesses without providing a positive counterbalance.