AfterMAPH: Picking Up the Pieces Part 4

Again, my preference is to approach the process of requesting LoR as an exercise asking the question “what has my professor agreed to grant me?” rather than assuming that he or she owes me something.  With the initial letter out of the way and a bright shiny guarantee of a strong letter newly delivered to one’s inbox, the electronic request made through Interfolio can be much more brief and direct–while still providing the information necessary for the writer to produce a good letter. Just as the informal request has five parts: 1) Re-introduction/relation, 2) Purpose for requesting a letter, 3) program of study/professional position description, 4) Reference materials, and 5) instructions for response, so too does the formal request through Interfolio.

The process of requesting a letter of recommendation is as easy as punching in the administrator or faculty member’s official email address and name into the Interfolio “Request a Letter” form which will then allow the graduate to request a letter either by sending a request electronically or by printing that request out.  Either way the contents of the request as dictated by the Interfolio form remain the same: an official id number for the document–that insures that the correct document from the correct respondent is matched to the correct graduate, the names of the requester and the proposed letter writer, and a generic request note which reads:

I am pursuing an opportunity that requires that I provide a letter of recommendation written about me by someone who knows me and my work. I am writing to request your assistance in that regard.

Thank you.


Now, this generic block of text might do the trick, providing that once the proposed letter writer gets around to actually addressing themselves to the Interfolio request that letter writer still remembers which of the tens 0f thousands of students the requester is and the contents of that initial informal request and doesn’t mind the fact that the graduate who set this process in motion is requesting a personal recommendation couldn’t be bothered to personalize their request.  However, returning to the tenants that we worked out in this series’ second post, the goal to make a request that doesn’t assume anything, makes the process of giving a recommendation as convenient as possible, and only to request letters from folks that have agreed to provide the best letters possible demands that we give the Interfolio text box a significant make-over.

The One-two punch – Stage 2: A Formal Request

The formal request is just the informal request with all extraneous information removed.

Dear Dr. Art,

Thank you so much for agreeing to strongly recommend me for future graduate work!  During my time in “The Aesthetics of Hume and Kant, “Philosophy and Literature,” and “Ordinary Language Philosophy” I came to appreciate not only your insights in philosophy and aesthetics, but the time that you spent both inside and outside class with me–so your willingness to take even more time to reflect on my qualifications and write a letter of recommendation is truly appreciated.

Your letter will help to establish my capacities for future graduate study at the Ph.D. level with selection committees some time in the next five years as I apply to pursue questions related to the “meaning” of art as communicated by the inclusion or exclusion of formal elements interpreted through some hermeneutic system akin to Grice’s Cooperative Principle which considers artistic intent as the guiding principle of critic’s interpretive work. As such my graduate work would likely follow lines similar to Noël Carroll’s work in intentionalism but with greater concern to build a theoretical model of how visual works communicate as analogous with methods and purposes of ordinary human conversation.

Please allow the three seminar papers I enclosed in my earlier email to inform your opinion of my capacities for academic work and my Masters thesis on the possibility of ethical constraints on appropriative art to serve as an introduction to and justification for the project which I propose to pursue in further graduate work at the Ph.D. level.



Obviously, the goal is to jog the potential letter writer’s recollection of the earlier informal request and also to provide, for reference, the broad strokes of the proposed course of study.  If, in the informal request, you spent significant time explaining and justifying the work you intend to pursue, that extra fluff can be trimmed from the body of the informal request. If Interfolio allowed attachments to their official requests, the inclusion of those documents in the original informal request would be unnecessary–as well as the need for the letter writer to dig out that earlier informal request–but unfortunately that option is not yet available.

Of the four requests that I have made using this One-two punch format through Interfolio, I have been successful in securing letters of recommendation in a timely manner in each and every case.  My hope is that you will be as fortunate with this system as I have been and if you aren’t successful at least it won’t be because you gave your letter writers an excuse to avoid writing a strong letter.  Good luck!

Note: My lovely wife and I will be returning to the frozen North over the next few days which means that the rest of this series will continue after a brief gap.  Topics I still intend to cover include the idea of “ending well” and “How to Market the MAPH” so look for those sometime next week.


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