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Canada Research Chairs Unconscious Bias Training Module


Avoiding racial bias in letter of reference writing Asmeret Asefaw Berhe and Sora Kim, University of California, Merced Based on Avoiding Gender Bias in letter of reference writing PDF flyer from University of Arizona; Accessible version


Chris Houser & Kelly Lemmons (2018) Implicit bias in letters of recommendation for an undergraduate research internship, Journal of Further and Higher Education, 42:5, 585-595


Five tips for writing great letters of reference: Avoiding unintentional bias and stereotypes Sharonne Hayes, LinkedIn (Published on April 27, 2016; accessed July 14, 2020.)

Tips for writing great letters of reference: Avoiding unintentional bias and stereotypes

  1. Be comprehensive: Include leadership roles, research, publications, and other important content in all letters. Gather this content first prior to writing your letter.
  2. Emphasize accomplishments, rather than effort. Where appropriate, use terms such as successful, excellent, accomplished, skilled, knowledgeable, research, insightful, and independent.
  3. Avoid the irrelevant: Don’t mention personal life and other information irrelevant to their future role.
  4. Be specific and honest about skills, accomplishments, abilities.
  5. Avoid doubt-raising phrases and hedges such as “likely to succeed’ vs ‘will undoubtedly succeed.’
  6. Use professional designations/honourifics consistently. (Either refer to applicants as “Dr. so-and-so” in all letters for PhD holders or not.)
  7. Avoid gendered terms such as “woman, mother, gentleman, father.” (Gendered terms more often used in LORs about women.)

Source: Adapted from Sharonne Hayes Professor, Cardiovascular Medicine & Director, Diversity & Inclusion, at Mayo Clinic. (Published April 27, 2016; accessed July 14, 2020.)