How to Get Strong Letters of Recommendation from Professors

Graduate School: What to Consider Before Applying

  • “Want to Go to Grad School in English?” by Paul T. Corrigan. (Read this at least 6 times).
  • “Should I Get a Ph.D.?” by Jay Lemke. (You should read this and heed his advice on deciding whether, and where, to pursue the doctorate).
  • “Just Look at the Data, if You Can Find Any” by William Pannapacker (Be sure to click the link and read his earlier writings on graduate school in the humanities and the tough academic job market. Also, be advised that “humanities” does not necessarily mean “rhetoric and composition,” or “digital humanities,” areas in which the job market is stronger, though still highly competitive).
  • “On Graduate School and Love,” also by Pannapacker. (“So the rhetoric of “love” has an ambiguous meaning when it’s applied to graduate school. It can be impossibly idealistic, and deeply rooted in powerful experiences that override economic self-­interest. It also can be deeply cynical, a means of devaluing the work of some for the benefit of others.”)
  • “Moving the Goalposts in Graduate Education” by Marc Bosquet (“As responsible analysts have understood since the mid-1990s, this [lack of tenure-track jobs] isn’t because of an oversupply of Ph.D.s but an intentionally created undersupply of tenure-stream positions. Beginning in 1970, administrators began systematically turning teaching-intensive jobs into part-time or nontenurable positions that — they claim — don’t require a Ph.D.“)
  • Alt-ac Careers and the Purposes of Humanities Doctoral Programs” (by Alex Reid, on his blog Digital Digs:
    1. “Spending 8 years getting a PhD in the humanities probably doesn’t make good financial sense.  So don’t do it for that reason. (I know, that’s a shocker.)
    2. If you want to get a PhD for other, non-financial reasons, then, as they say, “it’s a free country.” However, it’s important to have both a national and program-level understanding of the career prospects of your degree, because at some point you will be looking for a job and you should at least make an informed decision.
    3. For different reasons, we should make an effort to create better careers for college teachers, though even if we did, point #1 would still apply.
    4. Part of creating such college positions should be thinking about the alternative-academic careers PhDs pursue on our campuses and ensuring as well as we can that those are well-paid and secure positions.”
  • Finding Fit (Cheryl Ball’s advice on understanding the various kinds of academic jobs. Useful for planning where to attend grad school and what you might do after you complete grad school.)

Statements of Purpose and Personal Statements

In addition to the #1 bit of advice to “write the statement only you could write” (i.e., don’t be generic or a walking cliche), read and consider this advice. These statements will require 10-20 drafts to be truly effective.

Graduate or Law School

  • “Hiding it from the Kids” (A statement of purpose is a painful, awkward, and difficult genre for most, but Graff can help you succeed.) This is a must-read. It is geared toward graduate school, but it is also applicable to law school.

    • If the link is broken (PDFs that professors put online sometimes aren’t there later), you can retrieve the article from JSTOR. It’s in College English 62.2 (1999), 242-54.
  • “How to Write a Great Statement of Purpose” (Vince Gotera offers some more useful advice.)

Law School

Law School

Start Here: “Should I Go to Law School?” Answer each of these questions in order.

Other Resources

Materials That Every Law Student (and Lawyer) Should Own

If you do decide to go to law school, you should buy, read, and annotate the following:


  • Orin Kerr’s “How to Read a Legal Opinion”   (Great practical advice.)
  • Lon Fuller’s classic “The Case of the Speluncean Explorers” (See also the extensive commentary by scholars and follow-up opinions, which a Google search will reveal. This is a performance of particular legal philosophies and very useful to see how particular approaches to the law play out in deciding a case).


  • Bryan Garner’s Dictionary of Legal Usage, 3d. ed., Redbook: A Manual of Legal Style, 3d ed., and Modern English Usage
  • Wilson Huhn’s The 5 Types of Legal Argument, 2d ed.
  • Richard Farnsworth’s The Legal Analyst: A Toolkit for Thinking about the Law
  • Ross Guberman’s Point Made: How to Write Like the Nation’s Top Advocates, 2d ed.
  • David S. Romantz and Kathleen Elliott Vinson’s Legal Analysis
  • Richard A. Posner’s How Judges Think, ch. 1, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 9, and Conclusion