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I am not a native speaker and I have to write a letter of recommendation for X. Writing the letter, I noticed that I used the personal pronoun 'he' a lot, because I talked about X in every sentence. Then I thought that maybe I could replace 'he' with 'the applicant' in some places. If I wrote a recommendation letter in my native language, that would be exactly what I would do for stylistic reasons, so as not to repeat 'he' or X too often.

However, I checked several recommendation letter samples online, here, here and here, and it turned out that no one uses the word 'the applicant' in a recommendation letter (or at least in those letters).

So, my question is, can one use 'the applicant' in such a letter, and if it is improper, then why?

  • Referring to him as "the applicant" sounds cold and impersonal, as if you did not know him personally. That is why it is not used in letters of recommendation. – Brian Hitchcock Jan 29 '15 at 15:54
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I would not refer to X as applicant. That is X' role vis-à-vis the people you are writing to, not a role in which you know X.

Instead, I would replace he at every third or fourth opportunity with X' name, particularly if I were eager for X to succeed in his application. Keep in mind that you are dealing with a correspondent who is probably dealing with dozens or scores of applications; anything you can do to ensure that X stands out and that his name is remembered when the applications are reviewed will increase his chance of success.

And don't worry about saying either he or his name too often. The whole letter is about him—it is perfectly natural for him to appear, in one guise or another, in every sentence.

  • 4
    When I write letters for my students I alternate between a pronoun, first name, and last name. "Jason is a heck of a guy! He is so swell. You should hire Mr. Patterson." – Jason Patterson Jan 29 '15 at 14:32
  • I agree that the applicant would read as too sterile and out-of-place. One might be able to get away with your candidate, but I'd only venture to try something like that very sparingly. – J.R. Jan 29 '15 at 15:56
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I would say yes, I've seen many letters with the applicant being used, however one of the reasons it is sometimes avoided is because the letter then becomes a bit too generic, and less unique.

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When a recommendation letter uses "the applicant" it sounds cold and remote. There is no warmth or good feeling, and it sounds like you are trying to distance yourself from him by being so formal.

If you are writing a recommendation letter, this is probably the exact opposite of what you are trying to convey.

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