The situations in which a character reference letter might be needed are quite varied. You might need one for a common job or school-related purpose, or for a special situation such as preparing to adopt a child, seeking child custody, in criminal court situations, for parole hearings,
Credibility is very important in a character reference. For example, you probably wouldn't ask a fellow inmate to write a letter to the parole board on your behalf. If you're seeking a housing-related reference, a good choice would be a current or former landlord. If you wish to adopt a child, strongly consider having another parent among one of your references. Other potential character references include: family friends, sports coach, pastors or other clergy, members of clubs and sports teams, coworkers, business associates, neighbors and doctors.
You want to be sure to choose a reference who has seen you in positions of responsibility, and where trust in you has been displayed. Anecdotes (short stories) giving examples are especially important in character reference letters. The letter writer should mention how long he or she has known you, and in what capacity. Keep copies of all your reference letters.
Character references by nature focus more on personal attributes than marketable skills. These letters are also typically less formal than employment or academic letters. They don't need to be formatted in business "block" style (with spaces between the paragraphs).
In a letter written on behalf on someone seeking to adopt a child, be sure to detail how long you've known the person or couple and in what capacity. Mention qualities you have observed and include some examples of how you've witnessed them interact with children and their approach to raising children. Try not to be too "over the top"; no one is perfect. Check to see if the letter needs to be notarized. Also, keep in mind that the letter may be seen by birth parents, but often is just used by the adoption agency.
For letters written to court officials or parole boards, experts say it's best to acknowledge the severity of the crime or situation, and don't make excuses-even if you believe the person is innocent.
If you are writing as a recommendation for someone in regard to a criminal court case, or other case such as child custody, it's a good idea to ask an attorney about how to format a letter, what to put in it in and to whom to address it (i.e.: "Your Honor"). Also, find out if the statement needs to be notarized and who you should give it to.
Be sure to proofread your letter for spelling and other errors, and preferably have someone else take a look at it as well. Use good-quality paper (with letterhead if possible), and use a computer or typewriter rather than hand-writing the letter, unless you have no other option. Keep a copy for your records.
Index of letter of recommendation templates