Article slightly modified from here.
1. Ask someone who knows you well and who will be able to discuss in specific detail what distinguishes you and why you are a strong candidate.
- Be sure to ask: “Do you feel you know me and my abilities well enough to write a strong letter of recommendation for this application?” You’ve now given the professor the opportunity to decline gracefully. If the answer is “no,” don’t push. This inquiry may be done via email-if you already have an established relationship with the potential recommender.
2. Request letters well in advance of the application deadline. Two to four weeks is often adequate, but it is often helpful to consult with the recommender to see how much time they prefer. Doing so is especially important for letters for major fellowships and for letters that need to be written over the summer.
3. Schedule an appointment with your recommenders to discuss the position/scholarship/school, its selection criteria, your most recent and commendable activities, and to suggest what each letter-writer might emphasize. (You may want to let your recommenders know who your other recommenders are, so that they can write letters that complement rather than repeat one another.)