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Addressing Implicit Bias

ONSF is committed to increasing both the diversity and competitiveness of U-M students applying to major national scholarships and fellowships. One way we do this is by providing resources to letter writers to ensure that all U-M applicants are celebrated, supported, and given the best chance possible as they apply to highly competitive scholarship and fellowship competitions. 

This page addresses the importance of understanding the language recommenders use in writing letters of recommendation, how word choice can affect an applicant's chances, what can be done to recognize implicit bias in writing recommendations, and how to write the best recommendation possible for all applicants. 



Tips to avoiding gender bias in reference writing: are you planning on writing a lettrer of reference for a great student?  Don't fall into these common traps based on unconscious gender bias.

In Bridging the Gap: Perspectives on Nationally Competitive Scholarships, fellowship advisors examine gender bias, the characterization of leadership, and how language in recommendation letters can impact a student's application to nationally competitive awards.  

Read the excerpt available here, or access the full EBook (see Chapter 5).


Inside Higher Ed's "Damning With Faint Praise." An analysis of 1,224 recommendations suggests that the language used to descrbe women in letters of recommendation may put them at a disadvantage.

Research Studies about Bias in Letters of Recommendation

If you are interested in learning more about research pertaining to implicit, gender, and racial bias in letters of recommendation we have provided several studies below. These articles are available online or through a login. 

Additional Resources

The Reinert Center for Transformative Teaching & Learning created a resource guide for recommenders, that includes a recommender's checklist, along with a list of common superlatives found in letters of recommendation.

Read the full PDF here.

 AAUW's Barriers and Bias: The Status of Women in Leadership report provides general information on implicit bias, as well as on how it can play a role in letters of recommendation (p. 32) and ways to reduce it (p. 35). 

Read the full PDF here.

Avoiding Racial Bias in Letter of Reference Writing

Got a great student or junior scholar who is a person of color (POC)? Planning to write a super letter of reference? Don’t fall into these common traps rooted in unconscious bias. 

Read the full PDF here.