Recommended most highly

This may seem like a simple thing, but I get requests for a considerable number of letters of recommendation every year. I suspect you do, too. I almost always say yes–partly out of being somewhat flattered, I’ll admit, but also because the majority of students (and faculty) who ask me for these letters are perceptive enough to recognize ahead of time that I have a fairly high opinion of them. And I must just be very friendly.

Just for fun, I kept a count one year. I wrote 45 separate letters for 23 different individuals. And yes, that means I wrote 23 new letters starting with blank pages. Most of the others required modest modifications of text that I already felt described this individual well. But in any case, anyone who has plopped themselves down in front of a blank, white form replete with blinky cursor knows that this isn’t a small amount of time…or effort.
But truly, I usually don’t much mind. But in the middle of a difficult letter, in the midst of a mild bout with writer’s block, I started wondering if our increasing mutual scrutiny has resulted in ‘regard inflation’ in the same way we’re experiencing ‘grade inflation’. Of course, there’s no way to know. But, the scientist in me just itches to find a way to find out.
I’ve seen a few examples (possibly apocryphal) of letters with double entendre that appeared at first read to be supportive of a candidate’s application, but…. I’m wondering if any of my readers have any examples (either of their own creation, or anecdotal) they would be willing to share here. Any great bon mots out there???
And how has your own experience been with letters? If you have a request from a student for whom you know you won’t write a glowing report, how do you decline? And do each of you get hit with 45 letters in a year, or does it just feel that way???
Please let me know. If you don’t wish to comment here, write me at 

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