Each potential supervisor gives different weight to parts of the application. Reference letters can provide insight into your potential as a graduate student beyond what is provided by your transcript. Get to know faculty members who may write you a letter by working in their labs or taking seminar courses with them. Approach them early about writing a reference. Outline the reason for the request (admissions, scholarships, etc.) and provide background material they can use (e.g., a personal statement, outline of research experience, transcripts) - specific letters are more persuasive. Try to learn if they feel they can write a strong recommendation and provide a way for them to decline rather than have them write a lukewarm letter. Remember, many faculty members write dozens of such letters each year. Find a way to stand out. The American Psychological Society published an interesting article in the Observer (18:5, May 2005) on effective letters of reference.
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