Ask for the letters early on, don't wait until the day before the letter is supposed to be sent in to request the letters of recommendation. Instead ask ahead of time. If you are going to apply to school ask your professor at least a month ahead of time. If you are seeking a professional letter, ask for a letter of recommendation whenever you leave a job.
Assist the writer with as much material as necessary, providing the writer with your resume and a list of achievments will make it easier on the writer. You may also want to give him/her any information that will help with the letter including your plans for the future, your strengths, experiences and other qualities you want to be presented in the letter. Be honest about the information you give, if you embellish it'll catch up with you later.
You should provide the writer with a stamped and addressed envelope. Also if there is a guideline that needs to be followed or any other material that needs to be filled out, you should provide that to him/her.
After the letter is sent out, you should send a thank you note to the writer. You can also thank them in person or over the phone as well.
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