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From Cover Letters To Laudatios
By Karen Pimtzner -- August 15, 2001

As a follow-up to my article on replying to applicants, it occurred to me that effective letter writing is becoming more and more a vital part of the award process.  For reply letters are no longer “cover letters” for sending our award graphic, but are now becoming as important (if not, more important) than the award itself.  They've even been given a title befitting their sudden gain in stature.  They are called “Laudatios.”

Karen Pimtzner

What Is A Laudatio?

Simply put, a laudatio is the Latin term for laudation from the word laud (to sing praise).  Thus, a laudatio is the very act of praising or commending an act or deed -- in this case, the creation of an award-winning web site.  They can be in the form of glowing descriptive commentaries of the web site itself or they can take the form of personal accolades for the webmaster, and his inherent skill and mastery in the art of web site creation.  Now, if we thought writing a simple reply letter to applicants was difficult, this is the real mouth-dropper.  For the first time, our words may be given a prominent place on an award-winner's web page, right alongside our award graphic, for the whole Cyberworld to see.  That’s right, kiddies.  Every word, every grammatical nuance, all up there in black and white.  And these very words are how people are going to judge our expertise as award-givers.  It’s not the graphic prize any longer that’s getting the headlines.  It’s the award ceremony. And the spotlight is on the presenters!

 You Can Run, But You Can't Hide

This is the portion of this article, where the “secret formula” for writing an effective laudatio should finally be revealed.  (Ominous organ chord!)  Sorry folks!  There isn’t any.  Well, there’s not a standard formula or “form laudatio” that you can use.  My condolences to all you form-letter advocates out there.  That’s the neat thing about well-written laudatios ... they are unique, customized, personal and each is as different as the webmaster and web site receiving the laudation.  Or, they should be. I know what you're thinking.  Jeez!  We  had trouble writing an effective cover-letter.  What are we supposed to do now?  Close up shop, start running and never look back?  Or, you can learn the basics of creating an effective laudatio.  Get back here! 

Actually, laudatios are a lot easier to write than your standard reply letters, because they are reserved specifically for the winners.  You remember them.  They're the webmasters who have created the sites that we loved ... the ones that won our awards!  It’s happy time!!!  But, there are still some basic guidelines to be followed. But, they need not be a laborious chore, if approached in the right way ... with an open mind.  The whole process is relatively simple. Every award-giver takes copious amounts of notes, while they are conducting their site review, right?  RIGHT?  Well,  this would be a heck of a good time to start, because here's where they come into play.

Keep It Simple Stupid (K.I.S.S.) 

Don’t rely on your memory ... PLEASE.  We’re award-givers.  We have no brain cells left to play ESP with.  Seriously.  Nobody can write effective, personalized laudatios to six people, while trying to remember the highlights of individual site reviews off the top of their heads.  We’re not those waiters trying to show off their memory skills by memorizing what everybody ordered, without writing it down.  Besides, how many of us have gotten the wrong meal, cooked the wrong way?  Write yourself a note to take some good notes the next time you conduct a review.  Nice, short notes about what you really liked about a site are all that is needed, just on the off-chance that this particular site may actually win your award.   You might even use one or two-word descriptive phrases.  Just the facts, Ma’am, just the facts. 

Already there’s a glimmer of  light in this strange new land of darkness called Laudatios.  Yes, keeping it short and sweet is Rule #1.  Say what you have to say, as succinctly as you can.  Remember, you have a lot of these babies to write and your days aren’t getting any longer.  Besides, short, well-written laudatory paragraphs are worth more than twelve pages of dreck.  And, the benefit to the award-winner is that a professionally written paragraph is easy to copy and paste into an awards page.  It can also say volumes about your professionalism as an award-giver, if written properly.

 Keep It Positive (Or Keep It To Yourself!)

Remember your Mom saying:  “If you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything”?  Have you ever seen a laudatio on someone’s award page that looked like this: “very nicely done...good navigation...you won...silver award....keep up good work.”  Now, you all know what’s happening here.  The award-winner is extracting the good stuff from the not-so-good stuff; paraphrasing if you will, extracting the pearls of wisdom from the swill.  Here you run the risk that your wonderfully crafted laudatio will take on a new persona or might even end up being re-written or, worse yet, unintelligible.  If you want your  laudatio to remain intact, make sure that you write it effectively in the first place.  Remember those two-word phrases?  Make sure to organize them a little before presenting them.  Write a simple, solid, laudatory paragraph that gets to the meat of the matter in short order.  Keep all of the positive reinforcements together.  And, if you must find “something” wrong with even the most award-worthy of web sites, put your corrective criticisms or ("look-at-me-I-can-find-something-wrong-with-any-site”) critiques in a separate paragraph.  Better still ... keep them to yourself.  We’re talking winners here.  And, most award-winners like to cut and paste these laudatios from the email into their web page, so keep it short,  and above all ... KEEP IT POSITIVE.  

Having The Last Word (A Special Note To Negative-Nellies)

I shouldn't have to say this.  But, there should be no reason to put any negative comments in a laudatio.  If you do, then I would say you really haven't learned much so far about writing laudatios.  Or, for that matter, what a Laudatio is.  Let’s review:  Laudatio = Praise.  Laudatio good.  There is no place in a laudatio for your if’s, and’s or but’s.  If you must share your web mastering expertise with each and every award applicant or if you just have to have the final word on web design, do it in another email.  Don’t ruin an otherwise positive laudatio.

 Be Specific (Get Right Down To The Real Nitty-Gritty)

This one is a toughie.  There are certain phrases that everyone has seen thousands of times in criteria, review letters and laudatios.  You know the ones.  “intuitive navigation”.  “good content”.  “great design” yada yada yada.  Come out of the dark ages, people.  Be specific.  Get down to the nitty-gritty.  There is a distinct possibility that these folks are  going to put these words up on their web site.  Wouldn’t it be great, if they were words that described their web site specifically instead of those of  a probable six million other webmasters? There must have been specific reasons why this particular web site won your award.  Don’t just quote or paraphrase from your general criteria. 

What made the navigation intuitive?  Was it easy to follow?  Was it unique in design?  Was it seamless?  Were the links your favorite color blue?  What WAS it?    And, what constitutes good content?  Telling someone who has 500 pages of content that "the content was good" is a bit vague.  Narrow it down a bit.  What specific segment(s) or sub-topic(s) of the content did you enjoy?   Which unique graphic grabbed your attention?  What particular poem or short story moved you in some way?  Come on, you must have had a favorite.  And that unique design.  What made it unique?  Did the webmaster use a color scheme you had never seen before?  Did they have original graphics that blew you away?   Their web site was a winning web site. Tell them why and BE SPECIFIC.   

Give Credit Where It's Due (Even If It Hurts!)

A very effective tool in writing laudatios is turning what once was a negative, into a positive.  Have you ever disliked something merely because you had never seen it in a good light or done right?   An example here.  I received a laudatio with an award recently.  The award-giver said that they loved my web site design and color choices because they were colors that they didn't particularly like only because they had never seen them used effectively on a web site before.  Whoa!!!  Now, there’s a "specific" laudatory comment.  This statement could have had very negative connotations.  But, instead, this clever award-giver turned a negative into a positive AND found something unique about my web site. (Two birds with one stone!).  If someone does something right, tell them.  Even if you have to eat a little crow about a die-hard rule or pet peeve that you’ve held for years.  Turning a negative into a positive, in an effective way, can get better results than any off-handed compliment ever could. 

The Laudatio Wars Rage On

To be perfectly honest here, I gotta say that I am “not” a person who posts laudatios with awards.  Many would disagree with me.  Many have disqualified me from receiving an award for this very reason.  Many consider the laudatio to be the most important part of the award process ... far more important than the graphic itself.  I respect their opinion and am not trying to dispute the fact.   I've authored what I consider to be some extremely well-written laudatios in my time.  I've even been flattered by having them posted on the winner's web site. 

My choice to not include laudatios on my own awards pages was personal and two-fold.  One ... I’m a visual person.  I’m a photographer, an artist and, I’m sorry, I see beauty in the award graphic.  I see each as a tiny masterpiece that came from the soul of the creator.  Two ... and most importantly ... I’ve not received an over-abundance of what I would call “real” laudatios. I’ve received a lot of cover letters and what I like to call “left-over guestbook comments”, but not true laudatios.  “Nice site.  Keep up the good work.”  All they were missing was, “Visit Mine.” 

I have also been fortunate enough to receive some really GREAT laudatios.  Some shocked me. Some made me smile (for days).  Some made me dance around the room (a sight not to be missed).  Even some that made me cry.  But, for me,  they have been the exception, not the rule.  That is what prompted me to write this article.  I can’t post some laudatios on my web site and not others. It's all or nuthin' for me.  Some I can’t even conceive of posting, period.  My compliments to those who were able to bring out an emotion in me ... whatever it was.  It means that your words “touched” me in some special way.   Most of them were from award-givers who were not  literary geniuses or clever creative writers.  They were from folks who reviewed my site; found it worthy of their award; and, proceeded to tell me "why" in their own words.  And that’s what it’s all about.

Final Word

I had several communications with a lovely woman named Pat.  She appreciated the fact that I was very specific in my comments to her about improvements she could make to her web site.  She said that very few reply letters she had received from award programs even remotely gave her a clue as to what she could do to improve her web site, let alone offer encouragement or help.  She had also seen these words on someone’s award program recently:  “If you don’t win my award, don’t ask me for assistance in improving your web site, because I don’t have the time.”  She thanked me for “making” the time.  She said that our communications had prompted her to read the article I had written about replying to applicants.  She said she enjoyed the article and  thanked me for writing it (as she was respectfully requested to do by the webmaster at Website Awards).  But, here’s the best part.  She also said that she was particularly grateful to the webmaster of Website Awards for suggesting that readers take a moment to “thank the author”.  Now, THAT'S a laudatio!

Copyright 2000
All Rights Reserved
Karen Pimtzner

About the Author
Karen Pimtzner is a digital artist and webmistress who resides in Lakehurst, NJ.  She has been designing web sites  since 1998 and her mosaic art gallery, Petal Perfect, has been in existence and featuring her award-winning artworks since August of 1999.  She has won over 60 awards for her web site.  Karen designed her first awards program in mid-1998, which later evolved into the now retired iNet Award Program.

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