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Feedback and Ethics
by Dave Bradley
-- September 8, 2004
One of the most talked about topics in the awards community today is feedback. There are many pros and cons in giving feedback. For many, the pros often outweigh the cons.

As indicated in the header of this article “Feedback” and “Ethics” go hand and hand. If a site offers feedback to an applicant, the AP owner has certain responsibilities to the applicant.


Dave Bradley

Being fair in your evaluation.
Making sure your own site is living up to your own criteria.
Making sure the feedback is helpful and positive.

In order for us to have a common basis of discussion, we first need to understand what the term feedback is:

Feedback - The return of information about the result of a process or activity; an evaluative response. (source:

Not every AP owner has to give feedback, but if one does, here are some guidelines or basics that should be followed.

  • Clarity – Be very clear about the things you say. Words can be a powerful ally or your greatest enemy. A good rule of thumb is to write your response and then look at it again a few hours later. Does the response seem clear and concise?

  • Emphasize the positive – Encourage your applicant to continue their development of the site by telling them what is good and what is exceptional. This does not mean you cannot tell them the things you found that may need correcting, but it does allow the applicant the encouragement to continue in wanting to develop the areas that are pointed out.

  • Be Specific - Refer to things that can be changed, trying to avoid generalized comments. What this statement means is if you use a sentence like “the site is hard to read” what exactly does that mean? Being specific would detail in a sentence such as “ the fonts being used makes the site hard to read”, Or the background of the site, creates a problem in reading the words.”

  • Own the feedback – Use the “I” statement. All feedback and evaluations are really based on the AP owner’s perspective of design and their criteria set and therefore unique. The idea that your views are the views expressed by the entire web designing community is rather radical.

  • Be very careful with advice – People rarely struggle with an issue because of the lack of some understanding, often, the best help is helping the person to better understand the issue, how they can identify an action to address it more effectively. Most of all you need to realize not everyone is the same and each site is unique to a person. We are not out to create clones of each other or to take away the individuality of the sites owner.

If you are someone that gives feedback, following a few simple guidelines will help you in the process of giving the feedback that will not only be beneficial to you but also to your applicants…

Understanding the Process

We all at times scratched our heads in trying to understand why many sites applying to our Award Program fail to qualify or to even pass the first stages of an application.

This is a two-fold issue:

  1. The Applicants Understanding
    First let me say, there will always be those who are just Award Seekers and will never care what you are looking for and head straight for your application. But those who are looking for an award that they can be proud of need a clear and concise understanding of the process that they need to follow. One good thought in this would be to offer a navigational link early in the award program describing the process that is involved in you offering an award, and what they can expect from you. In it you need to be sure an applicant understands how the site will progress though the review process and how the site will be evaluated. An applicant should also be informed whether the Award Program is offering feedback and whether it is given freely or needs to be asked for.

  2. What are we asking from them?
    Many of us have criteria that can be unique to our AP, but when we make it a laborious task for the applicant, we may not be serving them correctly; Let’s put this in a scenario of a three-course meal.

    • The entree
      Are we giving them something that says if you continue on with the process you can expect a great meal.

      What does this mean?

      Presentation . . . If you arrive at a restaurant and the salad has wilted lettuce or brown edges, the tomatoes have bruises and the fork is dirty or the glass has spots, would one expect the second course to be any better or is this just another diner to grab a quick meal and move on. The Applicant approaches your AP by it presentation, if it gives the appearance of just being another AP then it’s just a quick bite, but if it gives the appearance of being a site that is exceptional (fine dining) the applicant will want to stay for the entire presentation.

    • The second course
      Oh, we have all seen the menu, and the picture perfect steak that is shown or the seafood, looking picture perfect surrounded side dishes that enhance the meal appeal. But, will it look like that when it arrives at your table?

      What does this mean?

      Expectations . . . When we are talking about expectations, we begin to delve into what the AP site is requiring the applicant to do in order to progress through the evaluation process.

      The disqualifications and scoring criteria will either be the making or the breaking of the expectation. Most AP’s will have criteria that state what will be allowed for the progression to an award level or what will disallow a site from continuing in the evaluation. One of the best devices for an applicant is a self-test. With this the applicant can apply what is being expected from them and what could be the award level achieved.

      But we need to be mindful that the self-test is structured to either present itself as the evaluation of progression to an award level or whether it represents the evaluation process for an award disqualification and not a mixture of the two. That would be like getting a plate of food that has the steak, potatoes and corn, pur�ed into one and expect it to be palatable.

    • The Desert.
      The finishing touches to a great meal, the topping off of a fantastic presentation and expectation. Most Award programs painstakingly try to have a great dessert, an award that they are proud of.

      But does the award offer a good finish to the meal?

      What does this mean?

      It fulfils the means for the applicant applying for the award, come on, all of have at some point applied for an award because we liked the look of it, but is that all we are trying for? probably not. Words of encouragement, Evaluation notation of areas that could be enhanced or corrected, in other words feedback. We all would like to win an award or two, but those who have sat down at your table and ate a good meal are now looking for the answers that relate to the evaluation or at the very least the encouragement to continue striving for the next level in your award program.  (If not obtaining the gold)

Types of Feedback

These are not conclusive to the varied types of feedback that can be given, but a suggestion if you are not using any at all.

A scorecard can be structure that coincides with your scoring criteria. This way an applicant can see what areas need work or where errors were found.

Some AP owners may not incorporate a scorecard, but may include a notation.
A notation would and can be added to the laudation, in which the AP owner may describe the areas that were found to hinder the applicants ability to achieve an award or at the very least a higher award level.

A laudation should never be one that is structured that encompasses any site.  What this mean as an examples are . . . your site has won our award; thanks for making the web a better place. Moreover, the laudation should always be personalized, making the applicant feel as if you did review his or her site and looked at its presentation and information.  The message should encourage the applicant to continue his / her creativity along with correcting problem areas.

Remember . . . The applicants understanding the process that will be taking place and what they expect from you and you from them, can only foster goodwill and a unique experience for the award seeker.  Thereby creating an award program that many will seek out as it will represent an award community with a desire to better the internet, the web experience and one that reaches out to help those that are truly seeking to become all they can become.

David Bradley
Copyright © 2004
All Rights Reserved

About the Author
Dave is the owner and webmaster of The Crystal Sea website.  He is at present a Board Member of CEM/CEMA and maintains a Web Master and Evaluator Resource site called TEAM.

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