Award-Rec-Let-art - 11/16/00
"Writing Effective Award Recommendation Letters" by Countess Berengaria de Montfort de Carcassonne.
This article was submitted to me by the author for inclusion in this set of files, called Stefan's Florilegium.
These files are available on the Internet at: http://www.florilegium.org
Copyright to the contents of this file remains with the author or translator.
While the author will likely give permission for this work to be reprinted in SCA type publications, please check with the author first or check for any permissions granted at the end of this file.
Mark S. Harris...AKA:..Stefan li Rous
stefan at florilegium.org
WRITING EFFECTIVE AWARD RECOMMENDATION LETTERS
by Countess Berengaria de Montfort de Carcassonne.
Gentle readers, I am sure that the more experienced among you have read numerous articles and checklists on this topic of writing award recommendation letters. For newcomers, all of the information contained herein will be fresh news. However, this article will be slightly different than most articles in that it will go beyond the mere form of the letter and how to set it up, and will go into what to say, and effective ways of saying it.
First of all, it is worthwhile to consider how we decide when an individual is ready to be recommended for reward in the form of an award. DonÕt overlook expressions of thanks and personal tokens as appropriate gestures for "being nice", for singing a good song at a bardic, for helping you to move. If you sit down to compose an award recommendation and find yourself drawing on vague stock phrases like "always in the background", consider the notion that itÕs perhaps a bit early to be making the recommendation.
Educate yourself about the awards out there. Read up on the award structure of your kingdom from articles that run in Tournaments Illuminated and from various sources on the WWW. Observe holders of the awards around you. Ask friends, acquaintances and officers what they believe to be the requirements.
Having made this assessment, it is up to you to write to the Crown or Coronet when you feel that someone you know is deserving of an award. Do not wait for others to do it; do not assume that anyone else has taken care of it, nor that anyone else can say exactly what you have to say. Loud griping in earshot of perceived "powerful people" will avail you not at all.
Now, having stockpiled some substance, it is time to consider the form of your letter. A wise bit of advice: it is worthwhile to discover the preferences of the Crown or Coronet you will be addressing in terms of form and medium. Some titled heads will accept e-mail; others will not. Some prefer to use forms that they make available. Some prefer to receive calligraphed recommendations. It is possible to discover these preferences, either by approaching the ruling noble in question, or by approaching a member of their court. It is worthwhile, and respectful, to observe the preferences as far as you are able. Some of the preferences may be generated by such concerns as inadequate printing facilities or access if both members of a noble couple do not have e-mail; trying to file and keep track of recommendations (much easier when there is a single page, or single letter, for each individual); or wanting a more period feel.
The basics: clearly identify the recommendee by SCA name, mundane name, and SCA group. Be very clear as to what award youÕre recommending the person for; donÕt just dither on for pages about everything theyÕve done and hope the Crown or Coronet will pick out something appropriate. Identify the awards the person already has, if any.
The meat of the matter: essentially, you must build a convincing case on which the ruling nobles can make a decision about someone they possibly have not met. Toward that end, use very specific examples: what have they done? Where have they done it? For how long? How did their actions impact the group they live in, or the kingdom as a whole? Operate under the assumption, as you write, that the Crown or Coronet does not know everything the person has done–especially if itÕs a Crown from far away–and it is up to you to illuminate their worthiness. The SCA as a whole tends to have a "local myopia" and assume that the hometown expert is widely known and recognized. This is simply not the case. The ruling nobles are not omniscient.
Some things to avoid: do not use petitions unless the Crown has said they will consider them, nor photocopied form letters sent as a packet. The results will vary if you do; there is sometimes the concern on the part of the reader that some of the signators may have felt pressured, or may have been too new to understand what they were signing. Like school, itÕs best to do your own work. If you feel that you have a problem adequately expressing yourself in writing, by all means seek the assistance of a friend in setting your thoughts down; but let the thoughts be your own.
Do not spend any time in the letter apologizing for your perceived shortcomings as a person or as a writer, or "lack of courtly phrases". Strive to write plainly and clearly, but respectfully.
On the matter of problem children: if there has been some sort of problem, real or perceived, with the recommendee in the past, mention head-on how the problem has been addressed. (If the problem has not been addressed, should you really be recommending them for an award?) Whatever you do, do not rant about how the person has been overlooked for political reasons, or make any caustic remarks about how the person will never be recognized because they donÕt play political games. Most of the time, you will be in error about the role of "politics" as opposed to inappropriate actions or, more often, misunderstandings. Correcting a behavioral problem is not a political game, it is making a personal improvement.
Date and sign the letter. DonÕt forget your own SCA name, mundane name, address and other contact information as you feel appropriate–phone number and e-mail are nice additions.
Mail the letter. There is some sort of perception that it is better to take letters to an event and press them into the hand of royalty or nobility personally. If this is okay with them, it will work, but itÕs not necessarily more effective. ThereÕs a good chance of things getting lost or mislaid at an event. Surface mail is not nearly as bad as it is cracked up to be, but you must actually put correct postage on it and put it in a mailbox. If you prefer to send the letter by an expedited fashion, once again find out the recipientÕs preferences in the matter: some people can accept expedited deliveries like Federal Express at work, others cannot.
Keep a copy. If youÕre sending e-mail, be sure to keep some sort of copy for yourself as well.
Persistance: Sometimes, the Crown doesnÕt act on your recommendation in a given reign. What to do? The least effective course of action is to go around and tell people that you recommended the person and obviously they were "overlooked" or snubbed because of politics. It is downright damaging to say this to the recommendee. What to do? Write, write again. And again if necessary. This is why keeping a copy of your letter in an electronic format, if thatÕs what youÕve used, can be a time-saving measure. As time goes on, you will have more activities and accomplishments to add to your recommendation. Perhaps more people will get in on the recommendation act in the next reign, or your comrade will cross the threshold of consideration in terms of activity, accomplishment and service.
DonÕt give up writing. The bottom line is, most people would be amazed if they knew how few recommendation letters crowned heads actually receive. Everyone assumes someone else is taking care of it. The power is in your hands to achieve that special notice for deserving gentles of merit.
-Countess Berengaria de Montfort de Carcassonne, OP
Copyright 1998. Jeanne Stapleton, 140 Fountain Oaks Cir. #101, Sacramento, CA 95831. <apiskp at hotmail.com>. Permission is granted for republication in SCA-related publications, provided the author is credited and receives a copy.
If this article is reprinted in a publication, I would appreciate a notice in
the publication that you found this article in the Florilegium. I would also
appreciate an email to myself, so that I can track which articles are being
reprinted. Thanks. -Stefan.