The ACM fellows program recognizes the top 1% of the ACM membership that has shown excellence in technical, professional, and leadership contributions. The ACM web site (http://awards.acm.org/fellow/) provides detailed information about the criteria of the program and detailed instructions about the process and requirements for nominations. This Viewpoint aims to complement these formal instructions with informal advice about writing good nominations and endorsements. It is based on the personal experience of the author and of other current and past members of the ACM Fellows Award committee. It is not an official ACM document, therefore presentation as a Communications Viewpoint.
The success of a nomination depends first and foremost on the quality of the candidate. Usually, the candidate will not be familiar to most or all the committee members; a committee member that knows the candidate well could have a conflict and not be able to participate in the discussion of that candidate. Further, few committee members are likely to be thoroughly versed in the candidate's subfield. Therefore, decisions on candidates will be based almost uniquely on the information provided by the short nomination and endorsements. Hence, the quality of these documents is paramount: While a good nomination may not help a weak candidate, a lousy one may sink a good candidate. Most nominators and endorsers understand this and write well-considered nominations and endorsements.
"... no nomination is a no-brainer for the award committee."
I think this is, strictly speaking, false. In 2008 I was asked to endorse a nominee for ACM Fellow. My endorsement letter was one sentence:
"Alan Kay won the Turing Award."
Alan Kay won the Turing award in 2003.
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