Presenting an award, making a toast as the best man or maid of honor at a wedding, speaking at a birthday or graduation, introducing a speaker, writing the foreword to a book, delivering a eulogy—all are occasions to pay tribute to a person who is important to you and to others. This seems easy, writing about a person you know whose work and/or life you’re intimately familiar with. No problem, right? But actually the fact that you know them so well is what makes the task so difficult. Often when people are important and familiar to us, we tend to take them for granted. They are part of the foundation on which our life is built, but we don’t recognize the importance of that on an everyday basis. We stop seeing them clearly. This writing experience offers very relevant writing practice because at some point in your life you’ll probably be called on to introduce a loved or admired person to an audience and honor them in some way. 


Your readers want to hear why this person is being honored. A tribute is almost always attached to an occasion that triggers the tribute, so think of what the occasion would be—in other words, where are you delivering this tribute? This decision will dictate the type of information you include in your message and the audience expectations you need to fulfill. In many cases the person receiving the tribute will be present at the occasion, so keep that in mind. 


  1. Choose the person and occasion. Choose someone you’d like to honor and then an occasion at which they’ll be honored. 
  2. Analyze the audience. Knowing the person and occasion will help you determine the needs, attitudes, and knowledge of your audience. It will also help you choose the most effective tone and content. You’ll also want to think about traits of your audience in order to imagine what questions the audience will bring to the occasion:
    1. Who is this person?
    2. Why are they being honored?
    3. Seriously, what makes them so special?
  3. Brainstorm material. Think of a tribute as a kind of argument in which you are offering a claim (this person is special and deserves recognition) and supplying supporting evidence and illustrations to support that claim. Brainstorm material that will be compelling and appropriate. (Continues on reverse → )
  4. Draft. As you write, be aware of the time this would take you to read as a speech. You are not the star of the show. You’re just the warm-up act. 
  5. Try out your tribute. Tributes are best appreciated when read aloud. Find some willing listeners who are not the person being honored and see how they respond. If you can’t do this at home you can have a crack at it in class tomorrow. 
  6. Revise, edit, and polish. Time permitting make this as good as you can and think how great you’ll feel to have this ready to go if you ever have the need. 


This will be a little weird and you never need to show it to anyone, but imagine you were to write a tribute to yourself. What would you want to include? What do you hope someone else would say about you if and when the occasion for you to be honored arises? 

Take a few minutes to think about this. Write down your thoughts.

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