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Jumping into the fray about contests for tech docs, I can offer a few
insights based on several years of judging STC competitions in a variety of
media. I make no claims for the applicability of these comments to other
1. Entering competitions is optional. Based upon what I've seen, the people
who enter STC competitions do so for several reasons: feedback on their
work, a sense of pride from peer recognition, a desire to show their bosses
that there are other ways of looking at documentation, and so on.
2. STC competitions have been going on for many years. As a result, there's
a backlog of judging expertise in the various chapters that works in favor
of giving meaningful feedback to the entrants.
3. In the Boston and Northern New England chapters, at least, we conduct
intensive judges training before the competition and extensive review of the
judging comments after the fact to ensure that judges' comments are fair,
thorough, and helpful. After each year's competition, we hold an
evaluation/wrapup to see what went well and what we should do better next
time. It's not perfect, of course, but it's pretty darn good.
4. Except for the online documentation competition, it's usually not
possible for the judges to try using the documentation with the real
product. Sometimes that's also true of the online docs, but sometimes we
have the real product to go by, too. In either case, we CAN evaluate the
documentation on most of our criteria, including its relevance for the
stated audience, but we often can't check the validity of a document against
5. Yes, there is a fee to enter the competitions. While the feedback to
entrants is a decided service in itself (well worth the price, IMHO), the
money raised goes to fund STC activities. In our case, it funds
scholarships. Thanks to the many people and companies who volunteer their
time, facilities, and resource, the competition's fiscal overhead is low.
6. Every one I've spoken to who has served as a judge has said that s/he
enjoyed and learned from the experience. We take home many lessons from our
experiences... about documentation, certainly, but also about working with
people, about standards, and about making good things happen.
So I hope more people will consider participating in local STC competitions,
either as an entrant, a judge, a "gopher," or whatever. As one who's been a
judge for tech pubs, tech art, tech video, and online doc at the local and
international levels, I can highly recommend the experience.
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