Preparing for an A&S competition

A&S display at Avacal Sergeant Trials

A&S display at Avacal Sergeant Trials

As you might know, I’m hosting a few SCA A&S (Arts & Science) competitions this year, and frequently people seem intimidated by the documentation aspect of competitions.

I’m in NO way an expert on this… I’m still pretty new to the SCA, and haven’t travelled outside of Avacal to see how things are done elsewhere. Still, I’ve been to, judged, and competed in a few competitions, and have some suggestions and things to think about. Also, there will be a Documentation 101 class coming soon in Montengarde (Calgary)!

For this… I’m focusing on project-based competitions… I don’t have a lot of experience with research papers, or bardic performances. Yet!

Read the rules

Before getting too worked up about documentation, take a look at the competition rules. They might give you a really good idea of what kind of competition this is, and what kind of minimum (and maximum) documentation is required. If the competition is for a formal title, the requirements might be more academic than if it’s a fun, themed competition to add flavour to an event.

  • Is there a minimum page count? A maximum page count?
  • Is written documentation even required? Optional?
  • What formats are encouraged? Index cards? Typed report? Powerpoint? Bullet points?

If the rules aren’t clear on this, ask the person who is hosting the competition.

Research first

In lots of cases, the things we make are made because we want to make them; we see someone else with something we like and think “hey, I could make that!”, we see something on Pinterest, or we have a modern item and want a period-esque substitute… For the most part the DOING comes first, which is why documentation can be so intimidating. When it comes to work for competitions though… research needs to come first. (Though still you’ll know what you want to make probably from other people, research rabbit holes, or Pinterest!)

Documentation second

This doesn’t mean you need to have your full 10-page report written before you even start to create anything… but think about how you’ll want to present your information, and how your research will influence what you’ll create.

Create third

Finally the “fun” part right? (A lot of people think that the research part is fun too..) Here’s where you’ll use your research to inform your project. Keep notes while you’re creating – take photos of your process, record successes and things that don’t turn out as well as you’d hoped.

Tune-up your documentation

A&S display at Avacal Sergeant Trials, with my device banner on the end

A&S display at Avacal Sergeant Trials, with my device banner on the end

Once you have your project, you can fine-tune your documentation, polish it, add in all of your work-in-process photographs, and any conclusions you may have come to during your process.

Format & presentation

When you’re considering the format of your documentation- read the rules for the competition. If the competition suggests a few index cards with point-form notes… then feel free to use that format.  If the intention is a fairly academic paper, try to use a format that will be easily understood by your judges.

  • Title page with your name, and your project
  • A summary with the basic details of your project; a one-sheet answering the who/what/when/where/why & brief details on how.
  • Table of contents
  • An introduction to your project
  • Sections explaining:
    • who would have made your object in your time period, who would have used it
    • what your project is
    • when your object was made; the culture it was used in (or, if multiple- what you might have focused on)
    • where the original objects were found/used
    • why the object was used; what relevance it had in your time period
    • how the object was made in period, and how you made yours. If you used non-period tools, supplies, or techniques, explain why. (Cost, safety, accessibility, skill, etc)
  • Summary
  • References

You’ll need to print multiple copies of your documentation – ideally one for each of your judges, student judges (if applicable) and one for yourself! You can simply staple your pages together, but if your documentation is multiple pages, a binder or folder will be a more professional display. Don’t spend too much money on your folders though – I once went to a competition and didn’t get back any of my judge’s copies!

Jenn Culler comments that a simple stapled stack of papers can be mistaken for a handout, and passersby could take the paper before the judge has the opportunity to read it!

Documentation 101 class

On September 12, 2016, we’ll be having a documentation 101 class.. Some of what I’ve talked about here will be covered, plus other information for people interested in either learning more about documentation or improving their existing skill set.

This class includes the basic components usually in documentation, types of resources and how to site resources.

Individuals interested in competing in Bardic or A&S championships in months to come, or interested in competing or judging challenges and tournaments may wish to attend to learn the basics of documenting their research and projects to share with others, as well as how to review documentation fairly and supportively.

Want more?

Want some more tips and advice? Check out some of my other recent posts including “So you want to enter an A&S competition”  – follow up notes, and my post about making great displays for your A&S projects.

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