I wrote back in December that I was chosen to be a judge for the 2009-2010 STC Technical Communication Competition. It’s a competition where different organizations and government agencies submit their best work to be judged. There are three different awards: Distinguished, Excellence, and Merit. The pieces of work awarded “Distinguished” usually go on to the International competition.
It was my first time, so I was excited. This past Saturday, I woke up early and headed to the STC Consensus Meeting where the other two judges in my group and I got together to discuss our scores and analysis of the five reports we were judging.
Here are the ten things that I learned that will help improve your (and my) writing:
- You can always learn more – I learned so much from analyzing the report and the other judges’ comments. There were things, like image clarity and tone that I had not been paying as much attention to. However, after having to analyze and scrutinize someone else’s report, I realized that I need to start.
- Think about scope, purpose, and audience – One of the problems that all the reports seemed to have was that they never defined the scope, purpose, and/or audience that the report was intended for. This caused confusion from us (the judges) on many other areas due to this lack of defining. Definitely define the scope, purpose, and audience early in the beginning, so that your readers are later on not confused on your intent.
- Copyediting is vital – Try to edit your piece of work at least a couple of times before you go into production. There were issues with grammar, spelling, pagination, etc. that resulted in issues in readability and usability. It’s better to have a second pair of eyes do the editing instead of yourself. You are so used to how your document looks like that you might miss something.
- Be consistent – Consistency was something that a couple of the reports were missing. Try to keep a consistent writing style and tone throughout your document.
- Work on visual design – For a document, such as a report, that is going to be read by many people, visual design is important. You should ensure that all the images are clear, the color scheme works, and that it is pleasing to your readers’ eyes.
- Learn about typography – Typography is something that people usually miss, but can make a document a success. AllGraphicDesigns has a compilation of different typography guides that can help.
- Formatting helps – Ensure that your formatting and organization isn’t off. There was one report that had different pages in the Table of the Contents than in the actual report. Big No No. Definitely ensure that these are fine before you print a bunch of them.
- Acronyms – I am very finicky about acronyms. People usually don’t define them properly, and it leaves me scrambling to figure out what this or that acronym means. If you are only using a term once, then you don’t need to use an acronym. Just spell it out. If you are, define it the first time you are using it, and then use the acronym afterwards. An acronym list is always a great thing to add to a document because if you have tons of acronyms, this can be a handy guide to readers.
- Personal preference – I realized that there are things that I preferred to see, but that it wasn’t set in stone that you had to do. Therefore, you should always have an open mind.
- Achieve what you want to convey – The question you should always ask yourself before publishing your document is if it achieved the message that you wanted to convey. If you have to ask yourself that question throughout the document, you might want to revise it.