Community to Community is a series of blog posts meant to share great ideas between STC’s chapters and SIGs. If your community is doing something you’d like to share with others, please email me and we’ll get it posted! Today’s post is by Leah Scampoli and talks about the San Francisco Chapter’s recent writing tournament.
When I tell people I’m a technical writer, the first question they ask (after “what is a technical writer?”) is if I write creatively. Personally, writing at work is enough for me, but when I pose the question to others at chapter meetings, I found a healthy percentage do some type of creative writing outside of the office.
So began the idea of supporting and celebrating this sometimes-overlooked element of professional technical writers: what we like to write for our own sake. This idea took the shape of an end-of-the-year writing tournament, a first for our chapter. Although in the end there weren’t as many participants as I hoped for, everyone who entered and judged enjoyed the process.
I hope you are inspired by our tournament to try something like it for your own chapter. Besides rewarding talented creative writers, I think it accomplishes a key benefit of local chapters: enhancing a community of technical communicators by sharing successes and knowledge.
The first step of creating the tournament was to consider the ground rules. Luckily, our chapter leadership had a few writing tournament veterans, so we had great input. We started by making a list of our priorities. First, we wanted a focus more on nontechnical writing, so we asked for poems, short stories, and essays in addition to presentations and instruction re-writes. We also began with a goal for the tournament to be open to the greatest number of people, so we didn’t limit the eligibility to only chapter members. Finally, we asked for short entries of less than 15 pages to lessen the burden on judges. All entries were electronic, so we could easily accommodate judging online.
Other issues to consider are how long the submission window will be open. We opted for a longer two-month period to allow plenty of time for writing. On the other hand, if you give too much time, people will forget. Also, be sure to clarify if entries should be previously unpublished. We also asked entrants to identify if they would be willing to have us publish their writing on our website newsletter.
Another important factor was prizes, which act as the biggest draw for entrants. For us, Amazon gift cards and free meeting coupons seemed the best choice. The electronic gift cards didn’t have shipping costs and would appeal to more people. Always consider your budget and how many prizes you will give out to determine the amount of each prize. Because we didn’t know how many entries we would receive, we also included the “small print” about how the prizes would be awarded. This way, if nobody entered a short story, we would be able to shift the prizes to a more popular category. You can read our full list of guidelines here.
Once we had the guidelines written, we started publicizing the tournament. This was accomplished through meeting announcements and our various social networking outlets on LinkedIn, Twitter, and MySTC. We also published several articles about the tournament in our website newsletter and sent out special email announcements.
And then we waited. And waited. And waited. In the final weeks of the tournament open period, we ended up only getting a handful of entries. Far less than was desired, but each was greatly appreciated. We got some wonderful feedback from entrants (and even those that didn’t enter): that it was a great idea and a good way to encourage the local chapter community to think outside of the technical writer box. And, fewer entries did make the judging process quicker! We ended up having each judge rank the entries, and the entry with the highest average ranking was deemed the winner. Other prizes were given out by category, as we had budgeted enough.
You can read the published entries in our February/March newsletter, to be posted mid February.
If we choose to hold a second annual writing tournament, I think we would try to identify how to get more people to enter, whether it be different writing prompts or more/larger prizes. But, for a first-time effort with a small budget and busy chapter leaders, I think it was a great success. We offered something new and different to our members and supporters. And for those who took advantage of it, was a fun and rewarding challenge. So, I encourage you to consider starting a tournament that celebrates different writing styles and your own community’s talented writers.
Leah Scampoli is the current president of the STC San Francisco Chapter. As a member of the STC and SF chapter for several years, she has also served as hospitality manager, secretary, and programs manager. As president, she has led the chapter to offer members and visitors to the monthly meetings a range of topical and innovative presentations, from writing instructional videos to entering the medical writing field. Together with an amazing team of chapter leaders and volunteers, she is always looking to find new ways to offer supporters a fresh perspective on communication, including hosting an upcoming panel of local Bay Area food bloggers.