Susan and Ken Reed’s Life, Universe and Everything

Judging in A&S Competitions: Methods and Criteria of Judging Documentation

It is a frequent complaint among judges of A&S competitions that some of the documentation is too long, and that they do not have time to read it all when judging. My question to them is, “Why do you feel the need to read all of the documentation?” Documentation is only one part of the overall judging, and one should be able to determine whether it is complete and useful with a brief scan of the contents. Documentation should not be directed to the judges, nor should it be evaluated as if it was the artifact being judged (unless it is in a “research paper” category). Rather, documentation should be directed to the viewer of the A&S entry, who is interested in the artifact and is of at least average intelligence, but does not know much about the subject. It should give that viewer a brief, but fairly complete idea of how the object was made, why it was made, of what it was made, and how that object functioned in the place and time it represents and lead that viewer through a source list or bibliography to more detailed information. I, for one, do not believe that that can adequately be done in the two pages often suggested by judges who do read every word. I also know of people who have source lists alone that are longer than two pages.

Judges should be able to tell if the documentation appears to be complete and whether the documentation is easily usable in a few moments by considering these criteria:

Completeness of Documentation Text

Does the documentation include information, in written text, photocopies, and/or explanatory drawings, on:

  • Scope of time or geography of the entry
  • Materials used
    • Comparison of material used with period materials that would have used
  • Construction or reconstruction methods used.
    • Comparison of construction methods used with period methods
  • Design, aesthetics or effect desired from the entry
  • Functions of the entry (including how the object/performance functioned in society)
  • For “bonus points,” does the documentation include information about the artifact-maker or the people who would have used the artifact in the period represented?

Statement of Purpose/Summary of Project

Is there a statement of purpose, a summary of the project and/or a conclusion? Does the person tell you what s/he is trying to accomplish or what they learned from this project. This section is optional, but can be very informative in helping the person reading the documentation understand the personal goals of the maker and perhaps why certain steps were taken and others were not; or why a particular effect was achieved rather than other possibilities.

Bibliography and/or Source List

  • Is there a bibliography and/or list of appropriate sources (e.g., discographies, lists of artworks examined, lists of manuscripts)?
  • How many items does it have? Every artifact should have at least three different sources.
    • How many of these are primary sources?
    • How many are of these secondary sources?
      • Are these recent?
      • Do they seem to be written by the same author? A variety is more desirable.
      • To your knowledge, do they seem scholarly or popular?
      • If you are knowledgeable in this particular art or science, are the sources reliable?


  • Are there footnotes or endnotes for specific information that may not be “common knowledge” or for quoted or paraphrased text?

Utility of the Documentation

  • Is the information arranged in a clear and usable manner? Could someone interested in a particular aspect of the artifact easily find the information within the documentation?
  • Ideally, like information (i.e., materials) should be grouped together under clear headings and subheadings. If the documentation text is longer than 12–15 pages, a table of contents would be helpful (this is a hint to writers of documentation!).
  • Overall, does the documentation give a person new to the field a comprehensive overview of the artifact and how (and why) it was produced?

Generally, if the documentation has a bibliography with a variety of sources, is footnoted appropriately, contains information on all the areas described under “Completeness of Documentation Text,” and is arranged in a useful manner, it is good documentation and should be given the appropriate number of points where that is applicable. To the degree that it is missing the items above, has known unreliable sources, or is arranged haphazardly, then the points awarded for documentation should be decreased and the reasons for doing so noted in the commentary. These criteria can also be used in an exhibition, where comments on the documentation are often sought. The commenter can note in which of these areas the person is especially strong or needs improvement.

Judges need not be terrified of facing a long package of documentation. Look for general completeness, existence of source lists, and information organized in a clear and useful manner, and you will be able to get on with the other aspects of the artifact quickly.