Boston Broadside
July/August 2002
Vol. 59,  No. 6
    Newsletter of the Boston Chapter of the Society for Technical Communication


Copyright © STC Boston 2002


STC Competition's Peer Review Process Builds Confidence

By Mary Ellen Vazzana
Associate Editor: Mary Oliver Flebotte

If anyone asked me to state the most confusing and frustrating part of being a technical writer, then I would say that it is the subjective nature of presenting technical information. Structure of material, writing style, even font selectionwhat is right and what is wrong? If you're like me, you probably find yourself digging through style guides and information that was written in the past and praying that what you've selected makes both your editor and the software development team happy.

I have read several books on technical writing, most of which taught me how to be a more efficient writer. However, because our reading audiences are so diverse, accommodating their needs constantly challenges me to find new and inventive ways to present information. Therein lies the subjectivity. And this is what initially attracted me to the STC Competition.

The judges in the STC Competition are our industry peers, many of whom have numerous years of experience in technical communication. When we enter work in the competition, the judges are actually acting as peer reviewers of our efforts. It's a great way to get positive reinforcement, constructive criticism, and even new ideas.

Material entered in the competition is judged on its own merit, against a set of well-honed evaluation criteria. The STC judges are all trained in advance of the competition to be sure they thoroughly understand the judging process, how to use the criteria and forms, and how to provide comments that are most useful to the entrant. In the publication's competition, the judges first evaluate their sets of entries independently and later meet with fellow judges to come to a consensus on the entries. This process adds the extra benefit of providing entrants with several points of view. Not only do they receive individual comments, but the entrants also receive the collective thoughts of the consensus team.

Whether or not a particular piece officially wins an award, every competition entrant still comes out a winner. I found the local and international STC judges' feedback to be extremely valuable. I make it a point to evaluate their feedback closely and share the information with my co-workers. The feedback enables me to improve my work, grow as a technical writer, and best of all, provide better technical documentation to my readers.

In the end, everybody wins.

Mary Ellen Vazzana is a technical writer at AutoDesk, Inc. Mary Oliver Flebotte is the NNE Chapter Vice President and a member of the joint Boston/NNE STC Competition Committee. Mary is a software technical writer at BAE SYSTEMS.

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