Putting a Bow on It

July 10, 2024
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How to be a Good Competition Judge

At least two to three times a year, I get an email from a public relations group I belong to asking if I have the time or interest to judge a competition. I usually say yes because I always learn something about other professionals and how they practice their craft. But judging can be daunting, especially if it’s your first time.

Most judging assignments provide a set of guidelines and/or criteria for scoring entries. This is the case with DWAA’s Writing Competition as well. Judging criteria is helpful to both entrants and judges. The criteria, when reviewed before submitting an entry, can help entrants decide if their work meets category and contest objectives. Properly designed judging criteria also helps minimize judges’ unconscious biases and focus attention on the desired elements to be assessed and assigned a score.

The World Food Championships follows its proprietary scoring process, the E.A.T. Method, defined as Execution, Appearance and Taste. In my mind, DWAA’s Writing Competition Judges follow the W.U.F.F. method, which I define as Well-Written/Executed, Unique, Flows, and (Audience) Focused.

Here are some quick tips on how to be a good contest judge.

1. Become familiar with the rules.

What is the timeline for entries? If it’s not clear when the material was created, ask the contest committee/chair to ask the entrant. DON’T reach out to the entrant yourself. Judging is supposed to be anonymous. There is a process for getting clarification on an entry.

2. Be unbiased.

Judges should not let personal preferences about a subject or the entrant affect the scoring process. Stick to whether the objective of the category has been met.

3. Evaluate Creativity, Originality and Effectiveness.

The contest values how well the entry can engage the intended audience. Hence, the statement earlier about how the criteria also provides a road map for the entrants.
How can you prepare to be a good judge? Review the contest criteria and set aside adequate time to review the entries assigned. If you’ve never judged a contest, this is the time to start.

This article first appeared in Ruff Drafts, Fall 2023.