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Cheerful (it are documentable!)

The rain has stopped; the sun has come out.

My doctor's appointment yesterday was very hopeful; her first theory about why the nerves in my arms might be so screwed up is a possibility. I have to get some tests done, so we'll see, but for now I have a scrip for Lidocaine patches, and a more positive outlook on things.

Mind you, nothing happens fast, but at least this course of action doesn't involve injections into my spine. In fact, she agrees with me that it is very unlikely this is at all neck related, whereas my previous doctor would not consider anything else. It's a universal truth that people will always insist that your problem is always solved by whatever they are an expert in.

Years of research has shown me that this is often not the case - with my arms, or with historical work.

Speaking of which, I had promised I would put up some links to good approaches to the thorny question of writing good documentation, so here you go:

This links page will lead you to a number of articles on how to write documentation; this article on documentation and material culture is one I particularly recommend for Pentathlon beginners, and this one is one of my favourites for people who consider "documentation required" a death sentence.  :)

As always, I only have direct experience of my kingdom of residence - Atlantia.  I know what happens here, as I've been a resident for the last 20 years, but anyone from any other kingdom will neccessarily filter everything I write through their own experiences.  What I write is geared towards the culture I know - where we have been trying very hard for the past few years to make the artistic experience as rewarding as possible, and trying to weed out bad judges who are in it for the "thrill of the kill".  (I keeel them!  Stabbity!)

One thing I've seen throughout my life in the SCA is the "documentation not required" note on A&S displays, with the excuse (and I used it myself, when I was new, and suddenly the local MOAS) that "more people will want to enter if we don't".  Anecdotal evidence has not borne out this theory over the years; if anything, more serious artisans won't enter because they know their research work will not be appreciated.  When more experienced artisans won't enter, novices feel like it's not worth entering either, and even displays get fewer entries.

One of the things that I'm hearing is people saying "I'm not good enough/ my work isn't at a good enough level for me to compete".  This is I think a result of the sheer skill level of a lot of our displaying artisans - everyone seems so good!  However, there are always novice categories/notations for beginners, and I, for one, get really excited when I see someone entering for the first time.  Novices are judged against their own skill level, not the best thing on the table, so you don't need to worry that anyone is sneering at your work.  And I'd bet dollars to doughnuts there's someone looking at your work and going "Oh, I can't put my work on display - it's not nearly as good as that!".  

I have particularly enjoyed some of the novice documentation I've read over the years - and I have no problem with someone putting a note in (as someone did) that this is their "very first try, so please be gentle!".  I'd rather know, really, honestly, truly.  I can still find something useful to say, and because I know you're new, I can gear it to your level.

I think the problem with "no documentation required" lies in the idea that documentation is too much like schoolwork, and most people don't associate their school years with fun.  Sure, everyone wants to have fun, but authenticity, learning, and fun are not mutually exclusive concepts, even for people who hate writing.  Really, documentation at a basic level is just the notes you took as you made the project - where you got your inspiration, what you learned, and how you made it.  Like the articles I linked to point out, it doesn't have to be a dissertation.  The further you go into a subject, the more documentation you will gather, but that happens over time.

Now, you are always going to get judges who don't read your documentation properly - until we pay (please?) and train our judges, we are dependent on whomever is willing to show up.  However, there are quite a few judges like me out there who really believe in what they do, and try their best to give good advice and an objective assessment of the work on display.  There are more of us than most people would think, and they really appreciate the quality of good documentation.  

While we do have issues with judges and documentation, the more people take their documentation seriously, the more judges will take it seriously (especially when the competition organizers keep hammering it into their heads before they start judging, hint, hint).  We've made such leaps and bounds in our movement towards more historical work (in the last twenty years in this kingdom we've gone from director's chairs and blue tarp dayshades as an event norm to pavilions and wooden furniture, and let's not even start on the clothes/fiber research!), it seems a natural progression of our advancement to appreciate documentation beyond a 3x5" card saying "Viking" as the sole documentation on the table.

(Yes, we're nowhere near the historical level of more authentic groups out there, but we are much better than we used to be.  Besides, if you don't think the SCA is worth a damn, why are you reading this?  I mean, you're very welcome here, but aren't you bored?  I'm not that interesting.)

The best thing I can recommend for beginners is to look at the documentation other artisans put out - what impresses you?  How much of it is really essay-style writing, and how much is commentary on books and pictures, and extant objects?  How much is "this is what I did", and how much is historical background?  A novice is not required to put out perfect documentation, but any real effort to talk about what you did, what you found, and what you learned is really exciting, since I now know, as a judge, that you made an effort to make something true to your chosen historical period.

Some of us judges really dig that stuff.  With a concerted effort, we can help everyone to appreciate it.

Caveat:  When I suggest all this stuff, it is geared towards the people who want to do it.  No-one is obligated to do anything they don't want - this is, after all, our precious free time, which should be spent on things we like to do.   I happen to like judging, and try to do my best for my entrants.  I think there are rewarding aspects to the competition structure (though it can always be tweaked), even though it is not in the least bit period.  As always, you are free to politely disagree - some of my best friends do, and we get along fine.  :)


( 52 brains — Leave a chunk of brain! )
Mar. 5th, 2008 03:55 pm (UTC)
This is extremely helpful, thank you.
Mar. 5th, 2008 04:11 pm (UTC)
You're welcome!
(no subject) - zihuatanejo - Mar. 6th, 2008 11:03 pm (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 5th, 2008 04:04 pm (UTC)
The Susan Reed article is fascinating - I think I had seen it before but not really *looked* at it, if that makes sense - and as I'm writing documentation right now for the St. Catherine's tourney, it's particularly useful. Thank you!!!
(Deleted comment)
Mar. 5th, 2008 04:11 pm (UTC)
You can post a link to it in these comments, if you wish. :)
(Deleted comment)
(no subject) - attack_laurel - Mar. 5th, 2008 04:25 pm (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 5th, 2008 04:06 pm (UTC)
Research vs. Documentation
I always like to point out that research and documentation are two very different things. Research is the work you do to understand what you are working on. Documentation is the process of making a record of how you did everything else.

I once was juding at an Ice Dragon, where my husband and I were giving a special prize for the best documentation. A judge came to me and complained about a particular artist's documentation, saying how horrible it was. I asked him why he thought it was bad. He replied that he did not agree with the artist's deductions about a particular part of the piece. I asked if he understood from the documentation how and why the artist had made those deductions. He said yes, but that her deductions were ultimately incorrect.

I told him that if he -understood- her reasoning, whether he agreed with her or not, her -documentation- was excellent. Authenticity points at that point were, of course, fair game.

For my essay on research, you can go here:

My essay on documentation for competition is on one of your links above.

BTW, this is all just in time for AEthelmearc's annual pent, Ice Dragon, so thanks for the conversation!
Mar. 5th, 2008 04:29 pm (UTC)
Re: Research vs. Documentation
Interesting distinction. I haven't entered anything when I needed documentation (I've only entered a competiton once, with a piece of poetry written extempore), but my brain is trying to relate this all to my acadmic life. (I may get back to you when it finishes processing, but it's like I'm running on 256K or something today)
Re: Research vs. Documentation - mstewart - Mar. 5th, 2008 04:48 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Research vs. Documentation - attack_laurel - Mar. 5th, 2008 04:53 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Research vs. Documentation - florentinescot - Mar. 16th, 2008 01:15 am (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 5th, 2008 05:00 pm (UTC)
Thank you very much, I am also stressing/writing documentation for St Catherine's right now, and this is very pertinent.
Mar. 5th, 2008 05:08 pm (UTC)
Hurray for doctors who will work with you!

Before migraines were the malaise de jour, I had a series of doctors tell me that I needed to handle my stress better and they would go away. I have 3+ generations of migraineurs in my family, including records of my great-grandmother being constantly bedridden with "sick headaches." Uh-huh. Can't be genetics or chemical/physiological, MUST be stress. Or diet. Yeah.

And when you find that ONE doctor, the one who listens, it is like the dark clouds part and a chorus of angels in white coats and sensible shoes stream to earth with their gifts of helpful pharmacopeia. I love science.
Mar. 5th, 2008 05:10 pm (UTC)
Silly me. I read your post yesterday and declared it "Spot on" and went on my merry way. If I had known, I would have brought popcorn and put my feet up to watch the show.

A book that I recommended to my students when I was a TA in the Art and Architecture Department is "A Short Guide to Writing About Art" by Sylvan Barnet.

I think writing documentation for an A&S entry has a lot of similarities to writing a paper on a painting, building, sculpture.
Mar. 5th, 2008 05:21 pm (UTC)
Just one slightly cranky person who appears to have just joined LJ for the sole purpose of commenting on my journal (1 entry, newly joined, 16 comments, all in my journal).
I don't block comments from non-LJ'ers (I don't block anyone unless they're a troll), so it was a little weird.

:) No problems, though.

I tell people it's a little like writng a sales brochure - why should I buy into your idea? What's your proof? etc., and to point out everything good, then everything you want to do better next time.

Mind you, that sometimes leaves me with very little advice to give except "your observations are good - I look forward to seeing your next project where you incorporate the changes!". On the other hand, It's truly great to see that level of work in a strictly amateur society. 8)
(no subject) - tudorlady - Mar. 5th, 2008 05:42 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - attack_laurel - Mar. 5th, 2008 05:46 pm (UTC) - Expand
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(no subject) - avenelk - Mar. 6th, 2008 01:35 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - thatpotteryguy - Mar. 6th, 2008 01:52 am (UTC) - Expand
I apologize - avenelk - Mar. 6th, 2008 08:44 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: I apologize - attack_laurel - Mar. 6th, 2008 10:58 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: I apologize - thatpotteryguy - Mar. 6th, 2008 04:23 pm (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 5th, 2008 05:28 pm (UTC)
I always find myself a little overwhelmed when I sit down to put all my research into a document then as I start I calm down and I am like "why do I stress myself over this."
It seems once I start writing it all out I realize that I am enjoying it and that I actually know what I am talking about! Go figure.

My biggest issue is that I am a perfectionist and I don't want to put anything out, including documentation, unless I think it is perfect. Of course it never will be perfect to me and that is where my Laurel and hubby come in. They kick me in the butt and make me put it out there.

Do you have any advice for people who go through the whole "it's not perfect" thing?
Mar. 5th, 2008 05:45 pm (UTC)
Bullet points. Bob taught me to do this when I write an article, because it's often overwhelming trying to get everything I want to say straight in my head.

Start with a list of your major points, then subset the rest of your points into those major divisions. For instance:


1. History
1a. date of first widget
1b. time period widgets were used
1c. popularity of widgets
1d. material of period widgets
2. My Widget
2a. How I decided on widget
2b. Widget used for inspiration
2c. Materials used for widget
2d. Process for widget construction
3. Lessons Learned
3a. Mistakes in materials
3b. understanding gained
4. Pictures of Widgets
5. Blbliography/Index/Citations

This is a simplified version, but hopefully you get the idea. The bulleted list doesn't have to be in perfect order as you write it out - in fact, take a few days to write it up, and as you think of things, add them to your list. You may find you want to re-order the points, put them under a different heading, or take them out.

Once you have your bulleted list done to your satisfaction, write a little more detail on each point - a short paragraph-length set of notes about what you want to say. By the time you've gotten your list laid out to your satisfaction, it should be fairly easy to fill in the information you want to say.

One of the other things I tell people (and they have told me it's worked for them) is to make sure your information is relevant - if you're concentrating on left-handed blue widgets, there's no point in talking about green right-handed widgets in detail, or putting in pictures of them. At best, you've created extra work, at worst, someone will mis-read your documentation and think you're trying to reproduce a green right widget, and dock you points for making a left-handed blue one. A general overview of widgets is probably a good idea in the history section of your documentation, but it shouldn't be more than a short paragraph. After that, concentrate on the actual widget you're working on reproducing.
(no subject) - alina_s - Mar. 5th, 2008 06:53 pm (UTC) - Expand
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(no subject) - florentinescot - Mar. 16th, 2008 01:47 am (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 5th, 2008 05:42 pm (UTC)
Mar. 5th, 2008 05:47 pm (UTC)
One of my previous doctors used to give me lidocaine injections in my back. The only real effect was that my tongue went numb. It was trippy. :)
(no subject) - thatpotteryguy - Mar. 6th, 2008 01:37 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - attack_laurel - Mar. 6th, 2008 11:04 am (UTC) - Expand
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(no subject) - florentinescot - Mar. 16th, 2008 01:50 am (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 5th, 2008 08:30 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much for this post. Your timing is impeccable.

I've just started working on a blackwork smock (and then doublet, slops, and embroidered jerkin, maybe a hat and gloves, but those are optional), and thought it'd be good to do documentation in case I choose to enter it for a competition.

You've taken a lot of the (unnecessary) fear out of the process.
Mar. 6th, 2008 11:04 am (UTC)
Wow - thank you. That really means a lot to me. :)
Mar. 5th, 2008 09:33 pm (UTC)
It's a universal truth that people will always insist that your problem is always solved by whatever they are an expert in.

"To the man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail."
Mar. 6th, 2008 11:05 am (UTC)
Yup. :)
(no subject) - tattycat - Mar. 6th, 2008 09:37 pm (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
Mar. 16th, 2008 01:24 am (UTC)
ok. I"ll bite. What's the difference in Research Writing and Documentation Writing?

Are you talking about the difference between a research paper and documentation (perhaps based on said paper) for an item (or items)? If so, I get it. It came to me this week, actually. :-S If not, I"m curious.

Between comments from Mistress Karen, and an embroiderer in my Kingdom ... See, I was contemplating entering a set of embroidered regalia (we have 3 awards that have embroidered regalia that goes with them -- one is a belt pouch, one is a belt token, and one is a drawstring bag). Now, of those 3, the only one that's *really* period is the drawstring bag. Embroidered regalia is period, but our tokens *aren't* Mistress Karen convinced me that "anything is documentable" (which I still tap-dance around), but I'm approaching this from a different angle now -- and the idea of a research paper grew out of the writing the documentation.
Mar. 13th, 2008 12:04 am (UTC)
I am about to step up as our baronial A&S minister and I must say I am a recovering anti-documentation person. I am dyslectic and have issues writting this was my standard excuse for not doing A&S and such. I remember once entering a beautiful scroll in a compitition and being ripped to shreads...... the comments from the judges ranged from "not bad here are some ideas to make it better" to "your documention is useless" and I had on person tell me to find a diffrent hobby in the SCA-that A&S will never be my thing......

I remember wondering why I had to write documentation, here I had made something beautiful and now you want me to write about it?? why?? isn't the pretty thing enough?? and the answer is the pretty thing is lovely but we are an educational group and since you had to research everything to make your pretty what harm is there in putting it down on paper...... Thank you for putting it better then I can :)
Mar. 16th, 2008 01:31 am (UTC)
As a result of my MS work, I described a new genus. One of my non-taxonomic friends asked me how that worked. I said "well, I describe what the state of the world was, what research I did, I put my conclusions and explain my rationale for coming to those conclusions. Then, time and my fellow botanists will determine if I'm 'right' or not. If so, then the name that I've proposed will become the accepted name for that plant. If not, it will become a footnote in nomenclatural history." In many ways, Taxonomy is the only true peer-reviewed science. It's not a *provable* construct; but time, evidence and opinion will determine if it becomes reality or not.

I'm about to come to the idea that SCA documentation is a lot like that -- because you're writing about something that might not be th judges area of expertise. But you summarize how you got from point A to point B for them -- just like I do for Botanists who don't work on Trillium. The science and the reasoning they understand, whether they know my plants or not.
( 52 brains — Leave a chunk of brain! )

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