Writing Documentation: Step Four, The Writing

It’s been awhile between posts in this series. Let’s summarize a bit, shall we?

Step One: You have a basic understanding of how to put communicate ideas and concepts in writing.

Step Two: You researched a Thing – who did the Thing, how they did the Thing, what the Thing was for, etc.

Step Three: You did the Thing, taking notes and pictures along the way.

Now you’re ready to share the Thing with others, which means writing up Documentation about the Thing – whether it’s meant to be printed out and sit alongside the Thing in a fair/competition/display or be published on your blog/website.

Getting Started

Documentation can be basic and brief, or it can be long and thorough. I tend to lean toward the latter when I sit down to write documentation. (Notes on the back of scrolls are a little different – I simply cite whatever extant I used as inspiration, the folio, date, and holding institution and call it good – but if I were to enter a C&I piece into a fair/competition, I would do a full write-up. Here’s a scribal-specific template!)

Try your very, very best no to wait until the night before an event to write/finish your documentation. This is the same advice you got when you were told not to wait until the night before to do your homework/write that research paper/etc. For a myriad of reasons, it’s best to get things done with ample time for editing, review, and printing physical copies. I’ve done the late-night dash to a Kinkos the night before an event I traveled several hours to in order to print off my documentation – it’s not a fun dash.

Gather up all your notes, files, pictures, etc. before you start writing. This is where the notebooks, or digital tools like Google Drive or Evernote can come in handy.

Let’s get to it!

Outlines

In order to keep your writing structured and organized, consider using an outline. Outlines for documentation are similar to outlines for research papers, persuasion papers, compare contrast papers, etc. – they help you organize your thoughts so that you can communicate with clarity. Check with the Minister of Arts and Sciences for your local group/Kingdom to see if there are any resources specific to where you are that you can use. For example, Meridies has several templates for various types of A&S entries available on their website.

Mistress Eithni (Northshield) has a page on her own website for documentation, which includes outlines for both long and summary documentation and other tips.

All outlines are going to have the same basic format:

  1. What exactly is the Thing?
    1. That is, what is it, where/when is it from, who used it, why did they use it, etc.
    2. A picture/image of the Thing (the Original Thing) would also be pretty awesome here.
    3. If the Thing is weird/unique, provide extra info. The last documentation I wrote for an entry was for my Han Dynasty shoes, and since there isn’t a lot of general knowledge about Han Dynasty China as compared to 14th Century Europe, I included more contextual information.
  2. What is the Thing made of, and how was it made?
    1. What materials were used in period? This includes both to make the Thing out of and used in the making of the Thing.
    2. What methods/techniques were used in period?

#2 can get pretty specific. One way to look at it is this – if you’re going to use a material/technique, such as silk, or needles, or scissors, or the tears of innocent children, find a way to document its use in period. Substitutions are okay – but we will get to that section.

  1. What did YOU use to make the Thing?
    1. What materials did you use?
    2. What methods did you use?
    3. Include your production notes, pictures, etc.
  2. If you used any materials/methods that were different from period, Why?
    1. Substitutions are okay, if you can justify them. Sometimes materials are not available, too expensive, absolutely necessary (medical, etc.). This should not be a list of excuses, but rather rational arguments.
    2. What you substitute with matters too. “Close approximation” should be your guide here.
  3. Talk about Your Thing
    1. What did you learn?
    2. What would you do different next time?
  4. Bibliography
    1. Citations, citations, citations.
    2. Be consistent.
    3. Make sure there is enough information so that the reader can easily find the source you’re referring to.

Post-Production

Go back and proof-read your documentation. Don’t just rely on your spelling/grammar check – that doesn’t find skipped words, homophones, etc. Give yourself a day of not looking at your documentation before you do this – that way you’ll have fresher eyes. It’s also a good idea to have someone else proof-read it for you. Let them know you’re asking them to PROOF-READ, not read for content.

That being said, DO find someone to read your documentation for content. This will mean going over it to make sure everything is clearly presented and no questions are left unanswered (even if that answer is “I need to do more research.”

Once you’ve gotten your documentation looked over, go back and make any necessary edits.

Then guess what? You’re done! Yay!

(I could point out that part of the judging of your entry will be specific to your documentation, and that you should apply any feedback you receive to the next time you write documentation, but you already knew that.)


 

Writing Documentation – Step One, The Basics

Writing Documentation – Step Two, The Research

Writing Documentation – Step Three, The Execution

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