When you start entering displays and competitions, you’ll be invited to share a written or verbal explanation of what your project is, how you created it, and why you did it that way – otherwise known as documentation. The word “documentation” can sometimes be intimidating, so on this page we’re going to try to demystify it, starting with two big myths.
Documentation is NOT compulsory
You don’t need to write about your work to call yourself an A&S person. Writing things down is only one facet of the Arts and Sciences; if you would rather focus on making things, or finding things out, you are just as much an artisan.
Competitions and displays will usually ask for documentation, but in almost all of them (including the Kingdom A&S Competitions), documentation is not a requirement. It earns you points, but you can still enter (and do well) even if you don’t write anything down.
Documentation is NOT ‘proving your project is period’
You don’t have to justify every aspect of your project in your documentation.
You don’t have to have a source for everything you did.
You don’t have to write an academic article.
In fact, technically, “A linen veil from 14th century France” is enough documentation to earn you 3 points (out of a possible 20) for documentation and interpretation in the Kingdom A&S Competition judging scheme.
Documentation is explaining what you did, how you did it, and why you did it that way. It’s that simple.
So why document your work?
Writing about your work is a way to explain to people the parts they can’t see from just looking at it. The parts you’re proud of, the things you know could be better, the decisions you made, and the research you did…documentation helps people understand your project and learn from what you’ve done.
You can write it for yourself, to keep a record and to help organise your thoughts. You can write it to display your work, on your own website, or in Cockatrice, or in a competition. You can write it to inform other people, as a written article or as class notes.
And, of course, documentation plays an important role in competitions. When a judge is trying to assess the quality of your work, documentation can help them understand your methods, your skill level, information about the art form they may not know, and how much you have considered the different decisions you made. Particularly for judges who may be experts in a completely different field, this helps them make informed decisions.
Bare minimum documentation
If you want to document your work, but find the process stressful or intimidating, start with the bare minimum:
- What item have you made?
- What time and place is it supposed to be from?
- What materials did you use?
- What techniques did you use to make it?
If you want to add a little more, consider the following:
- Did you make any choices between different options? Why did you choose what you did?
- What do you know about these items in period? How do you know that?
Building your documentation skills
Creating good documentation is a skill, and documentation is often a mini-project of its own. Thorough documentation for a competition entry is often 2-6 pages long, including pictures and references. As we all know from school, it takes time to write that much, even if it’s about something you love.
Documenting your project gets a lot easier if you keep notes along the way. What books and websites did you look at? What did they tell you? What did you do at different stages of your project? Take photos of your project in progress, if you can. These photos and notes will help with documentation, but can also contribute to your research for future projects in the same area.
If writing isn’t your favourite, consider talking about your project instead! Speech-to-text software, friends who can help you write things down, or a video recording of your documentation are all ways that you can get started explaining your work.
If you’re looking for further advice, check out our page of documentation resources for some articles, tools, and templates created by people across the Known World.