Editor’s note: This blog was originally written by Catherine Sprankle and appeared in the Carolina Communique in 2017. It has been updated and expanded.

One of the most important events in STC Carolina Chapter’s year is our Competitions. Technical communicators from all over the Southeast submit their documents, websites, and training for judging by their peers. This year’s competition is coming up and we want you to judge!

The combination of learning, camaraderie, and service adds up to a unique experience that you’ll want to do every year!

“No, not me, I’m not qualified to do that!” you might be thinking. But you are! Here’s why it’s worth your while to volunteer as a competition judge:

  1. Get a great networking opportunity. As a judge, you’ll spend half a Saturday in training with other volunteer judges in a relaxed setting (with food if it’s in person). Then over the next few weeks, you’ll spend a few more hours working with your team to judge the documents assigned. You’ll get to know your other team members pretty well and will come away with some valuable professional contacts.
  2. Gain experience giving constructive feedback. Your training will include tips on giving feedback that will be useful and respectful to authors and submitters. You’ll learn how to find things to praise and point out major and minor flaws in a helpful, constructive way. These skills will help you in future professional and even personal interactions.
  3. Practice evaluating a document to a specific standard. During training you’ll be given a set of very specific standards against which to evaluate your document. You’ll take what you learn from evaluating your documents back to your job or school projects, and find yourself looking at those projects with a new level of expertise.
  4. Provide valuable feedback to your peers. Everyone values knowledgeable, objective feedback on their work, and the STC competition is one of the few opportunities to get that expert feedback. A document with many suggestions for improvement may give its author the justification they need for more time and resources for their projects. A document that merits the highest award will gain its author some well-deserved recognition.
  5. Get out of your tech comm rut. You may be asked to judge one or more documents that are either outside your area of technical expertise or presented in a different medium than you’re used to working in. This might give you a chance to use some knowledge and skills that have gotten rusty, or you might surprise yourself at how much you can apply what you know from your current area in an area you’re less familiar with.
  6. Sharpen your user experience skills. As technical communicators, we should always be asking ourselves how well each document serves the user’s needs. Judging a document gives you an opportunity to explore that question in depth in a specific context, and may help you see your own documents more easily from the user’s perspective.
  7. Share your knowledge. We’re all experts on something, but sometimes we forget how valuable our body of knowledge is. You will likely have some work experience or have recently learned something from class that will help your team better evaluate one of your documents. And you’ll probably learn something new from your team members as well!
  8. Work on a team project. Each team will reach a consensus decision about the award level for each document they are judging. You’ll have to make this decision for yourself and be prepared to explain the rationale for that decision to your team members. If they disagree, you’ll have to consider whether their position has merit or if you want to advocate more strongly for your own position. It’s great practice for the give-and-take experienced in every workplace.
  9. Support your STC community. The competition is an important event for the chapter. It invites interaction with writers from outside the chapter who submit their documents for judging, and provides an interaction opportunity and a learning experience for chapter members who serve as judges. But the event can’t happen without members to step up and volunteer.
  10. Have a great experience! The combination of learning, camaraderie, and service adds up to a unique experience that you’ll want to do every year.

Whether you’re a student, in your first tech comm job, or a career veteran, you have something to contribute and something to learn from being an STC competition judge. So come join us in November!