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Judges’ comments: A contest bonus

“Even outright negative comments can be helpful.”

— Sonya Senkowsky

Some contests do this wonderful thing where they return top-placing entries with judges’ comments. This is priceless.

Most comments are brief and don’t say much, but if you’re lucky, you’ll get a few nice strokes, like this:

“Lively and interesting … The writer clearly understands and appreciates the science and the passion of the scientist. She does a very good job of bringing life to what could be dry, technical information.”

I plan to save this one.

But receiving an ego boost isn’t the only value of judges’comments.

A comment can provoke action. Take the judge who noted that a story I wrote “begs for follow-up treatment.” I’d thought so, too, but had long ago dropped the idea. Now I’m reconsidering …

Another judge noted that a column I’d written would have been more clear had I included one additional piece of information. It was a useful comment — the kind my editor might usually have been too busy for.

Comments can be especially useful when you’re trying something new. Even outright negative comments can be helpful. The first year I did any radio reporting, I entered my work in two regional contests. One judge gave me a top prize and praise. The other, who ranked me lower, included no comment except a scrawled complaint about the format in which I’d submitted my entry — apparently one that had inconvenienced him. It clearly had made my piece stand out in a way I didn’t want it to. You can bet that the following year I didn’t repeat the mistake!

Locally, the best contest I know of for providing judges’ comments is the Alaska Press Women writing awards. As a bonus, first-place winners go on to compete in the national competition.

The Alaska Press Club has also started collecting and sharing judges’ comments.

Let me know if you can recommend others, and I’ll pass the information along.

Sonya Senkowsky

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