Monday, July 11, 2011

Judging a blog: Part 4 Grading Guidelines

The International Society of Family History Writers and Editors have the following grading guidelines for their annual Excellence in Writing Contest.

1. Clarity (1-15 points). No reader should ever have to read a sentence twice because of the way it's put together. SCORE __________

2. Lean writing (1-10 points) Deduct for unnecessary words and repetition. Give points for strong active verbs and deduct for overuse of adjectives and adverbs. SCORE __________

3. Style, Sparkle and Presentation (1-30 points) Give points for uniqueness, drama, and creativeness in telling of the story or reporting the facts.   SCORE __________

4. Accuracy (1-15 points) Pertains to facts in general, but watch out for genealogical and historical errors, and/or misleading information, and deduct for same. This includes typographical errors and transpositions, even though they may or may not be the author's fault (obviously you have no way of knowing who made the error when grading published material). SCORE __________

5. Language (1-20 points) Watch the grammar, spelling (but allow for variant spellings—do not deduct for non-American English spelling), punctuation, and word usage. Deduct for clichés, qualifiers, platitudes and overused words, such as "very." Deduct for excessive and unnecessary punctuation, particularly the use of exclamation points. SCORE __________

6. Overall quality of the entry (1-10 points) Did the piece move you?__ Did you like it a lot?__ Does it stand out from the others?___  SCORE _________

7. TIE BREAKER. Judge's bonus (exactly 5 points). Use only to break a tie between entries.      SCORE_____ 

Additional guidelines "Judges will not be influenced in any way by the size or status of the medium in which any entry might have been published. Judging is strictly based upon the entry's merits as listed below. Note: Judges do not know the names of the other judges for this contest, and the names of the judges are not released until after this year's contest winners have been announced."


Do you think the ISFHWE grading guidelines will also work in the newly developing "Blogs" category?

What about the fact that blogs can be highly personalized ~ using colloquialisms, for example? Does this cause the loss of points in section 5, but the addition of points in section 3 and perhaps 6 above? (So basically, it is a wash?)

Any other suggestions?
Happy family tree climbing!
Myrt     :)
Your friend in genealogy.


  1. The ISFHWE judges' guidelines for the writing contest apply only to individual articles -- not to the publication (magazine, newsletter, newspaper or website). The contest does not "judge" or rank the medium in which an article or column appeared. If your goal is to "judge" a blog as though it were a magazine, then different criterion must be established because you would be judging more than just the writing in one article (or posting). You also would be considering the design, layout, functionality, etc. and multiple postings.
    Blogs are just another publishing format and individual postings (writing) thereon would be eligible for the ISFHWE contest under Category II, while a series of postings from a particular Blog might fit under Category I.
    These judges’ guidelines pertain to quality of writing of an article. Colloquialisms would not in themselves be negative factors. In some instances they would lend color to the writing; but overdone, like the overuse of qualifiers, clichés and platitudes (just listen to sportscasters and politicians for examples) might be a sign of lazy writing.
    You know — all lime and salt, no tequila.

    --Myra Vanderpool Gormley

  2. You know, Myrt, I was *this* close to submitting my work last year. I love writing. I love to make my readers feel what I feel. See what I see.

    So. Why didn't I submit? Fear. Fear of those guidelines. Sure. I can take those guidelines and write something good - indeed, something I'd be proud of - and be happy with submitting it.

    However, what about everything I've already written? I revel in knowing the rules.

    And then breaking them. Every chance that I get.

    When I write - truly write - I write without abandon. And similar to the way my Dad you used to write, I write like I talk. And that's exactly how I really want my reader to read what I've written. Like we're just sitting there, and I'm telling them a story.

    A family story.

    My family story.

    This year? I'm submitting. I don't know what. Definitely something that 'plays by the rules'. But? I think I'll throw something in there that will make someone shake their head.

    Something that will make them get their red pen out.

    And circle that extra 'very'.

    Even though I meant that extra 'very'. Even though it was what I would've said if they and I were just sitting there.

    Talking about my family story.

    Family Stories

  3. Myrt, This is a great series with lots of food for thought.

    I have to admit that my English teacher hat goes on when I read about scoring (ie. "grading") content. The ISFHWE rubric hits the main points, in my opinion, but I don't think it can apply to blog-writing as is.

    The goal of rubrics and scoring guides is to help level the playing field and make sure that the same judging criteria is applied to each piece of writing. Numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 all meet this goal; but #6 seems to straddle the line between objectivity and subjectivity. The criteria is "Quality" but the subtitle is really more emotional and subjective, "did it move you, do you like it?" It seems irrelevant to judge a piece on whether or not the reader "liked" it or was "moved" by it. Each reader is different, and this seems much more subjective than the other criteria.

    Rather than create new criteria for blog-writing, I think another category that scores something like Appropriate to the Medium might be useful. This would look at the kind of publication and how well the article suits the style and form. For example, an article in a society news-blog might be most appropriate if written in a more reserved voice than a very chatty post on a personal family history blog. In this way, bloggers would not be penalized for using a "first person" casual voice because it may be "appropriate to their medium."

    This is a great conversation, Myrt. I hope to hear what other's think too.

  4. I do think the rules of writing for, say, a print publication differ from those of writing an effective blog post. I use words, type styles, and punctuation in blog posts that I'd never use in a print article. Blogs (some blogs, anyway) are meant to be a more informal form of communication.

    That said, it's fine if this organization wants to honor more traditional styles of writing. That would exclude some types of blogs (probably including my own), but there's not necessarily anything wrong with that. This organization isn't under any obligation to be all things to all people.

  5. The intended audience is also something to keep in mind. I always identify my audience before writing.


  6. For those interested in prior winners -- here are the 2009 winners and where published. Some of these may be available online.

    The ISWFHWE might want to consider adding a category for articles published on a Blog. Also, one could submit something written for a Blog in Category II. The categories were devised due to the rules and limitations of each publication.

    A unique or informal writing style would not disqualify a submission. Just submit the article in the proper category.
    Good luck!

    Category I: Newspaper Columns

    1st: Stefani Evans
    “Woman’s suspicious death remains a mystery”
    Home News, Henderson, Nevada
    January 4-10, 2008

    2nd: Julie Miller, CGSM
    “Postcards from heaven”
    Broomfield Enterprise, Broomfield, Colorado
    September 7, 2008

    3rd: James Beidler
    “Google searches bring interesting, and different, results”
    Lebanon Daily News, Lebanon, Pennsylvania
    August 25, 2008

    Category II: Published Articles

    1st: Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak
    “The Man (or Woman) Who Would Be King”
    Ancestry Magazine, September/October 2008

    2nd: J.H. Fonkert, CGSM
    “In Search of Early Dutch Settlers in Minnesota”
    Minnesota Genealogist, Spring 2008

    3rd: Schelly Talalay Dardashti
    “When oral history meets genetics”
    The Jerusalem Post, March 28, 2008 (print/online)

    Category III: Original Research Story

    1st: Phyllis Matthews Ziller
    “Finding Facts to Support a Family Tradition”

    2nd: Linda Coffin
    “Great-Uncle Andrew: The Murderer in the Family Closet”

    3rd: Pamela Lyons Brinegar, CGSM
    “The Search of Isaac Murphy’s Parents”

    Category IV: Want-to-Be Writer/Columnist

    1st: Linda McMeniman
    “A Brooklyn of my Mind”

    2nd: Carolyn Miller
    “If the Shue/Schue Fits: Identifying the father of Brinton Hiram Miller (1906-1980) of Adams County, Pennsylvania

  7. As Myra pointed out individual articles are submitted, so a blogger would have to choose an individual topic/article from the blog for submission. Since a blog would be considered a publication, the submission would be as a published article or column. I can't see why the rules would be any different for a blog than for any other media.

    Joan Young

  8. Just wanted to add a few points of my own:

    My 1st prize-winning submission in the 2011 competition used first-person voice. First-person voice does not necessarily equal bad writing under anyone's definition. There are Pulitzer Prize-winning columnists that have always written from the first person.

    On the other hand, this is a writing competition. A blog that is not well-written does not deserve to win. The content is only a small part of the equation.