One Page Documentation:
Writing Simple and Effective Documentation

Mistress Gunnvör silfrahárr

The basics of almost any documentation can and should be possible to do on a single page, or even on one of those larger 5" × 8" index cards.

The harsh reality is that no one will read more than about a paragraph of data anyway except in exceptional situations. Especially at a large event such as Kingdom A&S or LPT, the judges are spread pretty thin and most will not read at all, much less read a tome of research information.

Many successful artisans will place a clearly marked "DOCUMENTATION SUMMARY" section at the head of a longer piece of documentation. This is an excellent idea. As well, it is a good idea to actually create a 5" × 8" index card for every entry with the "short form" documentation on it (in addition to the longer explanation), and place it right next to the item, since some folks are lazy and won't open your notebook containing the research.

Documentation Basics

(1) "What is it (title, basic description)?"
i.e., Reproduction of a 13th Century Icelandic Whalebone Ear Spoon

(2) "How were similar items made in period?"
Give the basics of the medieval examples. A sentence or two is all that's needed!

i.e., "Earspoons were a common implement for personal hygeine used throughout the Middle Ages, consisting of a small, spoon-shaped tool for scraping the ears. They could be cast in silver, or carved from wood, bone, antler or ivory. Some were very elaborate, including extensive ornamentation on the handle. Some were worn as part of the day to day costume as well."

(3) "How was your item made? How is it like the medieval examples? Where have you deviated from the medieval techniques, and why?"
This is the hardest area for most people. It is very important to explain where you made design changes or substituted materials -- these things are acceptible, but you must show that you understand how the real ones are made, and don't allow the judges to think that you are trying to put one over on them.

i.e. "I used deer antler for this project since whalebone is obviously not available to the modern Ansteorran. This was soaked in cold water for two days, then boiled for 3 hours before working. I roughed out the shape with a coping saw, then did close shaping whittling with a sharp penknife. Final shaping involved the use of wet sanding, carving with engaving tools and burins (using a Dremel tool for some areas as I don't possess some of the tools that a medieval bone carver would have used), and finally buffing with beeswax to shine the surface."

Sometimes you also need to explain the "why" of an item. For instance, a 13th century hatbox of molded leather designed to hold a reticulated caul headdress, yet decorated with early Celtic designs will appear incongruous, unless the judge reads the documentation to find an explanation.

i.e., "Normally hatboxes of this period would have used Gothic design elements similar to those found in church architecture, however, this box was commissioned by Baroness Butshe Wanteditthatway, who requested the specific designs utilized here."

Documentation and Honesty

One thing to always avoid is dishonesty - do not lie in your documentation. Chances are very good that someone who looks at your entry will know enough about it to know if you are fibbing in your documentation, and you will come out looking bad.

If you used a less than medieval technique or material, THAT'S OK! All the judges want to see is that you know what the original item was, and how it was made -- so for instance, if you used an acrylic white paint instead of making your own (toxic) lead-based pigment, say so - and say why: i.e., "Normally a lead-based pigment would have been used to create the white paint, but since lead is toxic, I elected to use the safer acrylic white."

The same goes for construction. If you used a Dremel tool, a carving expert can see the rotary nature of the cuts. Better to say, "Although medieval craftsmen would have used a bit-and-brace and hand-burins, I have used a Dremel tool for ease in construction."

Tell the judges whay you did and why so they know that YOU know. But don't try to lie in your documentation to make your project look better - as often this technique backfires and makes YOU look worse!

References

Some competitions actually will specify a number of references. If so, be sure to actually use at least the minimum number of references required. I do not favor requiring X number of references, however, since different items may need differing amounts of references to document them adequately.

As a rule of thumb, it is best to aim for no less than three good sources. What is a good source? It depends on the field.

Usually a primary source is the best possible source, but a primary source is THE ITEM ITSELF - for instance one of Queen Elizabeth's dresses is a primary source. Janet Arnold's book, Queen Elizabeth's Wardrobe Unlock'd, is a secondary source, but a very good secondary source. A book review of Arnold's book is a tertiary source.

Most of us will not have the opportunity to go to the European museums and see primary sources in person. So instead we rely upon secondary sources - a picture of the item, an archaeological report describing the item, or a painting by an artist of the period of the item.

If you can, try to have at least one primary source or one or two good secondary sources. If you can't get this type of documentation, then you are down to tertiary sources. For instance, MacGregor's Bone, Antler, Ivory and Horn book is a tertiary source -- he has compiled the information from archaeological reports and various articles about the items he describes. When using a tertiary source, try to corroborate the evidence using other sources as well, such as a photo from a museum catalog, or additional secondary and/or tertiary sources that agree with your first source.

The terms primary, secondary and tertiary confuse many people. It's pretty simple to understand. Think of a saint's relic: a primary relic is an actual part of the saint - Saint Acutiaria's finger bone. A secondary relic is something that the saint has touched, for example the clothing worn by St. Winifred, or the Pieces of the True Cross. A tertiary relic is something associated with the saint but which has never touched the saint, for instance, a modern painting of the saint that weeps tears of myrrh.

It gets a little more confusing when you talk about academic sources. A period painting of an object is a secondary source for the object, but the painting is a primary source for the techniques of painting. So a source can be primary in one context, and secondary in another.

To summarize the discussion of sources, do the best you can. Get the best sources you can find, and corroborate your sources by finding other sources that also verify the point you are making.

Documentation Style

The other thing that scares people about documentation is the Fear of Documentation Style stricken into their hearts while doing research papers in school. Really, putting down a bibliographical reference or a footnote is simple. All should have the same basic elements:

AUTHOR. ARTICLE TITLE. BOOK TITLE. PLACE OF PUBLICATION.
PUBLISHING COMPANY. DATE OF PUBLICATION. PAGE ON WHICH THE INFO IS FOUND.

The exact punctuation and presentation of this material doesn't matter, so long as it's all present. The idea is to make it possible for the interested reader to track down your sources and read more about your topic.

Still, it is a good idea to use a Style Guide to make sure that you are getting all the data down that you need, and that you are presenting the documentation consistently. I recommend that you get a style guide (you can buy them cheap as used books from Half Price Books or from College bookstores, and now you can even find the info on the Web - I provide links just below) and always use it. Some common style guides are:

Additional Documentation

The most valuable additional documentation that you can add would be pictures of the medieval examples that inspired the current work. People will almost always look at pictures.

If you have done additional in-depth documentation, go ahead and write it up and include it. Place at the top of the first page a clearly marked "DOCUMENTATION SUMMARY" section, and keep that to one good-sized paragraph. Follow that then with "ADDITIONAL DOCUMENTATION" and then continue with the rest of your paper. Everybody will at least glance at the summary info, and those who have a real interest will be more likely to read the whole thing.

Additional supporting materials, such as xerox copies etc. can be added at the back.

If you put together five or more pages of documentation, seriously consider converting your long-form documentation into an article for Tournaments Illuminated. One thing we expect of Laurel candidates is that they have proved themselves to be teachers -- and a T.I. article teaches thousands of people across the Known World. If you have a really long piece of research, consider Compleat Anachronist instead.

Presentation of Documentation

As has already been mentioned, it is a good idea to place the bare-bones documentation basics on a 5" × 8" index card and place that right next to your A&S entry.

The written information is best kept together in a ring binder. Some of the best documentation I've seen is placed inside the clear acrylic sleeves, and the sections are separated by tabs for easy reference. A notebook like this can be quite valuable, as you don't have to reinvent the wheel (or your documentation) for every A&S event you enter. Keep all your A&S documentation, you can never tell when you might need it again.

Provide a table of contents at the front, and number or label the dividing tabs so that people can find the specific documentation that they want.

If you have a whole ringbinder full of many many documentation articles, you may want to use a two notebook system, -- a larger notebook in which to store your entire collection of documentation, and a smaller notebook containing only the documentation for the work(s) being displayed at the current event. Otherwise you may need to clearly divide the notebook into sections "Works Being Shown Today" and "Past Documentation."

Conclusion

The most important rule of thumb is: don't confuse, bore, or attempt to bamboozle the judges. The KISS principle applies to documentation (Keep It Simple, Stupid) - get the basics explained up front, show what you did and how you did it honestly, and document the information by showing your sources. Documentation isn't really all that hard, and can be quite fun if you approach it with the proper attitude.




For comments, additions, and corrections, please contact the Ansteorran Laurel Webminister at vs_laurel@ansteorra.org

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