The Briefing Tech Writing Challenge

*** 18 September 2013: We’ve now announced our panel of judges. Check them out, and see why they think the competition is worthwhile, here. ***

We’re looking for people who can explain what’s happening in science, technology, and engineering. We know there are lots of great research projects, trends, and people that are never covered because non-specialist writers don’t have the background or insight to see their importance. Even if they do, they often can’t explain the ideas well enough for technical people to learn anything useful.

So instead, we want to find people who are excited and knowledgable about what’s happening in research and development, can see what’s important and what’s not, and can explain it to a broad technical audience. We don’t care if your grammar or spelling are perfect. We’re interested in technical ideas and arguments. If you can write a story that teaches us something new, interesting, and important about what’s going on in research and/or development today, we’d like to read your stuff. If it’s good, we’ll feature it on the site and look to do the same for your blog (if you have one… you can always start one on our site if not!). If it’s very good, you could win a prize of $500.

Now, here are the rules…

The short version

We’re looking for an original, short article that would fit in the Research, Trends, or People sections of The Briefing (note that, as part of the competition, your article will be published on the site). The article should be posted by 5pm GMT on Friday 1 November 2013. We can only accept entries that are posted on The Briefing, but if you want to post them on your own blog too (either at the same time or after, not before), that’s fine. We would like to see a picture or diagram with the story, but you’ll need to consider copyright issues when you upload. We don’t care where in the world you live or what nationality you are, but your birthday must be on or after 1 January 1984 (click here to find out why the age limit): if you get to the final, you’ll be asked for proof! There are six prizes of $500 each. In addition, we’ll look at the blogs of every competitor and will promote them on the site if they’re relevant to The Briefing.

The long version

The article: We’re looking for a piece of writing between 700 and 1200 words long that is about a specific piece of research, a research trend, or an individual’s research career. The person, project, or area you cover should be one that is important, interesting, and has not yet been widely covered in the media (better still, it won’t yet have been covered at all). We’ll be checking! You need to explain the impact that solving the scientific/engineering problem in question could have on other fields, what the problem is, and how it is being solved. Provide enough technical detail so we understand what’s going on and feel we’ve learned something by the end. We encourage you to use references and can display them using a BibTeX-based interface.

The image: We would like to see a picture with the story, but there are copyright issues you’ll need to check out. If it’s a diagram or photo you’ve created yourself, you’ll need to give us permission to use it. If it’s someone else’s figure that’s freely available to use through a Creative Commons License, or has been made available for PR purposes, you’ll need to make that clear and provide some evidence of this (you can do this through the Notes feature on upload). Finally, if it’s someone else’s figure from a journal paper, it’s not very likely we’ll be able to run it. One possibility, if it’s a diagram, is to redraw it yourself (making sure to credit where the original idea came from). If you just want a pretty picture to use, you can go to Flickr and do an Advanced Search for images with a Creative Commons License (but check the terms). Whatever you use, make sure to attribute it correctly: we’ll come back to you if we have questions.

Other copyright issues: We can only accept entries that are posted on The Briefing, but if you want to post them on your own blog too (at the same time, or after you’ve published with us), that’s fine. For copyright reasons we can’t accept articles that have already been published by third parties: however, if you want to publish the article elsewhere after the competition is over, then that’s absolutely fine. When you submit your article, you are submitting it not just for the competition, but also for publication (which could happen on the same day as you submit).

Citations: We like citations. Most of our audience are technical people and, if they’re interested in the research you discuss, they may well want to follow up by reading technical papers. You can help them by providing references.

Who can enter: We don’t care where in the world you live or what nationality you are, but your birthday must be on or after 1 January 1984 (click here to find out why the age limit). If you get to the final, you’ll be asked for documentary evidence of your age. If you freelance for The Briefing or Form and Content Media Limited, we’re afraid you can’t enter.

Judging criteria: There will be two judging stages, the first with judges appointed by The Briefing (narrowing down to 25 finalists), and the second will be through reader vote. The 25 finalists will be divided between the following technology sectors:

  • Physical Sciences (excluding chemistry)
  • Electronics & Computing
  • Engineering, Earth & Energy
  • Chemistry, Nanotech & Materials
  • Bio & Medical SciTech

The judges will decide under which sector each article is considered. In deciding who the finalists will be, the judges will look at originality, importance, quality of explanation, evidence of scholarship (you need to know your stuff!), insight, and readability. Note that we will not be taking into account the quality of the English unless it is so poor that it impairs understanding. We will offer assistance to any finalists whose English needs some extra polish.

The intention is to have five finalists per category, but if we find that we have many more high-quality entries in some sectors than others then we may choose to use the places for finalists unevenly. If we cannot find any worthy finalists within a category, we will award extra prizes elsewhere.

Apart from the five sector prizes, at least one extra prize will be given to the best finalist who did not win in the voting.

How to submit: You need to register on the site, and then – while logged in – click on the icon that looks like a pen. Choose Submit an Article and then follow the instructions. Make sure you check the box at the end to say that you want it to be part of the competition. The article should be posted by 5pm GMT on Friday 1 November 2013 (you can have the weekend, but if it’s not there when we get to work Monday morning, in London, you’re out of luck!). Make sure to upload a copyright form and any other comments about copyright issues related to any images in your article. Also, please make sure to fill in all your profile details. Remember that the article (assuming we consider it to be acceptable for publication) will go live on the site shortly after you submit it. If you have a blog that relates to the subject matter on The Briefing, make sure you fill in the field with the feed so that we can promote your work on the site.

How many entries: You may submit no more than three entries to the competition. These can be all within the same sector or within different sectors, it’s up to you.

Prizes: Prizes will be $500/sector and one additional ‘Judges Choice’ prize of $500. If prizes cannot be awarded in all sectors, the money from the unawarded prizes may be split into smaller chunks (for instance, we might split one unawarded $500 sector prize into two $250 prizes). Winners can receive their prize money in one of three ways: a check in US$, a cheque in GB£ (at the exchange rate on the day) or as an international bank transfer. This means that, if you win, we’re either going to need your snail-mail address or your bank details. If you’re not willing to trust us with either, best not to enter!

Announcements of Finalists/Voting/Winners: Finalists will be announced in mid-November 2013. Voting will then run until mid-December 2013 and the winners will be announced in early January 2014.

The caveat: This is an international competition and international laws differ. If there is something in the laws of your country that makes something that we are doing or offering here illegal, then you shouldn’t enter.


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