A request to judge a writing contest used to make me a little nervous. Now, however, I have become more confident. Maybe it comes from years of teaching and designing rubrics for grading, which have given me some insight.
To begin, a judge should always ask two questions: “What are the judging criteria?” and “What is the deadline?”
When the judging criteria are stated clearly, your job is easier. The main thing I’ve learned about grading/judging is that objectives should be clearly stated, and match the evaluation process. That means the criteria is tied directly to the outcome.
So if there is a mystery writing contest that must be set in North Carolina, then the winning story should be a North Carolina mystery. Sounds simple, but it may not be so easy. There’s always an outlier that sneaks in with wonderful writing, but doesn’t quite match the requirements. Don’t give in. Stick to the rules and you will always be able to defend your decision.
Using a rubric (or judging criteria sheet) helps to quantify the work, and if one is not supplied, you may want to develop one. I did that a few years ago when asked to judge books, because there were so many areas to address that I had trouble keeping it straight until I came up with a general form that addressed key issues such as plot, character development and tension/pace. By applying numerical measurements to the key issues, a clear winner emerged.
So the next time someone asks you to judge a writing content, go ahead and do it, confident in the knowledge that even though some writing is subjective, using a consistent rubric means the strongest writing will emerge as the winner. And if you enter any writing contests, knowing the judging criteria may give you a leg up! (That means you should read the instructions carefully!)
And don't miss a deadline, ever.