Judging the Science Writing Contest

by Cathy Bettoney

Yvonne Wade Sanchez, Cathy Bettoney, and Loubna Ould-Saidia represented STC-Houston at the judging for the science-writing contest at Houston’s Science Engineering Fair (SEFH) on March 7. This year marks the fiftieth annual competition for the fair as a whole, and the twenty-second year of the science-writing contest.

There were 36 judges for the three categories—junior (7th and 8th grades), 9th grade, and senior (10th through 12th grades). Yvonne and I judged the junior division, which had the bulk of the papers—70 entries in all.

We met at 9:30 in the morning at University of Houston-Downtown and munched on a continental breakfast as we went through the judging criteria. Each paper was read by two judges. Contest organizer Dr. Aimee Roundtree asked Yvonne to lead the junior division, since she had judged previously. Under her direction, we winnowed out the papers that deserved a third reading.

Fortified by a Jason’s Deli lunch, 12 junior division judges stayed to continue eliminating papers until about 1:45 p.m., when we were down to seven papers. Each of these was read by all the remaining judges to choose the four best for first, second, third, and honorable mention awards. We completed our task by 3:30 p.m.

My impression is that science writing has improved in the last few years but that the students at this level probably need page limits so that they are more discriminating in their use of sources. The top papers showed an understanding of the scientific method and clear descriptions of the experiments. I would encourage STC-Houston members to join with us next year to promote quality technical communication.