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The trouble with writing awards entries. And how to avoid it.

by Jan Dekker from The Writer

And the winner is… probably not the entry with over-claim, adjectives, business-speak and no evidence, says Jan Dekker from The Writer.

Awards season is never far away. There’s always someone, somewhere buffing up trophies and getting DJs and LBDs dry-cleaned for a night of backslapping and ill-advised dancing. But of course, before you get the gong, you’ve got to write the entry.

If you win, it’s worth the graft. A trophy to adorn your boardroom and impress your clients and would-be clients. A great morale-booster for your people. And the everlasting right to say ‘award-winning’ in the same breath as your name.

But just how do you win? Clearly, doing great work matters. But it’s how you get it across in words that matters. And unless you’re careful, you could count yourself out well before the shortlist gets drawn up.

I’ve been judging some awards lately. They were for a sector working like mad to get the economy moving and get everyone else to see their business as a proper profession.

Trouble is, that only sort-of came through in the award entries they wrote. If the ones I saw are any guide, the trouble with award-entry writing is the trouble with most other business writing. Only a bit more so. Like a brochure on speed. So here are ten ways to steer clear…

1. Make sure there’s something to say. Sounds obvious, but you need to tick the basic boxes for the category you’re entering. So, if it’s a category about technological innovation, make sure you’ve got some innovative technology.

2. Remember who’s reading. Your judge has got a lot of entries to read, and almost certainly not much time – evenings or weekends, mostly. Yes, they’ve got to read your entry. But they really, really want to read something interesting. Something that makes their decision easy. What makes yours stand out?

3. Say the most important thing first. Don’t leave it buried two thirds in. Or in the supporting documents (which the judge might not have time to read). You haven’t got the judge’s attention for long. Hit them with the killer facts early.

4. Tell a story. If anything’s going to unleash the inner storyteller in your business, it’s got to be an awards entry. All those case studies. All those examples of how you took a problem, thought of a way round it and got a result. A lot of the time, the entries in my pile left out parts of what makes a good story. They didn’t paint pictures to make the situation easy to imagine. Or they didn’t tell me the ending (the impact bit). Or they wrote the whole thing in deathly business-speak. But some got it right. To the business who told me how they found a new CEO for a fashion brand using only social media, well done and thank you. A worthy winner.

5. Don’t just tell them what you did, show them what difference it made. Unless you do, they’ll scrawl ‘yes, and?’ and move on. Without evidence, the judge won’t believe you. Just saying you created a ‘market-leading solution’ or developed ‘eye-catching creative’ won’t cut it. Something has to have changed for the better because of it.

6. Don’t copy and paste. If the judge knows you (and most industries are small worlds), you’re rumbled. If they don’t know you, it’ll be like a bad exam answer that doesn’t tackle the question but just bungs down everything you know about oxbow lakes (or whatever’s closest to what the section on the entry form is asking for).

7. Make it easy to read. If reading is hard work, the judge won’t like you. So do a minesweep for those 50-word sentences, break up long paragraphs and use subheadings. If those subheadings are engaging and even a little bit fun, so much the better.

8. Don’t assume knowledge. You may deal in, say, analytics all day long. But the judge might not know one end of it from the other. What’s it for? What would be missing if someone took it away? Make the extra effort to explain yourself and you’ll be surprised how fresh it sounds.

9. Sound like a human being. Yes, you’re a business person writing for another business person. But you’re both people with, well, feelings. Your job is to connect with your reader’s. Make them warm to you, identify with you, root for you. Use the language you’d use if you were explaining it to them face-to-face. No need to puff yourself up and beat your chest. No need to create gravitas by saying you ‘provide solutions’ or ‘utilise geographic and demographic targeting’ or generate a ‘significant uplift in revenue’. 

10. Easy on the adjectives. Phrases like ‘dedicated team’, ‘best-of-breed logistics’, ‘sophisticated cloud-based intelligence’ and ‘unrivalled expertise’ mean nothing unless you make your reader believe they’re true.


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