CASE’s Circle of Excellence Awards are a lot like the NCAA’s Final Four basketball teams: They represent the best of the best, says Dalene Abner.
Abner would know. She’s served nearly continuously as a judge since 1996.
“I appreciate the fact that CASE winners have always represented quality,” she says. “It’s quite an honor!”
Abner, who is executive editor of the University of Central Missouri Magazine, won herself at the district level early in her career and became interested in the national awards (which close on March 10, 2017). The diversity and variety of her peers’ work keep her coming back year after year, she says.
Here’s Abner’s inside look at how entries are judged, what makes a winner and the submission pet peeve that drives her crazy.
CASE: What’s your reviewing philosophy and process for judging entries?
Dalene Abner: My judging philosophy is like a tough classroom professor’s. Entrants have to earn the high scores. Typically the scale is either one (low) to five (high), with decimal points allowed. As a group, we narrow down the field to the top 25 percent or so and then independently judge these according to the category’s criteria. We then total up each judge’s score, tally up the score as a whole and divide by number of judges. That gives us a ranking. We then put those out on a table and discuss as a group what we all agree to.
Subjectivity does enter into the picture but not as much as you would think. Many times, no one judge’s top choices win; however, sometimes an entry stands out so much that it is easily identified from the get-go as best in show by all judges.
You have served as a judge since 1996. What has changed with the times and what has stayed the same?
Overall, there haven’t been any real distinctive trends speaking of the print categories. There’s a bell curve with entries ranging from poor, average, above average and great. Quality and creativity have remained hallmarks of the best entries.
With technology advances in graphic design, photography and printing, you see more manipulation of visuals and pushing printing to reproduce those on paper. Use of resources has become an important criteria in recent years; entrants doing more with fewer dollars are given greater points.
What advice would you give entrants to make sure their entry stands out from the crowd?
To stand out, entries need to be creative without sacrificing quality. Take a look at the magazine that won the 2016 Robert Sibley Award [UofTMed from the University of Toronto]. It won because it stood apart from all the other entries.
What are your top dos and don’ts for submissions?
My favorite pet “don’t” for submission is don’t write too much for the abstracts. Use bullet points to highlight two or three of the most important notes or results. Once you read an abstract, they all start sounding alike, so study the criteria and then put in real facts or statistics that indicate how well this entry succeeded in reaching them.
Has serving as a judge for the Circle of Excellence Awards changed the way you approach advancement at your institution?
I’ve always believed in quality and pushing the edge, working as a team with your designer, photographer and printer. In that aspect, CASE has been a huge influence.