How to write an award-winning submission

Last week’s Oscars may have marked the end of the film and music awards season, but in the world of e-learning there’s a definite buzz in the air. With the January launch of the E-Learning Awards, the IT Training Awards at the start of February, and the eLearning Network showcasing recent winners, award-winning e-learning is the order of the day.

If you’ve not yet decided whether or not to enter this year, there are at least three good reasons why you should. Once you’ve decided, here are my tips (some gleaned from my own experience and some based on the wise words of others) for writing an award-winning submission.

  • Identify your entry early on

One of the keys to success is identifying your award-winning work as early as possible. There’s just no point waiting until the deadline is looming and then trying to pick a favourite from all the projects you’ve worked on over the year. I was working on an e-learning course that I knew was worth talking about, so I made sure to gather evidence and document feedback and decisions throughout the project. By the time the awards rolled around, I had everything I needed to back up my views on the course and the project.

  • Give yourself plenty of time

3,000 words might not sound like a lot but, believe me, writing an award submission is a lot more time consuming than you might expect. In fact, the real challenge is often sticking to the 3,000 word limit. My experience was that editing and refining the submission took almost as long as, if not longer than, writing the initial draft did. There’s a reason why the awards organisers give you so long between registration and deadline – make the most of it!

  • Choose the right category

Your submission can’t win if it’s not competing in the right category. Helena Bonham Carter might secretly have liked to win Best Actress this year, but she wouldn’t have stood a chance in that category because her supporting role meant she didn’t meet the requirements. Put aside any thoughts of the ‘title’ you want to win and instead read through all the category criteria to find the one that your project fits into. Otherwise you’re just trying to push a square peg into a round hole, and that never works out.

  • Answer the questions

Once you’ve established which category your project belongs to, print out the criteria and refer to them constantly. Remember at school when teachers always reminded you, just before an exam, to ‘make sure you read the question; then answer it’? In the same way, the judges will effectively be looking to put a tick next to each requirement, so make it easy for them. According to Laura Overton at Towards Maturity, ‘award winners will have made every attempt to provide solid evidence that they have met each of the judging criteria set down for the category…Make sure that your submission clearly addresses each of the areas that the judges are considering, preferably in the order suggested!’ I mirrored the criteria headings and structure in my submission document, and literally crossed each sub-heading or detailed requirement off as I included it. However much the judges like you and your work, they can’t give you the award if you don’t tick the right boxes.

  • Don’t repeat yourself

If you’re shortlisted and asked to present your project to the judging panel, make sure you say something new or present it in a different way. What’s the point in just repeating what they’ve already read in your submission document? While my submission document was structured according to the criteria, I structured my presentation in terms of the project timeline. I walked the judges through all the key milestones, highlighting exactly what I did and why at each point, and what the impact was. My slides weren’t text-heavy (that was what the submission was for); they were very graphical, making sure I showed the judges as much of my actual product as possible. As Laura says, you need to make sure your presentation ‘packs the punch that you need.’

  • Take along a supporter

An IT Training Award judge said to me that ‘anyone can blow their own trumpet; what sets you apart is having someone else blow it for you.’ User and stakeholder feedback in your submission document is good (preferably direct quotes and measurable figures); having someone there at the presentation is even better. If someone is willing to give up their time to come and support you, it speaks volumes. Laura recommends finding a way to incorporate direct feedback even if your sponsor or client can’t attend in person, for instance via embedding video or audio into your presentation.

Image: Suat Eman /

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