What is Docuphobia?
A persistent and sometimes debilitating fear of writing documentation
on a project.
What causes Docuphobia?
Several factors determine both the existence and extent of
Docuphobia. First and foremost, the individual considers him-
or herself incapable of writing documentation or may feel
insecure about the clarity of their writing. Often, in the
latter case, these individuals will have stacks of books with
them during presentations, as a substitute for writing documentation.
Help! Can Docuphobia ever be cured?
Yes! Docuphobia can be cured. Read on, intrepid costumer,
and enter the dark, dank world of Writing Documentation…
grab a torch and a pitchfork, you’ll need them.
Documentation in a Nutshell.
Do you suffer from Docuphobia? Almost everyone who has ever
had to lay pen to paper to document an item has suffered from
it so you are not alone. Even I, who can yap on for hours
about any given subject, have suffered from it. But there
are a few tricks and tools to both conquering that fear and
writing the documentation itself that I will show you. First,
let’s examine the idea of Documentation and what its
What is Documentation and What is Its Purpose?
Documentation is really nothing more than your theory about
your item, written out on paper. Just as your item is the
tangible, physical manifestation of your theory, your documentation
is your written theory, explaining things your item may not
be able to explain. Everyone does documentation in their head.
When you look at an item in a book, or see an item in a museum,
or even get an idea for an item from someone else’s
item, you have already done preliminary documentation. Nobody
creates in a vacuum. Documentation is there specifically for
judges of a competition to read so that they get a good idea
of what you have created. That is essential for a judge to
do their job.
As an example, if you were to create a flat cap (bonnet!),
you obviously got your ideas for it from somewhere. Where
did you get them? It’s ok to say, “Master Mickleburg
wears a spiffy flat cap (bonnet!), and I like how it looks”.
There it is. Your preliminary documentation. Not so hard,
was it? Master Mickleburg wears one. It’s spiffy. You
like it. You want to make one. And you want to enter it into
a competition to be judged.
But you need to take your preliminary idea a bit further.
Master Mickleburg may wear a flat cap (bonnet!), and it may
indeed look spiffy on him, giving him a rakish air that you
admire. But where did he get the idea for it? Ask him! Or,
if you’re shy, get someone to ask him. If this route
is not open to you, hit the books and try to find examples
of what Master Mickleburg is wearing.
The absolute best books to look in are books with loads and
loads of portraits. If you can, try to find one with a good
cross section of portraits from a vast array of eras. This
does mean going to a library or knocking on the door of your
local costuming Laurel’s house (and every area has one
whose own personal library rivals the Library of Congress).
If you can’t possibly get to a library or you can’t
bring yourself to go to that Laurel’s house, then hit
the Internet. But be careful. Not all sources of information
are created equal. Make sure that you use websites that have
their own sources cited, either on the page you are reading
or in a bibliography somewhere. It doesn’t guarantee
that your website source is a good one, just gives it a better
chance of being a good one.
At this juncture, I want you to notice the flow of directions.
First, you get an idea. Second, you track down books that
may support that idea. Third, if you can’t get to books,
then try the Internet. But the Internet should be your last
At the end of all of this effort, you should have a book
or two, maybe a few Internet sites, and perhaps you’ve
overcome your fear of Master Mickleburg or that Bibliophilic
Laurel and have gotten some information from them (and more
books from the Laurel). You now have the preliminary foundation
for your documentation. Many of you do this already without
thinking about it. But, when you enter a competition, you
must take it a step further, and write this all down.
Here’s where many people break out in a cold sweat.
I’ve heard it before, many times. “But I can’t
write”, you say.
How to Write Documentation Even if You Think You
So many people shy away from writing their documentation process
down because they have the embedded idea that they cannot
write. It’s true that there is a style of writing necessary
for good documentation. The documentation must be clear, concise
and brief. But these are easy to accomplish if you follow
these steps: What, Where, When, Why, How.
What is this item that you are entering in the competition?
It’s a flat cap (bonnet!). Write that down. Flat Cap.
Where and When
Where does it come from, this item? It’s a common piece
of headgear from the mid to late 16th century – which
you know from wandering through those books and those internet
sites. You’ve seen flat caps (bonnets!) from all over
Europe, starting during the time of Henry VIII (or a little
earlier) and running through the reign of Elizabeth I. So
you can say, based on your books, your Internet sources, and
Master Mickleburg that this flat cap (bonnet!) of yours a
common item from all over Europe, and occurs regularly between
1535 and 1600.
Why was a flat cap (bonnet!) worn? Take a look in the portraits
and your internet sources again. Do only Royalty wear them?
Do only servants wear them? Or does it seem like anybody,
male or female, wears them? Are they only worn outdoors or
indoors? Are they plain or fancy? Do they appear to do anything?
By answering these questions, one by one, you can further
flesh out your ‘why’ section. As an example, one
can say that almost everyone across the social strata wears
a flat cap (bonnet!). They are both plain and fancy and are
worn both indoors and out. Mostly, they appear to be decorative,
except in the lower classes, where they appear to function
to keep the sun off the head.
Now here is where it gets slightly easier. How did you make
your flat cap (bonnet!)? Literally go through every step in
your construction process. First, you selected your fabric
and determined whether or not you were going to line it. Then
you cut it out and sewed it together. How did you sew it together?
Did you start by cartridge pleating the crown (like that Laurel
told you to do and showed you how to do)? Did you then finish
off the brim and attach the crown? What about that great little
piece of cording that you put on the hat to decorate it? Did
you see something similar to it in your book sources or online?
Hey! Look! You’re done with your documentation! Let’s
review by putting all of what we wrote above together.
Flat Cap (Bonnet!)
First paragraph (Where and When):
A common piece of headgear from the mid to late 16th century.
Flat caps (bonnets!) occur all over Europe, starting during
the time of Henry VIII (or a little earlier) and running through
the reign of Elizabeth I.
Second paragraph (Why):
Almost everyone across the social strata wears a flat cap
(bonnet!). They are both plain and fancy and are worn both
indoors and out. Being a common item, it is entirely appropriate
for my persona. Mostly, flat caps (bonnets!) appear to be
decorative, except in the lower classes, where they appear
to function to keep the sun off the head.
Third paragraph (How):
First, fabric was selected based on examples seen in portraits.
I started by cutting out the crown and brim and lining both.
Then I cartridge pleated the crown (per Mistress Bibliophile).
I finished off the brim and attached the crown (again per
Mistress Bibliophile). The cording was a common decorative
item, based on the portraits I have seen.
Holy Cow! One hundred and fifty-six words and your basic
documentation is finished. You only have one last item to
do; your bibliography. And that is truly the easiest part.
Literally speaking, the bibliography is a list of every source
you used when thinking about and making up your item. List
all the books you looked at, all the Internet sites you looked
at and the people you chatted with. Some Kingdoms are more
lenient about this inclusion into a bibliography than others.
If yours is a Kingdom that frowns upon it, then list the people
you chatted with in a separate section below your bibliography
under the title “Other Sources”.
A book should be cited, per the Chicago Manual, with the
name of the author (last name first), the year of publication,
the title, where the book was published and the publisher:
Arnold, Janet. 1973. A Handbook of Costume
New York: S.G.Phillips
Websites should be cited, per the Manual,
Dupuis, Tammie L. 2005. The Renaissance Tailor [online].
[cited January 21st, 2005]. Available from the World Wide
That is it, my intrepid costumers. That is all there is to
basic documentation. Obviously, there can be more –
much, much more if you’re wordy or if the item you’re
documenting is complicated. But, by and large, this format
will serve you well. Eventually, you’ll begin to flesh
it out further as you continue to enter competitions. Pay
attention to the judges comments about your documentation;
these are most helpful in spotting questions you did not answer
and will help you to answer them in your next documentation.
If you'd like to see the above example completely formatted
and written out, click