Intro to Kingdom-level Commentary in OSCAR
This information is intended for beginner‐level heralds to learn the basics of positive and helpful in‐kingdom commenting in OSCAR. Learn who to contact about getting into the commentary system, best practices for commentary, and how to not be That Person in an online commentary discussion.
What is OSCAR? OSCAR is the Online System for Commentary and Response (http://oscar.sca.org/) – the online discussion forum where most kingdoms post their kingdom‐ and sociey‐level submission levels. There are two areas in OSCAR – the kingdom level and the society level. The rules for commenting in both areas are similar, but we’re focusing on the kindgom level for beginner heralds. (Those are found under the KloIs link at the top of OSCAR.)
Reading commentary, and commenting on submissions, is a great way for newer heralds to get a firm grip on the rules for SCA heraldry, and practice the skills that we all use with our clients. A robust commentary system benefits heralds and clients like – we can talk over and catch any mistakes with submissions before they leave the kingdom level, saving clients many months of waiting for a returned device or name. Commentary is one of those systems where it works best when everyone pitches in and helps. Even one hour a week can be incredibly useful at the kingdom level.
The rules for each kingdom’s “garden” on OSCAR will be slightly different‐ talk to your regional or principal herald if you’re at all unsure of etiquette. The basics apply across the board.
What is commenting? Why should I do it? Submitters or their heralds send their paperwork to their kingdom Submissions Herald, who processes it into a kingdom-internal letter. That letter is then commented on by heralds from the kingdom, and other heralds across the Society. That commentary is used by the kingdom Submissions Herald to make decisions on whether to return submitted names and devices, or send them up for Laurel-level commentary and evaluation. And there the process repeats - commentary is gathered, and then the Laurel staff use that commentary to help inform their decisions.
Every month there are hundreds of submissions being processed, on dozens of letters, all across the Society. There is only so much of this commenting work that the kingdom or Laurel staff can do on their own - that's where commenting heralds enter the system. When heralds take the time to review the letters posted in OSCAR, provide their commentary, and give reasons for or against registering the submissions, that helps the kingdom and Laurel staff do their decision-making in an efficient and timely manner.
“Many hands make light work, ” and commenting heralds are the lifeblood of a healthy submissions system. There are hundreds, maybe thousands, of heralds all across the Known World - we can do a great deal to help our submitters and their items move through the registration process. Our contribution doesn't end when the paperwork leaves our hands, there is a lot more that we can do.
What are the basics of being a commenting herald? Read through the admin Handbook VII.A – Commenting members of the College of Arms (http://heraldry.sca.org/admin.html#VII.A) for a good overview of the setup. Sections C and E are the most pertinent for today’s discussion.
Section C - Format of Comments Comments should be formatted in a manner allowing their convenient use by Laurel and the members of the College of Arms. This means that all necessary information (including bibliographic citations, where necessary) must be included for each item. Misplaced commentary (for example armory commentary under name submissions) cannot be considered; if this happens, the OSCAR administrator can often move the commentary if informed of the issue in a timely manner.
Section E – Content of Comments 1. The most valuable comments consist of reasoned arguments, preferably backed by period evidence or Laurel precedent. Sources need to be clearly identified in the comment – provide links where available. 2. Personal opinions may be useful in aiding Laurel in making a decision, but are best used sparingly. 3. Personal attacks, whether on submitters, commenters or any other person, are never appropriate. This does not mean that you may not disagree with someone, even vigorously; merely that you should do so politely and with reference to issues rather than personalities. 4. While occasional humor may be appreciated, ridicule is not appropriate.
What are some general rules?
What do I comment on? If you are most comfortable with either names or devices, it's fine to limit your commentary to one or the other. Begin where you are comfortable, and if in time you become more comfortable with other things, expand your commenting.
How do I get permission to comment? If you do not already have an account in OSCAR, you should first check your kingdom herald handbook to see if there are directions for how to become a commenting herald. If there are – follow those, you’re set. If there are not, or you can’t find any, email the principal herald of your kindgom and ask for OSCAR commenting rights. Explain who you are, what work you do, and ask if you can have permission to comment in your kingdom.
Hey! I have permissions in my kingdom, and it looks like in a lot of other kingdoms too! Some kingdoms run open gardens, where anyone who has an OSCAR account is free to come in and engage in the commentary process. If you’re not certain, read their commentary for a month, get a feel of how things work in that kingdom. And if you’re still not certain, write to the kingdom’s principal herald and say “Hey, it looks like I have permissions in your OSCAR garden, may I start commenting?”
Examples Consider these examples in light of the guidelines above. Are they appropriate? Are they factual? Are they constructive? All examples are fictional.
This class was first presented at Pennsic 44 (2015.) Thanks go to Seraphina Golden Dolphin for specific suggestions on Facebook that led to the content in “What do I comment on?”, which was added in 2016. Thanks go to Mark Alden for inspiring me to add the section of “Why is commenting important?”