What are the members of CDS’s judging panel for the CDS Documentary Essay Prize looking for in a successful submission, one that is strong enough to win the competition?

The panel will consider nonfiction of any kind, from journalism to essays to wilder forms of creative nonfiction. All entries, though, must have one thing in common: evidence that they were created with reliance on documentary methods, specifically immersive fieldwork, research, and interviewing conducted over periods of time. We are interested in artful nonfiction that directs its gaze outward, that curiously engages with the world around the writer. The subject matter can be weighty or light-hearted. The judging will be based only on the work as presented.

The competition’s review and selection process is geared toward fairness. An entry is reviewed again (and again) if just a single panelist would like to keep it under consideration.

Are there restrictions on who can apply?

The prize is intended to reward excellence in documentary writing (literary nonfiction) on any subject. There are no restrictions on the age and nationality of the applicants. Individuals currently associated with the Center for Documentary Studies are not eligible for the prize.

Please send any questions about the guidelines and eligibility to Caitlin Johnson at the Center for Documentary Studies at caitlin.johnson@duke.edu.

How should I prepare my text document?

Manuscripts should be in 11-point type, double-spaced, with one-inch margins. Please number the pages. Your name, address, telephone number, and email address should be typed at the top of the first page of your document.

How many times can I enter?

You can submit as many entries as you wish, however, please note: If you are submitting multiple pieces of writing you will need to register online at dukearts.slideroom.com with a different email address for each entry. (All of your other contact information, except the email address, can stay the same.) Multiple entries must be for distinct and separate works.

If I have trouble submitting my entry, whom do I contact?

For technical support related to uploading documents, entry forms, and/or payments, please email

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