Write It Do It

From Science Olympiad Student Center Wiki

Write It Do It is a Division B and Division C event for the 2015 seasons. For the event, one team member is given a structure built from some sort of construction materials; the member then writes a set of instructions on how to build it. The other team member is given the instructions written by their teammate and a set of unassembled materials to attempt to recreate the object as accurately as possible.

Write It Do It
Nature of Science & Lab Event
Forum Threads 2015 2014 2013 2012
2011 2010 2009
Tests 2015 2014
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There are no question marathons for this event
Division B Champion Auburn Junior High School
Division C Champion New Trier Winnetka High School



The object given can be made of virtually anything from toys (e.g. Legos) to craft materials (e.g. popsicle sticks, pipe cleaners) to lab equipment. The first team member (often referred to as "the writer") is given 25 minutes to write instructions, and the second team member (often referred to as "the doer") is given 20 minutes to build from his/her teammate's instructions.

The writer can use any numbers or symbols that can be typed on a standard keyboard by pressing one button or one button in combination with the shift key, and must define all abbreviations. The writer cannot use pictures or diagrams of any sort or the team will be disqualified.

The doer is given a set of unassembled materials to work from. This set may or may not include replacement or extra materials, so beware and do not break anything (balloon, styrofoam cups, etc.) if possible!

Scoring is based on the number of correct connections relative to the object. Ties are broken by the time taken by the doer to build the object.


There are many different ways to approach this event. It is important to find the strategy that works best for both the partners.


The key to this event is practice. It is advised to practice both writing and doing to identify certain good and bad elements of each partner's writing. Through practice, it will become apparent who is the better 'writer' and who is the better 'doer.' Another good strategy for preparation is to come up with a set of terms that both partners can follow. For example, north, south, east and west (as well as southwest, northeast, etc.) can be used for directions. Coming up and practicing with abbreviations for words frequently used will make communication more efficient; just remember to define all abbreviations so you do not lose points.

Developing Common Rules

As you practice, you may want to develop a set of "rules" for your writing. This may include terminology for describing the relative positions of your structure, or a "directional" system to describe the direction which certain pieces point or face.

However, it is very important that these rules are general in nature. Excessively complicated or specific rule systems may confuse you or your partner and may also be interpreted as 'code' by event supervisors. As this is a highly subjective event, teams should avoid the suspicion of event supervisors. Also, as per Write It Do It rules, any words used out of their standard definitions must be defined. This means that even for centimeters or inches, however common the abbreviation is, must also be defined as abbreviations (cm and in) otherwise points will be deducted.

Describing Objects

Coming up with standard or easy (but not code-like) ways of describing characteristics of building materials is recommended. For instance, what will the little buttons on the tops of Lego pieces be called? Avoid using the same word for two different things, as that can be very confusing for the person building!

Define Directions. Decide how to approach the horizontal plane, as well as the vertical plane. For instance, for objects all on the same level (horizontal plane), teams may choose to use North/South/East/West. When using this system, it is highly advised to divide the grid into sixteenths. That is, rather than just simply N or W, use NNW or WSW. This yields a much higher degree of accuracy on the placement of tricky pieces.

Another method uses the compass. Decide, for instance, that 0 degrees is as far away from the builder as possible. Then, going clockwise, count up to 359 degrees. So, for instance, an object to the southwest of another would be at approximately 225 degrees. This provides very accurate measurements, assuming both you and your partner have the same perspective, and both know how to count to 360 (harder than it sounds sometimes). Partners can develop similar perspectives by drawing different angle measures and comparing them.

The third commonly used reference frame for objects is the clock face. For example, the point farthest from a person is 12:00 and the point closest is 6:00, going clockwise. So an object to the southwest of another one would be maybe 7:30 (rather than going to the nearest hour, an object can sometimes be in between. Quarter hours can also be used; that is, 3:15 would be 1/4 of the way between 3:00 and 4:00.)

Make standard definitions. The second important thing is to come up with a standard set of definitions for everything. Make sure to know what to call everything. And if something new is encountered in competition, pick a name that makes is obvious what is being referred to - preferably use a short name that does not take long to write repeatedly.

Learn to measure distances. The next key is figuring out distances. The things at competition will most likely not all be in one fluid piece all connected together. Therefore, it is important to know how to describe a piece that's out making its own island away from the main structure. When defining distances, units are important! Is the object a foot away? Across the room? How far? This is where it gets interesting between you and your partner. The key to this is making sure both partners can estimate lengths the same. It does not matter if you are both accurate; you just have to be consistently equally wrong! This in itself requires some practice.

There is an easy way to measure consistent distances. Take your partner's hand, and compare it with your hand. Everyone probably has various lengths in finger joints. For instance, the third knuckle to the tip of the middle finger may be exactly the same length as the third knuckle to tip of someone else's pinky! Just find two joints that are as close to exactly the same length as possible. When competing, use the length of finger joints to measure distances. Avoid using fingers as units, as it may come off as code (not everyone's fingers are the same length)!


You will probably find that some "abbreviations" are particularly useful to have, such as words and terms for different colors, sizes, shapes, lengths, and so forth. For example, common phrases that are used are "horizontally flat" (lay the item flat on the table, horizontally) or "vertically standing" (make the object stand tall and vertical). Words like "piece" and "attach" are also good candidates for abbreviation. It is a good idea to make abbreviations for all the materials used, as they will likely be mentioned multiple times. Shortcuts like this might save the writer 5-10 minutes. (Note that some of these will be dependent on your building materials and some will not.)

It is easier and faster to write two words than a whole sentence. So abbreviating whole sentences is also a good idea. Instead of saying "place the yellow cube horizontally flat on the table," say "yellow cube horizontal on table."

A lot of abbreviations or just a few might be used, depending on how systematic the approach is. (Remember to list all abbreviations at the top of the paper during the event). Note that if too many abbreviations are used, too much time may be wasted writing abbreviations. Sometimes writing full words fast is a good option, but be sure to keep it neat.

Use improper grammar. This idea is possibly the most secretive in the event, so pay attention. It is one that's not always obvious, but will save a LOT of time when writing. Go back and read the rules. You can't use abbreviations without defining them. You can't use odd symbols or code. But it says nothing about proper grammar. Put instant messaging and texting skills to good use. Do not use any words that aren't necessary. For instance, rather than saying "Place a long gray K'nex piece vertically on the table in the 12:00 - 6:00 position," think about saying "Gray stick 12:00-6:00" This conveys exactly the same idea, your partner will understand (especially after practicing), and you can save a ton of time writing. The key here is figuring out what is necessary to include and what is fluff that can be removed without confusing the doer or leaving out key descriptions. This could be a description for an object:

White K'nex piece flat on table. Out of 12:00 slot gray stick, 4:30 - red stick, 9:00 - white stick. Connected on other end of gray stick, red piece, extra slots on left. From middle slot in red piece, another gray stick coming out at 7:30.

Know the Event Supervisor

Bear in mind that this is a very subjective event, and a lot of the interpretation is left up to the people running it. Both partners should ask the event runners about their specific scoring style, as it varies greatly from competition to competition. For instance, at the 1999 National Tournament, the scorers viewed the structures in layers, starting from the bottom up. As soon as a layer was wrong, they stopped scoring, because they considered all the connections above that layer to be incorrect. Knowing things like this might affect the way time is budgeted or how much attention is put into details. And even if they do not want to answer questions about scoring, it will not hurt to ask - that way you will not end up later thinking, "If only I had known..."

Other Tips

Write as much as possible. A good idea time-wise is to spend the whole time writing because the time of the writer does not matter. Only the time of the doer matters, so spend any remaining time checking and re-checking, clarifying, etc. Make lists of everything included so the builder knows if anything was included with the materials that wasn't in the original model. Reread instructions again and clarify everything and anything that might come across as meaning something else. More often than not, the doer will not get to these, but you can never be one hundred percent sure and it might be that one sentence which saves you points. The doer should also not rush, but if it is easy, he/she should try to go fast while avoiding mistakes.

Start simple. Before you even start writing, take a breath. Many builds may look more complex and challenging to describe than they actually are. If the build still looks impossible to write about, start somewhere simple and work to the harder areas. Similarly if something requires multiple steps to build, start simply. For example, say you've got a foam cup that's got a pencil stuck into it, but on the pencil are stickers which hold a rubber band in place that itself supports another part of the model. Sounds complicated, right? Write the other part of the build, note you will be returning to it later, and move on. Breaking down builds into smaller pieces and staying focused help reduce stress!



The absolute best way to prepare for this event is to practice - a lot. Fortunately, this is usually a lot of fun. The first thing to do is find a bunch of practice materials. See if anyone on the =team has building toys such as Legos, Tinkertoys, Lincoln Logs, Construx, Googleplex, K'nex, etc. Do not rule out practicing objects with paper and cut outs glued in a way on a sheet of paper (they are HARD without practice). Also practice with craft materials, (some states – for example, Colorado – use nothing else) like styrofoam, pins, straws, fake flowers, bent paper clips, pipe cleaners, beads, CDs, etc. Go shopping for materials, if necessary (though most people sometime in their life played with things like this)! Try to find things that have different ways of fitting together (e.g. K'nex). Things found around a science classroom, such as molecule model sets, are also good candidates. Try things like toothpicks and gumdrops, too. The goal is to be prepared to write good instructions for any materials used. Some regionals have even used American flags and potatoes, so it is clear that most event supervisors will use anything and everything.

Frequent Practice

Once you have a stash of building materials, practice as often as possible. Find another teammate or someone to build for you. (Before you start, make sure you have duplicates of every piece used in the construction.) If it is your first time, you might want to start small, with perhaps no more than twenty pieces. Try find a quiet, secluded place to do your practice runs. You should keep the original construction and compare it to the one you and your teammate produce. Go over the written instructions together, and find places that were unclear or misleading. Talk about what the directions meant and how you interpreted them. If you were writing, describe your thought process and which things you were unsure about. If you were building, be sure to mention any problems you encountered following the directions - did your structure fall apart repeatedly? Did you find yourself trying to make the pieces do something physically impossible?

Varied Practice

You should try and practice as many different ways as possible. Even if you know who will be writing and who will be doing, you should take turns practicing each different role. It really helps if you understand both parts of the process. (Plus, it’s fun!) On most runs you should stick exactly to the given times, so you learn how to work against the clock. However, if you find yourself consistently running out of time, do a few practices where you just work until you finish, no matter how long it takes you. Then you can work on cutting your time down. Work with all the different materials you can find. It is always nice when you get to the competition and your structure is made out of something you've already worked with before, but if it is something completely new you'll be better equipped to handle it if you've practiced with diverse materials. You might even try working with more than one type of material at once. At that same '99 national Olympiad, the main structure was made of Legos (mostly tiny Legos), but it also had a bunch of little plastic toys incorporated into it. Practice writing on lined paper and unlined paper (you never know what they'll give you, and not all judges will let you bring your own paper). Work under different conditions - sitting at a desk, standing at a lab bench, and so forth. Practice not touching the structure while you write. You might have to share it with other writers! If you need to get a different perspective, walk around it and look at it from the other side. It will be very helpful to you if you learn to visualize the object from different angles without actually moving it around yourself.

Practice Communicating

Try an oral WIDI. Put up a screen between the writer and doer. Give the writer a model and the doer the parts, and have at it. Have the writer describe to the doer how to build the model. The doer should feel free to talk back. It helps work out problems with clarity.

Practicing Harder Models

Once you find that you and your teammate are consistently doing well and producing structures that are identical or nearly so to the originals, find ways to make things harder. Add more pieces. Ask the people building for you to make them as complicated and asymmetrical as possible. Have them build so that you have pieces in more than just two or three different planes. When you separate your pieces into two sets, add some extra ones to the set that will be used for doing. Get your builders to work in trick pieces - one of the most common (and deceptive!) tricks with Legos is to use several pieces of the same color together so that they look like a single Lego brick. You do not have any advantage for finishing your writing early, so you should always use the entire twenty five minutes. If you finish early, go back and check and make sure you didn't write anything you didn't mean. Also, leave some space so you can add in additional information if you need to. This can be very helpful to your doer and very worth the 5 minute time sacrifice. However, time can be used as a tiebreaker in the doing section. If you and another team have the same number of correct connections, the team that finished building first gets a better score. So, try and work as fast as you can without sacrificing accuracy.

Have Fun

Most of all, have fun. This event is considered one of the absolute best ones to prepare for - teams get to play with toys! And with more practice comes more confidence in the event.

Past National Competition Materials

Division B

Ohio State University 2003 - K'nex

Wichita State University 2007 - Googolplex (They are no longer produced; they were mainly a teacher's toy and for some reason more common in Ohio than anywhere else in the US)

George Washington University 2008 - Googolplex

University of Central Florida 2012 - Craft materials, including coffee strainers, pipe cleaners, and a paper peanut bucket

University of Central Florida 2014 - Beads, pipe cleaners, foam "flowers", dowels, wood cutouts, base with evenly spaced holes

Division C

Wichita State University 2007 - Googolplex

George Washington University 2008 - K'nex

University of Illinois 2010 - Miniature PVC and copper pipes

University of Wisconsin 2011 - Assorted materials, including K'nex, bendy straws, index cards and wheels.

Test Exchange

The test exchange also includes many other sample builds not listed above.