Write It Do It

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Write It Do It is a Division B and Division C that has been run nationally for many years. In the event, one team member ("writer") is given a structure built from some sort of construction materials; the same member then writes a set of instructions on how to build it. The other team member ("doer") is given the instructions written by their teammate and a set of unassembled materials to attempt to recreate the object as accurately as possible.

In September 2020, Write It CAD It, an alternate event was introduced to replace Write It Do It at mini SO and Satellite SO competitions where an in-person event could not be safely conducted.


The object given can be made of virtually anything from toys to craft materials 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" or "the builder") is given 20 minutes to build from their writer's instructions.

The writer can use any numbers or symbols. The writer cannot use pictures or diagrams or the team will be disqualified. Note that for the 2016 season and beyond abbreviations no longer need to be defined.

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!

Scoring is based on the number of correct connections relative to the object. Although scoring is subjective and varies by event supervisor, a common scoring method is 1 point for presence, 1 point for location, and 1 for orientation.

Ties are broken by the time taken by the doer to build the object. This tiebreaker is often very important, especially with easier models where many teams finish with perfect or near perfect scores.

Note: as of 2016, a rule change has been made so that abbreviations no longer need to be defined, unlike previous years.


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


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 performance. 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. Coming up and practicing with abbreviations for words frequently used will make communication more efficient.

Developing Common Rules

Partners may want to develop a set of "rules" for writing as they practice. This may include terminology for describing the relative positions of the 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.

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.)

When using these methods, make sure to specify whether the writer is talking about the horizontal plane or the vertical plane. If the writer says, for example, "Put red stick pointing 10:00", the doer does not know whether to put it on the base or make it stand up pointing to 10:00.

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 it 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 the 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! 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. To avoid confusion, it is recommended that writers pick one unit of length measurement and stay with it.

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 the 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 the finger joints to measure distances. Avoid using fingers as units, as it may come off as a 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, and lengths. 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 the materials 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. 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.

Abbreviations such as tlc for top left corner, trc for top right corner, blc for bottom left corner, and brc for bottom right corner are also commonly used in writing.

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 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 of 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 weren'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!



First and foremost, find a wide variety of materials to use. Commercial sets such as Legos, Tinkertoys, K'nex, and many others are common materials used in structures seen at competitions. In addition, craft materials are used often - some states (Colorado, for example) use nothing else. Some frequently used materials include styrofoam/floral foam, tacks, straws, fake flowers, bent paper clips, pipe cleaners, stickers, string, beads, CDs, toothpicks, clothespins, cups, brads etc. While this list includes many different materials, be prepared to see anything on the structures at competition, and know what to call them (for example, if one partner calls something "cotton buds" and the other calls it "Q-tips", this could become a communication issue). Shopping for materials may be necessary, in order to get a good variety, but many different objects used can be found in most houses. Try to find things that can fit together in different positions and with different angles (e.g. K'nex). Things found around a science classroom, such as molecule model sets, are also good candidates to be found in structures. Some regionals have even used American flags and food items - it is clear that most event supervisors will use anything and everything. When collecting materials, be sure to have at least two of every object so that the structure the writer describes doesn't have to be taken apart. The goal is to be prepared to write good instructions for any materials that might be used.

Frequent Practice

The absolute best way to prepare for this event is to practice - a lot. Once a stash of building materials has been collected, practice as often as possible. Find another teammate or someone to build the structures. Practicing for the first time can be challenging, so it might be best to start small, with perhaps no more than twenty pieces. Try to find a quiet, secluded place to conduct practice runs. Keep the original construction (or a picture of it) and compare it to the one the builder produces. Teams should go over the written instructions together and find lines that were unclear or misleading. Talk about what the directions meant to the writer and how they were interpreted. The writer should describe their thought process and discuss which things caused confusion. The doer should be sure to mention any problems they encountered following the directions - did the structure fall apart repeatedly? Did what was described seem to call for putting pieces together in a way that didn't make sense?

Varied Practice

It is advised to try and practice as many different ways as possible. Even if it is decided who will be writing and who will be doing, each member can further understand both parts of the process by trying the other role. On most runs, stick exactly to the given times, as learning how to work against the clock is essential. However, if consistently running out of time becomes an issue, do a few practices where you just work until you finish, no matter how long it takes. Then, work on cutting the writing/building time down. Work with all the different materials you can find. It is always nice when the structure at competition is made out of something familiar or that was practiced with, but if it is something completely new you'll be better equipped to handle it if you've practiced with diverse materials. Working with more than one type of material at once might be a good idea. At the '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 (the Event Supervisors could give you either one, and not all ES's 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 writing because one structure may be shared between multiple writers (and thus touching it might not be allowed). If a different perspective is needed, walk around it and look at it from the other side. It will be very helpful to learn to visualize the object from different angles without actually moving around it, as this might not be possible depending on the competition environment.

Builders may find it helpful to familiarize themselves with different methods of folding, gluing, stabilizing, pinning, taping, and tying knots.

Practice Communicating

Try an oral practice. Put up a screen between the writer and doer. Give the writer a model and the doer the parts. 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 the structures to make them as complicated and asymmetrical as possible. Have them build so that the pieces are in more than just two or three different planes. When the pieces are separated into two sets, add some extra ones to the set that will be used for doing. The people building the structures should try 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. There is not an advantage for finishing your writing early, so going back and checking to make sure you didn't write anything you didn't mean is helpful. Also, leave some space so adding in additional information is possible if needed. This can be very helpful for the doer. Unlike in the writing, 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 possible 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

  • 2003 - K'nex
  • 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)
  • 2008 - Googolplex
  • 2012 - Craft materials, including coffee strainers, pipe cleaners, and a paperboard peanut bucket
  • 2014 - Beads, pipe cleaners, foam "flowers", dowels, wood cutouts, base with evenly spaced holes

Division C

  • 2007 - Googolplex
  • 2008 - K'nex
  • 2010 - Miniature PVC and copper pipes
  • 2011 - Assorted materials, including K'nex, bendy straws, index cards, and wheels.
  • 2016 - Styrofoam and other assorted materials, including Mini Toobers and related Protein Modeling materials
  • 2017 - A coffee cup lid and other assorted materials, including Mini Toobers and related Protein Modeling materials
  • 2018 - Various materials, like cotton balls, are placed inside a clear, upside down cup on top of a coffee filter. Assorted materials like toothpicks, Mini Toobers, and related Protein Modeling materials, and strings are on the outside of the cup.
  • 2019 - Many general materials such as feathers, thumbtacks, string, etc are attached to styrofoam bowl. Assorted materials like Q-tips, Mini Toobers, paperclips, and cotton balls were also used.

Test Exchange

The Test Exchange also includes many other sample builds not listed above.