Friday, 24 April 2009

Flog the Fact Finding Friday – Mid-Term Review

By Brass from “The Room”


We are about half way through the Fact Finding Friday program, so it's a good time to have a review.

Please respond and take the opportunity to discuss any of the things covered here, or any things you think have been missed out, so we can all develop and learn from our experiences.

Me Fundamental Goals and Our Development

I am not the Rules God: I don't get to tell people what they can and cannot do. All I do is make suggestions, and explain my reasons. Hopefully, looking at the suggestions and the good and not so good solutions submitted by others, each of us can improve and develop effective writing habits.

Whatever you may read or think, you should always do what your Chief Judge, protest committee chair or MNA directs you to do.

Fundamental criteria is that a decision should be ABC: Accurate, Brief and Complete. I think we would all agree that Accurate is a Fundamental Rule, but maybe there is a little 'wriggle-room' between Brief and Complete.

We have also discussed speed. In a busy protest committee we may need to be producing written decisions in about 20 to 30 minutes, or faster if possible. One of the primary purposes of FF Friday is to provide opportunities to improve our speed.

Evidence, Facts and Conclusions

We have discussed the dividing line between facts and conclusions and the progression from evidence to facts. The following references might be helpful

Facts include things which are inferred or deduced from other evidence or facts, and may include the intentions or other mental states of people, where this is relevant and proved by evidence.

Conclusions are what you decide by applying the rules to the facts.


Style Guides

The purpose of style guides and discussion such as in FF Friday, is to

Simple style guides or standards help us to write decisions Accurately, Briefly, Completely and Quickly, with consistency.

Although I am not an American, I find the US Sailing Appeals Style Manual very useful as a guide to consistent style. If you are a US Sailing Judge, you may be obliged to follow this style guidance. If you do not like a specific rule in the US Sailing Manual, at least it indicates an area where it may be useful to develop and adopt a consistent style of your own.

Facts Found

I am a great fan of short, numbered paragraphs for facts found. One fact per paragraph. I know that the example decisions from the Olympics, World Champs and so on, usually run facts together in a single paragraph. This looks shorter, and fits nicely on forms and XML databases, but separate paragraphs are easier to follow (and to refer to in an appeal). They take up more space but no more words.


I have a very strong belief in using the words and grammar of the rules, as exactly as possible. I think this helps us remember the rules, and avoid confusion with previous versions. Thus there is 'contact' between boats, not 'collision', boats 'become overlapped', a boat does not 'establish an overlap', boats 'break' rules, they do not 'infringe' them, and so on.

Those of us working on the Protest Conclusion Wording project have agreed hat a conclusion should state the act that constitutes breaking the rule, using, as far as possible, the words of the rule, no more, no less. The Protest Conclusion Wording tool will help you get the exact wording needed for the appropriate conclusions for any of the rules.

The provisional version of the tool is on LTW at:

Protest Decision Wordings V7 (2009) provisional.xls

Background is discussed on LTW at:

Protest Conclusions and Decision Wording 2009

The tool is intended to time and effort. Sometimes the suggested wordings are a little more lengthy than you could come up with on your own, but by using them, you increase your chances of not missing steps in the logical chain.

I also think that, whenever a conclusion is about a boat breaking a rule, the conclusion should include express words such as 'X broke rule RR'. This leaves nobody in any doubt that the protest committee is going to act in accordance with rule 64.1(a). Other people might just bracket the rule after the conclusion. Still others might not to put the relevant rule in each conclusion, but to just list all the relevant rules at the end of the Conclusions: I think that this makes it unnecessarily difficult for readers to relate the conclusions to the rules.

We should usually omit 'rules discussion' and intermediate conclusions.

We should make conclusions about all rules that are broken, then make exoneration or non-penalization conclusions. We should not just skip over a rule because we know a boat will be exonerated or protected from penalty.

The Upside Down Test

Finally, you might like to use the 'Upside Down Test'. The test of a good written decision is to be able to turn the written decision upside down and write a well formed, logical paragraph, beginning:

'X is disqualified because [Conclusion] because [fact(s)]'.

This should highlight any Facts or Conclusions that are irrelevant or superfluous, and, perhaps more importantly, show up any inadequacies in facts found.

Summing Up

Accurate, Brief, Complete, and Quick – requires practice.

Please contribute to discussion about this post.


  1. I had to miss last weeks Fact Finding Friday. Seems Life's other chores breaks rule 23.2 from time to time.

    Here are the things I think I have learned most so far by participating in the exercises.

    1. I am now more comfortable with my ability to identify what is a fact and what is a conclusion.

    2. And, using the "Protest Decision Wordings" spreadsheet to write the conclusions has enabled me to setup and better write a decision. Most importantly for writing the conclusions, almost word for word as they appear in the spreadsheet.

    3. And, the spreadsheet was also a valuable tool as a guide to me to write the facts found so it will be clear that the conclusions are supported by the facts found.

    4. Interestingly, I found I was first finding facts in a kind of rough draft form based on the diagram of the incident and the testimony given. Then, after I used the spreadsheet to write the conclusions, I would go back to my facts found and tweak the words to say, with more clarity, what I needed to say to find the conclusions. I think I will call this the "Great Circle Route" method or the Joe Friday "Just the facts Ma'am" method.

    5. And, my participation has also led me to realize that protest hearing must be dealt with in the briefest time possible. This in turn led me to develop a technique, a plan, to get to the decision before the bar closed.

    So for my mid term report I am proud to say that I am giving myself a B++. And, The Contessa Rosita di Verona and Grinning Bear both agree with by B++ grade.

    In fact Grinning Bear was just so all smiles about my grade. Then the Contessa and I went to a quiet corner to share a bottle of Mutlangen Gold.

  2. Good decision writing needs practice, and real time practice is best.

    Reading cases and Q+A gives you a style.

    I had been very bad (and lazy) at club level but could not hide when on IJ duty as I often was delegated as scribe as English is my language.

    I learnt early I had a lot to learn.

    Long may practice continue!

    Mike B

  3. Brass

    Firstly, at this half way stage, I’ld like to thank you for your advice and enthusiasm. It seems that the only way to learn this sort of thing is to practice doing it, but without proper feedback we would be just practicing making mistakes. It’s also good to learn with other people.

    It seems to me that the main point that you are teaching us is to adopt a methodical approach. So, while I have learnt a lot of specific things about writing up protests, it is that general discipline of being deliberate, and methodical that I am getting most out of. That seems to underlie the specifics.

    Having said that, the specific things you mention have learnt have also been very useful.

    One question I have concerns the Olympic decisions that are linked to this web page. Are they good examples for us? I understand that they were written that way, in part, for the benefit of the media.

    One further question. I assume that you have a good reason for calling yourself Brass, but are we ever going to find out who you are? Will you ever let it all hang out?

  4. Thanks Dick, Mike B, John G, Countess and Chief Grinning Bear.

    My aim, like any good coach, is to turn us all into 'self-coaching athletes'. We can learn form others, and we can learn, by reflection, from ourselves. But I'm happy to provide a bit of framework and facilitation.

    One of the key issues I had in mind when I proposed this series to Jos was that the sort of rules discussions we write in answer to rules problems in blogs and forums, have a much more discursive / persuasive / tentative / polemic style than a decision should, so an opportunity to adopt the decision 'register' was useful.

    Certainly I am advocating a deliberate, systematic approach, but I hope that, with practice, we will quickly and correctly apply the principles we have practiced without having to think about it. Note that the experienced IJs like Mike B, Jos, and Adriaan knock out their responses without too much time and pondering. That's where I'm sure we would all like to arrive.

    The subsidiary aim of course, is to provide a series of practices so that we can deliberately and systematically write good decisions for upcoming Judges exams.

    Mike B thanks for your support.

    Do you have any tips for the quick, accurate, brief and correct?

    I note that in some of your responses you prefix each conclusion with a rule number. Is this a technique you recommend? Why? Does it have advantages in particular circumstances?


    I agree with your 'Great Circle Route' as a systematic starting point. Hopefully, once we get to the automatic stage, we need to be less deliberate about the method.

    Instinctively leaving out irrelevant facts and interim conclusions is, I think a major factor in quick and brief.

    The hearing itself should be as short as possible, but what we're practicing here is making the bit that involves us alone, namely writing the decision quick. We wouldn't want parties to get the idea that the hearing was rushed and they didn't get a fair chance to tell their story. This is a matter of balance.

    John G,

    I've touched lightly on Olympic/International Jury decisions. Some people say that with no Appeals Committee hanging over their head (and perhaps with elite sailors with elite rules knowledge), these decisions seem to be written more sparsely than Club or regional level decisions are. Maybe they are, but think of our mainly club level audience: the decision needs to hang together and be easy to follow and not require too big leaps in rules knowledge. Think also of passing a judges exam: you wouldn't want to 'write it just like an Olympic Judge' and miss out some important fact or conclusion.

    As to my nickname, try these threads for lots of nicknames

    Imitation thread: Where didja get your log in name??Anarchy User NamesThanks everyone for participating.

    See you next term for Tokyo Topgun v Ulaanbataar Underdog, and maybe the further adventures of Brass Spiderman


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