Chicago Metro History Fair Documentary Rules PDF Print E-mail

Documentaries are visual and oral productions of students' historical research, analysis, and interpretation which have a narrative structure and are created and presented on via DVD. Websites are not accepted in the Documentary category.



RULE 1: Individuals or groups of no more than five students may produce a documentary.

RULE 2: Documentaries are 10 minutes long. Time begins when first image or sound appears and concludes after credits.

RULE 3: Documentaries must be research, created, narrated, and produced by the students registered.

RULE 4: Documentaries conclude with a list of credits for major audio and visuals sources only. The simple credits do not replace an annotated bibliography. The bibliography and Summary Statement Form must be printed for the judges and do not appear on the documentary.

RULE 5: Documentaries should be self-running and students must operate all equipment. No live narration is allowed. Powerpoint projects are not documentaries.

RULE 6: Topics must be connected to the Chicago region-even when the national theme is being used. Junior HF participants may explore topics in Illinois history.

RULE 7: Plagiarism constitutes grounds for disqualification and report to the school.

PENALTY POINTS (High School only)

  • Exceeds time limit: minus 2 points each full minute over 10 minutes (10 point maximum penalty)
  • No Summary Statement Form: minus 10 points
  • Bibliography not annotated: minus 5 points
  • No bibliography: 0 points in the sources category


Each project submitted to the History Fair must be accompanied by the Documentary Entry form at the time of registration. The best final format for a documentary is a MP4, AVI, or WMV file, published and burned to a DVD. Due to the multiple standards for DVDs on the market, DVDs do not play on all players, therefore, it is recommended that students test their DVD on a number of players or bring their own laptop to the competition. Multiple entries from the same school should be independently available so they may be presented concurrently to different judges (i.e., no sharing of storage devices).

Students have five minutes to set-up and take down their equipment.


Spend time watching and analyzing the types of documentaries available on PBS, History Channel, and public release. Pay attention to the elements, narrative, and structure of these documentaries to see how the professionals successfully communicate their ideas through this medium.

A documentary uses visual evidence such as photographs maps, film clips, interviews and other graphic images. Text should be used minimally--subtitles, quotes, and other highlights are appropriate. Narration is not. While technical and creative quality is important, it does not outweigh the need for solid historical knowledge and analysis.

Clips from existing documentaries should be used sparingly; overuse or long segments of footage from a professional productions is discouraged. Most importantly, student documentaries should present their own interpretations.

The Fair Use Doctrine will allow use of materials in student productions shown at History Fair events (thus educational use), therefore, students need not seek formal permissions. However, if the documentary is shown in non-educational settings, then permissions should be sought.

Audio can be a mix of student narration, interviews, and music. Narrators will be more successful if they enunciate and speak in measured tones. Soundtracks are best when relevant to content, and volume does not distract from the voiceover. When using interviews that are hard to understand, students may consider subtitles. Ask different people to listen to documentary to make sure all types of people can understand the audio so that adjustments may be made before the final version.

Powerpoint presentations are not considered documentaries.

There are no penalties for being under 10 minutes in length, however, judges usually consider the abbreviated time as an indication that the knowledge and analysis needed further development.

See more Guidelines in Final Product.

For more insights, see the National History Day website.


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