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Speak Up! Audio Essay Contest

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Each fall, the University of Delaware invites its students to join the campus-wide conversation with its annual audio essay contest. For the third annual "Speak Up!" contest, the Center for Political Communication asked students to submit 2- to 4-minute recorded essays that address these questions: What does democracy mean to you? Where do you think democracy is headed? How do you fit in? How do you see your role as a citizen in our democracy? Have you ever wanted or needed to defend your own rights or ideas?

Over the past few years, contest participants have experienced how powerful their voices can be, and the UD community has benefited from listening to their personal and vulnerable stories. In a news story about the 2018 contest, first place winner Mia Carbone said,  "I think most of all this whole thing has just been surprising and taught me to put myself out there a little more." See what past contest participants have to say.


First Prize is $500, Second Prize is $250, Third Prize is $100, and three Honorable Mention Prizes of $50 each. WDDE and WVUD will broadcast the winning essays. Winners will be announced at an event held during the spring 2020 semester.

Important Dates

Entries must be electronically submitted by 11:59 pm on Friday, December 6, 2019. Finalists will be announced on the CPC's website ( in February 2020. The finalists will be invited to attend a public event held during the spring 2020 semester. Winners who are unable to attend will be notified by email.


Keep these instructions and resources in mind when preparing your entry.

  • The National Agenda 2019 Audio Essay Contest is open to students currently enrolled in University of Delaware degree or certificate programs.
  • Record a 2- to 4-minute essay. A 500- to 600-word essay is about three minutes long when reading aloud at a natural pace.
  • Submit the online entry form with your uploaded recording (MP3 file format), a written transcript of your essay (.doc or PDF), and a completed and signed Participant Release and License. Please see "Submit Your Essay" for instructions and links.
  • Visit for information about types of software to use for audio editing. Audacity is recommended for beginners.
  • You must be the sole author of your essay.
  • No music, singing, poetry, or added sound effects are allowed.
  • Essays must be from one voice and reflect your personal experience; we want to hear your personal story.
  • The essay must not include content that is defamatory to a third party, obscene, or inappropriate.
  • The essay's content must not invade another's privacy.
  • The essay's content must be accurate and truthful without misrepresentation of individuals, facts or events. Validation of content may be requested for entry to be eligible for judging.
  • If you require special assistance with your audio essay, please contact the Center for Political Communication at 302-831-7771 or via email at
  • The body of the essay must not include your address, phone number, or other contact information.
  • At any time during the contest, the University of Delaware may request more personal information about participants, including a photograph, student ID, or biographical information.
  • You can submit a maximum of three entries, but each entry must be a new and original concept. Previously submitted entries cannot be modified.

Production and Technical Support

For help with organizing, composing, or delivering your essay, you may schedule a consultation with the University Writing Center. Complete service descriptions and appointment registration information can be found at You can record your essay at the Student Multimedia Design Center. Stop by the SMDC desk in the Morris Library or call 302-831-8832 to schedule an audio recording session in studio 2, 3, 4, or 6.

Make your essay stand out from the rest

  • Read A Guide to Writing and Producing a Winning Essay for some helpful tips from the University Writing Center and UD Library.
  • Tell a personal story. A story about a specific life event that has shaped your identity is more meaningful than a generic anecdote. The story can be funny, tragic, heartwarming, sentimental, scary, suspenseful, or triumphant. What have you learned from your story and how has it shaped your outlook?
  • Speak in the first person. Avoid speaking in the editorial "we."
  • Consider how to frame your personal story as an inspirational essay. Do not use this essay to editorialize, preach, or persuade others with your opinions or beliefs.
  • Write for the ear. Keep sentences short and use simple vocabulary. Convey imagery and emotion with descriptions and active verbs.
  • Introduce your story, build to a climax, then bring the story to a resolution with takeaways for your listeners.
  • Write your essay so that it fits your natural conversational style and tone. You may need to edit longer phrases and clauses. Practice reading your essay aloud until you feel comfortable and confident.
  • Consult with the University Writing Center's oral communication consultants for assistance with writing and delivering your essay.


Please email if you have questions or call 302-831-7771.

Submit Your Essay

Beginning on August 27, 2019, you may submit your entry form with your uploaded audio essay (MP3 file format), a written transcript of your essay (".doc" or PDF format), and completed and signed Participant Release and License on or before 11:59 p.m. on Friday, December 6, 2019. The entry form will only receive submissions from UD email accounts. Late submissions will not be eligible for the contest.


University of Delaware faculty and administrators will judge your essay based on objective and subjective criteria. Essays will be ranked in accordance with the cumulative total scores of points awarded by the contest judges. Judges will score each entry first before discussing and comparing them. Essays with the highest scores will be judged by an additional panel to determine award winners.

  • Content is worth 20 points. Demonstrate an understanding of the theme. Express your ideas in a clear and organized manner. Fully develop your theme and use transitions to move smoothly from one idea to another.
  • Originality and creativity are worth 15 points. Treatment of the theme should allow imagination and human interest. It should engage the listener on an emotional and subjective level.
  • Delivery is worth 10 points. Speak clearly, at a natural pace, and with credibility to engage the listener.
  • Production value is worth 5 points (audio quality and editing).

UD Non-Discrimination Statement and Policy on Misconduct

Non-Discrimination Statement

The University of Delaware does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, disability, religion, age, veteran status, gender identity or expression, or sexual orientation, or any other characteristic protected by applicable law in its employment, educational programs and activities, admissions policies, and scholarship and loan programs as required by Title IX of the Educational Amendments of 1972, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and other applicable statutes and University policies. The University of Delaware also prohibits unlawful harassment including sexual harassment and sexual violence.

Discrimination and Sexual Misconduct 

Contest organizers who are made aware that a student may have been the victim of discrimination or sexual misconduct are obligated by federal law to inform the University's Title IX office. The Title IX office will decide if the incident should be examined further. If you disclose such a situation in your submitted contest entry, the contest organizers cannot promise confidentiality.

If you have experienced discrimination or sexual misconduct and would like to discuss it with a trained individual in a confidential setting, please visit the website of the University's Office of Equity and Inclusion at You will find information about the University's non-discrimination and sexual misconduct policies, helpful resources, and instructions on how to report incidents.

To speak confidentially with a licensed counselor or a member of the clergy, please visit the Center for Counseling & Student Development at You can also find licensed counselors at Student Wellness & Health Promotion ( and within pastoral care. For more information on reporting sexual misconduct, including confidential disclosure, please visit For 24-hour crisis assistance and victim advocacy and counseling, please visit

About the Contest

The Speak Up! Audio Essay Contest ran in tandem with the Center for Political Communication's fall 2019 National Agenda speaker series, Direction Democracy, which explored where we have been, where we are going, and the current state of democracy in the United States. The Speak Up! program is presented in collaboration with the University Writing Center, the University of Delaware Library, Museums and PressDelaware Public Media (WDDE 91.1, WMPH 91.7 and WMHS 88.1), the College of Arts & Sciences Journalism Program, the University of Delaware Department of CommunicationWVUD Radio (91.3), and the University of Delaware Provost.

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Speak Up! Audio Essay Contest
  • Department of Communication
  • Department of Political Science and International Relations