Consulting Techniques

Consulting Techniques:
or How to Ask Your Client the Right Questions for Heraldic Registration
by Senhora Rafaella d’Allemtejo, GdS, JdL,
An Tir Kingdom Heraldic Symposium,
Saturday April 12, A.S. XXXVII (2003)

Abstract: Whether one is consulting via email or face-to-face, consulting can be difficult if you don't know how to draw out good information from your client. Learn listening and questioning techniques used by reference librarians as they apply to the heraldic consultation process. It is possible to get the client what they want, educate about period heraldry, and remain diplomatic while doing so. Students should bring note-taking materials and be familiar with the RfS and Administrative Handbook.

Reference Librarians use a technique called a “reference interview” to help library patrons find information. The reference interview is a back-and-forth discussion between the librarian and patron for the purpose of clarifying the patron’s needs and aiding the patron in meeting those needs. As SCA heralds, we help members find names and armory for their personae. The process of an “heraldic consultation” is a specialized form of reference interview. Consulting heralds can improve the service they provide by using the tools of reference librarians.

From this point on I’m going to call the person looking to choose a name/device/badge a “client” rather than a member (they don’t have to be a member) or a submitter (they don’t have to be going for heraldic registration) and I’m going to speak to helping individual clients rather than SCA Branches. The same skill set applies to Branches for their names and armory though there are more complex procedures for Branch heraldic registration (Branches do have to register a name, for example. Please refer to your Kingdom’s guidelines and the Administrative Handbook/Rules for Submissions for further information on the Branch registration process.)

Heraldic Consultation is Customer Service

What is heraldic consultation?
  • Back-and-forth discussion between a herald and a client to assist the client in choosing a name or device or badge.
  • Service to SCA community in helping clients choose names and armory.
  • Public Relations for College of Heralds in providing good Service.
  • Every consultation is a Teaching Opportunity (conversely, every consultation is a Learning Opportunity).

    What are our goals in heraldic registration

  • Do things that heralds did in period.
  • Provide a baseline of authenticity/period practice/style.
  • Contributing to the overall education goals of the SCA by encouraging good names and heraldic display and teaching about period practice.

    My Philosophy

  • There is no one true way to consult, but there are better and worse things to do during a consultation session.
  • Wear tabard or baldric. You are a working herald. Act accordingly when regalia is on.
  • If you’re tired, hungry, crabby, cranky, having otherwise bad day, LEAVE (or just baby-sit books if that’s what you’ve agreed to do). You’ll do more harm (to your own and the College of Heralds' reputations) by giving bad/stupid/crabby advice than giving no advice at all. Remember, if you’re not having fun, don’t do it!
  • Do not accept submissions, in An Tir these go directly to Lions Blood (have info available).
  • Give the kind of service you would like to receive. Put others before yourself. Be willing to learn, to serve, to educate. Be honest, but kind. Be tactful and diplomatic.
  • Try not to use jargon (heraldese) but if you do, define/teach as you go along.
  • Keep event copy handy. Most consult tables are on the “main drag” and you’ll get questions like “how do I get registered for the Lists?” “Where are the bathrooms?” “Do you know when the Peerage meetings start?” Know where Herald’s Point is as the consult table is usually separated from Herald’s Point.
  • Customer Service means doing what you say you will, when you say you will, how you say you will. (sounds a lot like Honor and Courtesy, doesn’t it?)
  • It doesn’t hurt to stash breath mints in your consult box, both for yourself and clients.

    Client Relations

    The Administrative Handbook IV.A. says, “Responsibility for Procedural Requirements - The submitter bears the primary responsibility for meeting procedural requirements, but can and should be advised by heraldic officers at the local level and above.” [emphasis mine – RdA] While the burden of documentation is on the client for heraldic registration, it is WE heralds who are the knowledge experts. We’re the ones who know period practice and how that interfaces with the heraldic registration process.

    The Consulting Herald is the “knowledge mediator” for the consulting process, and YOU need to understand the resources and procedures in order to interpret them to clients. You have to know your tools before you can help others. Read Read Read: Rules for Submission, Administrative Handbook, basic heraldry books, onomastic books, design books, art books, display heraldry books, PicDic, Laurel webpage, LoAR, Precedents, St. Gabriel articles and archives, Medieval Names Archive, and as Juliana de Luna likes to remind me, the Admin Handbook App. H. “no photocopies needed” book list doesn't mean the source is good, it means it can be got. You still have to evaluate the book’s entry on the individual name/armory each and every time.

    Remember that clients come with all sorts of myths and baggage surrounding research. Clients may be afraid of looking stupid (research fear #1), they may not know exactly how to express their question(s), they may not trust heralds, they may think that registration is dumb, they probably don’t have any idea of what service you can/should provide for them. A client’s first question may really be asked to see how approachable and knowledgeable you are.

    Client levels (different reasons why people visit the consult table):

  • I want a Perfectly Period Name/Device/Badge
  • I think I want to be [culture][timeperiod] and what’s a good Name? Device? Badge?
  • Just find me something I can use that’s [color]/[theme]/[culture]/[timeperiod]
  • I don’t want no funny name, twitch my modern name just enough
  • Gimme what I want (no matter how awful it is) [sometimes these names/devices are period but oy! Hence Rule of Toyota]
  • Annoying timewasters/herald haters (unfortunate but true, be diplomatic and find them volunteer opportunity elsewhere…)

    What’s the Goal:

  • Look at St. Gabriel Archives for good examples of how to logically construct an argument for the item. At the top of each client letter (for names) they arrange the question: “you asked about [name] for [gender] in [culture] and [timeperiod]”. The same can be true for devices. The GOAL of the reference interview is to be able to arrange the client’s wants/needs/desires into a way for you to interpret them according to the Rules & other governing docs and then provide the client options within those Rules.

    Parts & Skills of a Reference Interview

    First Contact: Remember, you will always be somebody’s First Herald. How do you want them to remember their experience?
  • Welcoming attitude and open body language. Relax physically. Make client feel at ease. [If the consult table can provide extra bench or chair, this is often good.]
  • Keep eye contact with the client throughout the interview. Vary the eye contact so that you do not appear to be staring.
  • Give client your full attention. Keep nervous habits under control (nail biting, pencil tapping, etc.)
  • Be aware of nonverbal clues. Don’t react to the item personally. Put on your “game face”. Learning to control your reactions to awful heraldry is a VERY important skill. Learn to control your a) eye-rolling, b) sighing, c) smirking, d) LOL, e) other actions/gestures that can be perceived negatively by the client.
  • Avoid making assumptions about the client's status or problems. Treat all clients equally, first come, first served. Nothing’s worse when you’re a client than watching a herald suck up to a Pointy Hat who just came by when you’ve been patiently waiting for help. Treat ALL clients as if they are your superior and then you’ll never mistreat either a Stealth Peer or a Newbie.

    Listening and Teaching and Learning (the back-and-forth part)

  • Remain objective about the item. Focus on the substance of what is being said, not its delivery.
  • The client may not know how to ask about their need, what resources are available, or what you can do for them. This is prime Teaching Opportunity.
  • Listen carefully. Follow the client's train of thought. Don’t let your attention wander. Don’t just “hear” the words, but listen to the needs/wants/desires of the client.
  • Take notes on what the client says so that you do not have to keep asking for the same information. Often we don’t listen while we’re writing (even if you think you are…) so ask client to slow down or repeat if needed.
  • Encourage client to discuss what they think they want (especially if they are not quite sure). Do not respond to every statement but use short encouraging phrases such as Oh? Then? So? "Give me an example" to keep the client talking.
  • Remember we don’t accept Persona Stories as documentation, but listening to a person’s Persona Story can give you an idea of their wants/needs/desires/focus/authenticity level.
  • Summarize or paraphrase the client's query to insure mutual understanding.
  • Avoid interrupting client but do ask open questions for additional information and clarification.
  • Do not provide an answer to the query without thorough consideration. It’s better to get back to someone than to be wrong.
  • Translate heraldic jargon into client-understandable words and back again for the forms.
  • Don’t just get the submitter what they want. Makes suggestions that encourage period practice as you can. However, do try to give people what they want within the RfS. Do not force your own opinions on the client, but do suggest. The wording “have you considered…” is a good form. Give the client options.
  • Be willing to admit you don’t know (offer referrals to someone else, usually Kingdom Heralds).
  • Try not to be discouraging. Point out the good points of the proposed item (if possible). Advise on the potential difficulties (color on color, mixing name languages, etc.) If person insists on sending it up, it’s their loss, you’ve tried. Sometimes folks take correction better from more than one person (“getting a second opinion”) and unfortunately, some folks will only listen to “senior” heralds (even when they repeat exactly what you just said).

    Closing the interview

  • Do not cut the client off, change the subject, or interrupt at an inappropriate time or in a manner that would be offensive.
  • Try not to send client away empty-handed. Clients should leave with a sketch, or citations from name books, or a business card so they can follow-up with you when they’ve had time to think. Offer to help them contact another herald.
  • Be global/comprehensive in answering the client’s needs.
  • Give client citations for names in the way they would need to submit them. Note if the book is on the "Appendix H/no copies” list or get them a photocopy of title page and page of the info (make sure and get their address if you need to send this to them in follow-up)


  • Ask a follow-up question such as "Does that completely answer your question?" “Is there anything more I can do for you?”
  • If client has seemed interested in heraldry as a topic, offer them new herald resources (ATH email list, contact local teachers, etc.)

    Reference Interview Questions/Open Questions (good): Open-ended questions cannot be answered by yes or no. These questions begin with "who," "what," "why," "where," and "when." (See also Electrum’s 20 Questions below…)

  • Would you tell me more about…/I’d be interesting in knowing more about.... [the charge] [the timeperiod] [culture of client] [where the name found] [what book used]...
  • Where have you checked for information so far?
  • What is it you want to know about __________?
  • I'm not familiar with _____________ .
  • I'm not certain I understand.... Can you give me an example?
  • When you say _______________ , what do you mean?

    There are some Closed Questions that are good, such as following along with the name form to consult with the goal of registration:

  • Do you care more about sound or spelling or meaning?
  • Do you care if the name is masculine or feminine (or neither)?
  • Do you want your name to be authentic? Which is more important: timeperiod or culture?

    Jargon Translations

  • Heralds “return items for further work”, we don’t “reject” names and armory.
  • “Weirdness” is an SCA heraldic technical term, use the much preferable “non-period style” instead. A "weirdness" in SCA heraldry is anything that is a step or more from period style. [thank you Lions Blood]
  • Try not to say “it’s not period”, say “I can’t document this to SCA timeperiod”.
  • Instead of saying “you can’t”, try “it’s highly unlikely that this X would have been used in our timeperiod”.
  • Explain “cadency steps” as “differences”.
  • Explain Rule of Tincture in terms of the seven colors you can use. Having pens in hand is good.
  • Avoid use of phrase “charge groups” (primary, secondary, tertiary, peripheral); client doesn’t need to know. Explain why the charge group problem is an issue, example, “the Rules don’t allow three different charges to have the same visual weight on a shield as it’s not a period form of display”...

    Electrum Herald's Twenty Questions to ask when consulting on armory:

    1. What is the submitter's favorite metal?
    2. What is the submitter's favorite color?
    3. What is the submitter's third favorite tincture?
    4. How does the submitter feel about furs? Yes or no?
    5. What is the submitter's favorite divided field?
    6. What is the submitter's favorite complex line?
    7. What is the submitter's second favorite complex line?
    8. Does he have a preferred ordinary (e.g. fess, bend, pall, pale)?
    9. What is the submitter's favorite peripheral ordinary (e.g. chief, bordure, flaunches, orle, base)?
    10. What is the submitter's second favorite peripheral ordinary?
    11. What is the submitter's favorite sub-ordinary (geometric heraldic charges that are not ordinaries: e.g. mullets, roundels, lozenges etc)?
    12. What is the submitter's favorite beast/monster/animal?
    13. What is the submitter's favorite animal (beast/monster) posture?
    14. What is the submitter's favorite bird posture?
    15. Does the submitter have a favorite type of plant?
    16. If so, does he prefer whole plant or single leaf?
    17. What is the submitter's favorite manufactured period object (from dice to ships and anything in between)?
    18. What is the name he intends to submit (for possible purposes of canting armory)?
    19. What is the submitter's favorite number?
    20. Finally, and most important: Can he himself draw well?


    An Tir Internal Letter Archive

    David of Moffat, “Electrum’s 20 questions”

    Hirsch von Henford & Iulstan Sigewealding “How To Be An Heraldic Consultant: How to Work With The People On The Other Side of the Table (May, XXVI)”

    Leita, Carole. "The Reference Interview: Asking All the Right Questions"

    Moody, Janette. “Teaching Effective Listening Skills to Information Systems Majors” in IS2002 Informing Science + IT Education Conference Proceedings, June 19-21, 2002 Cork, Ireland
    Online at: [].

    Ohio Reference Excellence Web-based Training

    The Philosophical Roots of Heraldic Design by Viscountess Hilary of Serendip, OL, OP, KSCA

    Updated: June 25, 2003