Starting to Write Questions

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Starting to Write Questions

Postby grinmohn » Sun Oct 08, 2017 1:23 pm

Hello everybody,
I was a pretty experienced high school player, and recently, I helped to restart Grinnell’s quizbowl program. We went to our first tournament yesterday (which was great by the way). We’re planning on hopefully going to more tournaments this year and next year, and I was wondering about starting to write questions (as a team).

I know some tournaments have a packet submission requirement for more experienced teams, and we’re (as in the program) eventually going to want to go to one of those. I’d like to start writing questions as a form of practice for the people in the club and so we can submit a decent packet to tournaments that require that. The thing is, I don’t think anybody in the club has any experience writing questions. Where should we start with this? Is it worth giving out a short assignment of question writing to the more involved members of the club between practices? Aside from reading a ton of questions, is there any other way to figure out how to make a good question?

For what it’s worth, we’ve got 4 pretty committed members (including me) of the club with quite a few less committed members who show up occasionally.

Thanks!
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Re: Starting to Write Questions

Postby Sit Room Guy » Sun Oct 08, 2017 2:19 pm

First of all, congratulations on getting a club started. That's awesome.
Here's a good introductory guide on writing questions:
https://www.qbwiki.com/wiki/How_to_Write_Questions
To that I'd add more advice: when you're not working on a packet or tournament with a deadline, just write a quick tossup or bonus whenever you learn a cool fact that you think would make a good leadin. I find that to be the most enjoyable mode of question production; if you're not on a timeline, don't force it. Also, another method I used to get good at writing was reading my questions on the internet (skype, discord, etc.) or show them to someone experienced. There are tons of people out there who are willing to listen to pretty much any quiz bowl questions and offer feedback; when you're learning how to write, people who already know how to write are your friends.
I'm pretty new to this myself so if anyone more experienced wants to offer advice, please go ahead and do so.
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Re: Starting to Write Questions

Postby Progcon » Sun Oct 08, 2017 2:41 pm

One really easy way to start writing questions it write trash. At MSU, I would recommend that freshmen and new players write easy pop culture tossups on bands, sports teams, songs, movies, etc. that they knew well. Trash questions, and on other things you know well, are easy to write and you shouldn't have to do too much research to find clues and facts. The most important skill to get down early is pyramidality--clues should be getting easier as the tossup is read which you already know from reading questions.

Another important skill is clarity in writing. This means that one should avoid "quizbowlese" sentences like "A work by this author who had previously worked with the author of a work whose title concept was further elaborated on in a book by Walter Benjamin..." and one should try to say as much as possible in as few words as possible. There is nothing wrong with boring, simple English.

New writers tend to struggle with the question "is this difficulty appropriate?" so don't worry about that too much for now. Just learn to have fun writing questions, and make sure your questions make sense.
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Re: Starting to Write Questions

Postby t-bar » Sun Oct 08, 2017 2:44 pm

Welcome to college quizbowl!

If you haven't already, you should get in contact with Susan Ferrari (Susan on these forums), who played quizbowl at the University of Chicago and now works at Grinnell. She has tons of experience with all aspects of quizbowl, including but certainly not limited to question-writing.
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Re: Starting to Write Questions

Postby alexdz » Sun Oct 08, 2017 5:50 pm

Progcon wrote:Another important skill is clarity in writing. ... There is nothing wrong with boring, simple English.

New writers tend to struggle with the question "is this difficulty appropriate?" so don't worry about that too much for now. Just learn to have fun writing questions, and make sure your questions make sense.


I'm going to echo and add on to this. I've read several questions from new writers, and it's usually the construction of a question rather than its difficulty that I have found to be the hard part. If you can get new writers to write questions with (1) a uniquely identifying lead-in clue and (2) a clear 'pronoun' asking for the answerline ("this book," "this war"), with the rest of the question constructed more or less pyramidally, you've gotten them 3/4 of the way to being a good writer. Short, readable, parse-able sentences do the trick more often than not.
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Re: Starting to Write Questions

Postby Irreligion in Bangladesh » Sun Oct 08, 2017 7:23 pm

I've got a few essays posted here, mostly focusing on technical aspects of writing questions. The beginning essays are primarily good for people who have played just a tournament or two, as a means of explaining the structure of a question. The intermediate essays are primarily good for people who are concerned about writing good questions for competition - that bar definitely isn't something you need to worry about when you're first starting writing.

As Jakob notes, writing a question here or there as you're inspired, not just when you're working towards a packet deadline, is by far the most enjoyable way to write. For new writers, that's especially true - you can worry less about getting these technical aspects down and care more about learning new clues and feeling out how they would work in a question. A question can always be edited for technical soundness later, and that middle ground between "writing your first question" and "writing your first tournament" is a fantastic place to live for a while.
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Re: Starting to Write Questions

Postby Auks Ran Ova » Sun Oct 08, 2017 10:53 pm

Progcon wrote:One really easy way to start writing questions it write trash.


I agree that this is a good way to get people performing the act of writing, but aspiring writers (or those directing aspiring writers) should be careful--one of the most important things to learn about writing is that you're trying to test the knowledge of a bunch of other people with a wide variety of potential expertise. Writing exclusively on one's own pop culture interests in particular for too long can lead a writer into developing bad habits regarding assuming either too much or too little knowledge on the part of the audience. You should advise people to keep that in mind when they're writing on stuff they already know and like, and should also encourage them to write on things they only have a surface knowledge of, in order to learn both how to research a relatively unfamiliar topic for quizbowl purposes and how to try to gauge what people might know about something.

(The expectation isn't that they'll produce a perfectly pyramidal question on the first attempt, of course, but that they'll be aware, or made aware, of general principles like "lots of people who are aware of a book will know the name of its protagonist, so that should go towards the end" and "not enough people will be very familiar with a minor element of a tv show, so that shouldn't be a tossup".)
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Re: Starting to Write Questions

Postby grinmohn » Sun Oct 08, 2017 11:13 pm

Thanks again for all the advice so quickly!
I'll probably just try writing a few on my own first, and maybe get some feedback from the rest of the club to gauge interest. I think we're going to have to do some reorganizing of the way we run practices, as I we've scared away some newbies by having them play rounds with those of us with high school experience.

t-bar wrote:Welcome to college quizbowl!

If you haven't already, you should get in contact with Susan Ferrari (Susan on these forums), who played quizbowl at the University of Chicago and now works at Grinnell. She has tons of experience with all aspects of quizbowl, including but certainly not limited to question-writing.


I remember getting that name from somebody else last year. I can't remember why we never got in contact with her. She might have been on sabbatical or something. Anyway, I'll reach out to her. Thanks for the suggestion.
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Re: Starting to Write Questions

Postby Progcon » Mon Oct 09, 2017 6:44 am

Auks Ran Ova wrote:
Progcon wrote:One really easy way to start writing questions it write trash.


I agree that this is a good way to get people performing the act of writing, but aspiring writers (or those directing aspiring writers) should be careful--one of the most important things to learn about writing is that you're trying to test the knowledge of a bunch of other people with a wide variety of potential expertise. Writing exclusively on one's own pop culture interests in particular for too long can lead a writer into developing bad habits regarding assuming either too much or too little knowledge on the part of the audience. You should advise people to keep that in mind when they're writing on stuff they already know and like, and should also encourage them to write on things they only have a surface knowledge of, in order to learn both how to research a relatively unfamiliar topic for quizbowl purposes and how to try to gauge what people might know about something.

(The expectation isn't that they'll produce a perfectly pyramidal question on the first attempt, of course, but that they'll be aware, or made aware, of general principles like "lots of people who are aware of a book will know the name of its protagonist, so that should go towards the end" and "not enough people will be very familiar with a minor element of a tv show, so that shouldn't be a tossup".)


You are entirely correct. This is why we get new players to read their trash questions to the team so they can be critqued. I think one time we had someone read some really hard tossups on specific episodes of Scrubs. We said these weren't really good answerlines to read because only people with deep knowledge of the show has a chance. The reason we recommend trash at the beginning is that the area where novices have the highest amount of knowledge on average. I definitely think it's better for someone to write a tossup on The Red and the Black after they just read it in class, but people just seem to like writing trash for some reason.

One idea that I will try next year is to get people to write on one trash thing they know a ton about and then on an academic answerline at like ACF Fall level they know only the giveaway for. This serves the purpose of getting people to write on stuff they don't have a ton of knowledge on--which you have to do if you are writing for a tournament or potentially for packet submission--and gets people to learn and read more things which is always good.
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