Question Writing

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Question Writing

Postby Ethnic history of the Vilnius region » Wed Nov 07, 2012 1:20 pm

One thing that I have long had a hard time doing is having a good question writing system for the team I work with. I was wondering how other programs do this. Do any teams have specific quotas or other types of writing regimens? Do other teams have policies in terms of when to get people to start writing (i.e. right after they join the team or wait a semester to let people get their feet wet)? Our teams generally recruit people who don't have a whole lot of high school experience at the elite levels, so I'm especially interested in knowing how people get novice players to write questions. A lot of this stuff seems like common sense (and it's sad that as a looongtime quizbowler I haven't thought of anything better), but perhaps other teams have innovative ways of getting players to write questions.
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Re: Question Writing

Postby Susan » Wed Nov 07, 2012 2:11 pm

When I was at Chicago, we usually had people start writing pretty early (obviously, there are some freebies early in the year for newer players, like ACF Fall and such). One thing I usually did that seemed to help was to be very specific in telling new players what to write--like, instead of saying "write 1/0 lit" I'd say "write a tossup on a 19th-century British novel" (another approach would be to tell the player "write a tossup on Middlemarch".

We used to have a no-playing-without-writing policy, which extended to telling people that they could not choose to play only non-packet-sub tournaments.
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Re: Question Writing

Postby Cheynem » Wed Nov 07, 2012 3:04 pm

This is something I have struggled with and I'm kind of sad to say I got sick of it last year and just sort of threw up my hands. Susan's ideas make sense, though, and I wish I was still around to try it.

In my experience, new writers struggle with two things:

1. picking answerlines
2. picking clues

This may seem obvious ("DUH, Mike, those are the two main things that question writing is all about!"), but hear me out. Generally new writers can still recognize how to arrange clues in some order that makes sense, with some leeway for "quizbowl famous" stock clues they don't know about. Obviously, they struggle with a sense of transparency or the usage of non clues, but in general, they get pyramidal.

Where I see new writers go off the rails is that when you tell them to write on something, they like to pounce on silly answerlines. "I'm going to write a science tossup on duck-billed platypuses! I'm going to write a lit tossup on Number the Stars!" That sort of thing. Or maybe really crazy hard answerlines because they learned it in class. Part of it I think is it's really hard to weigh difficulty as a new player--if I don't know anything about Ibsen, Wild Duck and John Gabriel Borkman seem equally hard. Part of it is just that natural desire for "I haven't heard a question on ____, I think that's fun." This is where some simple coaching about what makes a good answerline works and where assigning answerlines as Susan says will help.

The other area is, of course, clue selection. Even experienced writers will raid Wikipedia and play the "let's grab a bullshit clue" game, but new writers will of course take this to an extreme--birthdate, generic "It was said about him that he was a genius of his era" type ramblings, and a desire to "be hard' with nonsensical clues like "In this painting a person wears a cape." Here I think the mantra is "Clues should be something you can buzz on and that are specific." For this, it might be interesting to try a "clue writing" as opposed to a question writing exercise, which helps people avoid the forest for the trees scenario. For example, tell people to write *two* lead-in type clues (or one hard clue and one medium clue) for the Battle of Gettysburg or something.

The one thing about how I like to envision tossups is that if you think of them as 6 line entities, they become easier to write. Write 1-2 lines as a giveaway--pretty easy, standard stuff that doesn't change too much from answerline to answerline. Think of 1-2 lines as middle clues, 1-2 lines as hard clues. All of a sudden, the 6-line tossup has become a 4 line tossup that you can fill in with clues. Since I did the same thing as a new writer, I would imagine a lot of new writers just start typing from the beginning and end when they get 6 lines. This is an inefficient, frustrating way to write questions.
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Re: Question Writing

Postby ValenciaQBowl » Mon Nov 12, 2012 10:39 pm

We're actually fortunate to be able to offer students stipends at Valencia, and I ask students to write a minimum of 10/10 if they expect to get that stipend money, and I still have some every semester who don't write--that tells you the power of sloth. As you might imagine, the ones who really like the game and are driven always do it, and probably would just because I told them it would make them improve, but obviously even cash can't get some folks to write questions.

We use a method similar to but more general than what Susan suggested. I encourage players to mine a specific area at which they're already showing aptitude, like European history, organic chem, American poetry, etc. Once in a while I recommend a specific answer line or two, usually something they've recently missed or clearly not heard of. But I think offering them more specific answer lines would probably help them. It takes me a long time to come up with writing ideas sometimes. Since they're not writing for packet submission but for improvement, they can do all of their work in one sub-category, which can pay off in points at their next tournament, which encourages them. You know you've hooked somebody the first time they're excited to say they just got something early because they wrote a question on it.
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Re: Question Writing

Postby Skepticism and Animal Feed » Tue Nov 13, 2012 11:34 am

When I was a college freshman, Subash used to bring books to practice, and give them away for free to freshmen who wrote questions. The ones who wrote better questions got better books. The questions were read at practice and feedback was given.
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Re: Question Writing

Postby MathMusic » Tue May 07, 2013 11:49 am

Currently what we do at Buffalo is offer tournament discounts of about $1/question to those who write AND meet the -$50 deadline (or similar). Since there are 48 questions in a pack, this works out pretty well. I also will be hosting a question writing seminar geared toward improving the questions that our new players write. Our system works okay, but there is still a lot that could be done. The problem that I run into is that ACF questions need to be blind between all the teams from the same school, so our A team (which can write) cannot really read through and give feedback on the B team's packet until after the tournament.
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Re: Question Writing

Postby Tale of Mac Datho's Pachycephalosaur » Tue May 07, 2013 10:59 pm

MathMusic wrote:Currently what we do at Buffalo is offer tournament discounts of about $1/question to those who write AND meet the -$50 deadline (or similar). Since there are 48 questions in a pack, this works out pretty well. I also will be hosting a question writing seminar geared toward improving the questions that our new players write. Our system works okay, but there is still a lot that could be done. The problem that I run into is that ACF questions need to be blind between all the teams from the same school, so our A team (which can write) cannot really read through and give feedback on the B team's packet until after the tournament.

It's also worth adding that at Buffalo, we are literally not allowed to prevent any undergraduate from playing any tournament for (basically) any reason, other than perhaps failing to pay. If someone wanted to play a non-packet-sub tournament, and all the finances & logistics worked out, we could not turn them away, or we would be liable for summary derecognition.

We provide discounts to people who contribute to the system by writing, but we have no stick--just a carrot. I really struggle to get newer players to write for anything but ACF, but I'm hoping for a motivated crop of freshmen next year who aren't all engineers.

It is a good idea, though, to supply answerlines directly. I will probably do that next year.
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