Grammar, etc. in packets

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Chris Frankel
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Grammar, etc. in packets

Post by Chris Frankel »

Having just participated in reading/hearing a few recently-released packets in the QB chatroom (I'll leave the names out, though anyone else who saw can share), I have to say I'm pretty perturbed at the lack of attention that was given to basic English structure, grammar, punctuation etc in the editing process of these packets. Now, said questions were at such an extreme case (consistent lack of noun-verb agreement, random incorrect capitalizations, lack of semi-colons or commas between seperate independent clauses in sentences, etc) that they actually read like a bad parody of stream of consciousness writing (hypothetical example: "This book was Written in 1642 it's author was the favorite poet of King Charles I and he write about..."), but they still made me wonder to what degree question writers and editors prioritize proper grammar when completing packets.

Like I said, the example prompting this post was a nightmarish extreme, but I still do see both experienced writers and editors put together questions that need some improved grammar. The most common recurring example I can think of is the dangling modifier (e.g. "Written in 1642, its author was the favorite poet of King Charles I" as opposed to "Written in 1642, this book was authored by the favorite poet of King Charles I"), though I'm sure I could find other errors that keep appearing even in well-edited packets. In my case, I do try to take a lot of time to fix those problems and get upset when I miss them. I was just wondering how much of a big deal other players/writers/editors consider grammar and sentence structure when they work on packets. Is proper grammar another issue that needs to be stressed and taught in writing guides, or am I just being pedantic?
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Post by ASimPerson »

Obviously, grammar is a big deal in packets. An unclear appositive for a pronoun can lead to some spectacular hoses, for instance. However, as long as your grammar is clear and consistent enough so that those hearing the question know what it's looking for, I think it's fine.

Bad grammar in all writing, though, is probably a symptom of a larger problem with basic grammar education. I know that at my high school (this is in Alabama, though, so you may need some salt for this) if you were in the advanced English sections your classes focused exclusively in literature. As a consequence, I haven't had a formal grammar education since 8th grade. So, of course, I got an English professor last semester who was really hapring on the fact that none of her students really know grammar, etc. In a sense, she was right.

I'm not making excuses, though. I didn't see this packet but from what you've said this was an exceptionally bad case. People should at least be good enough at grammar to detect major issues, and it shouldn't be something an editor has to deal with. (If had a packet like the one you mentioned, I'd probably send it back -- editors are supposed to be dealing with editing the content of the questions, not rewriting them to be coherent.)

Anyway, I'll stop rambling now.
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I generally agree with you on this

Post by Nathan »

but with one caveat:

sometimes the more pyramidal (and therefore correct) way to order clues will be less than optimal from a grammatical perspective.
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Post by grapesmoker »

I would agree that grammar and spelling are important, and in a single packet, it's pretty easy to catch any problems. However, when it comes to editing a big tournament, and you don't have time to read every packet really carefully, I can see how these kinds of errors can just slip through under the radar. This is especially true if you just read the packets to yourself, because your brain tends to ignore mistakes and fill in the correct letter or word because you expect it to be there. A lot of what we think of as mistakes when we read the packets are actually "leftovers" from when someone went back and changed their question a little but forgot to change all the surrounding words to match the initial change.
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Post by Romero »

I certainly think that no editor or writer purposely neglects grammar. First of all criticizing for capitalization is assinine; it still reads the same way. The other issues are more troublesome and could lead to issues, but as Nathan pointed out it is sometimes necessary for pyramidality to not strictly adhere to grammatical convention. One issue which I must point to as a contributing factor is late submissions. I know for a fact that, at least in recent times, neither Jerry's contributors nor two of my contributors were punctual with their submissions and as a result it is inevitable that the end product will not be as good as it could have been given additional editting time. I certainly trust that there is no parallel to Mr. Frankel's product. After all it is foolish to expect any other product to be its equal grammatically or otherwise.

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Re: Grammar, etc. in packets

Post by NotBhan »

Chris Frankel wrote:Having just participated in reading/hearing a few recently-released packets in the QB chatroom (I'll leave the names out, though anyone else who saw can share), I have to say I'm pretty perturbed at the lack of attention that was given to basic English structure, grammar, punctuation etc in the editing process of these packets. Now, said questions were at such an extreme case (consistent lack of noun-verb agreement, random incorrect capitalizations, lack of semi-colons or commas between seperate independent clauses in sentences, etc) that they actually read like a bad parody of stream of consciousness writing (hypothetical example: "This book was Written in 1642 it's author was the favorite poet of King Charles I and he write about..."), but they still made me wonder to what degree question writers and editors prioritize proper grammar when completing packets.

Like I said, the example prompting this post was a nightmarish extreme, but I still do see both experienced writers and editors put together questions that need some improved grammar. The most common recurring example I can think of is the dangling modifier (e.g. "Written in 1642, its author was the favorite poet of King Charles I" as opposed to "Written in 1642, this book was authored by the favorite poet of King Charles I"), though I'm sure I could find other errors that keep appearing even in well-edited packets. In my case, I do try to take a lot of time to fix those problems and get upset when I miss them. I was just wondering how much of a big deal other players/writers/editors consider grammar and sentence structure when they work on packets. Is proper grammar another issue that needs to be stressed and taught in writing guides, or am I just being pedantic?
In terms of grammar in the game, I'm most concerned with those errors which affect either the listener's ability to understand the question or the moderator's ability to read it on the fly. Although I've written DM [for dangling modifier] on countless freshman essays, I don't find them to be that significant of an error in the context of communication. Pyramidality and brevity are two reasons why one might use a dangling modifier in a tossup, though of course it would be better to avoid dangling modifiers.

The only grammatical error which I'll intentionally introduce on some occasions is an extra comma. (Naturally, I can't think of a good example right now.) Sometimes I'll write a sentence which technically shouldn't have a comma between its two parts but has too much potential for moderator error without the comma. Otherwise, I try to stick with proper grammar.

Certain sentence structures cause a problem for me as I'm moderating. Some writers (and I've done this too) write sentences in a tossup which either stretch for 4 lines or have as many as 7 commas (or both). It's very hard to read those sentences, regardless of whether their grammar violates any MLA guidelines.

The primary errors I see are due to poor proofreading on the author's part. As a practical matter, I place much more emphasis (in writing, editing, or advising the young'ns) on proofreading than on grammatical errors which have limited effect on the match.

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Post by QuizbowlPostmodernist »

Bad grammar becomes more glaring in a chatroom because you actually see the text in front of you rather than hear them streamed by you in an actually game situation. For example, ACF tends to be criticized by people on the moderating side of questions for having bad grammar and typographical errors, while players praise the questions for the quality clues and, probably, both sets of people are justified in their judgments. but I'd suggest that most people don't prioritize grammar, spelling, formatting, etc.

People who complain about grammatical errors (not necessarily Chris Frankel) will commit the same sin and not notice it if the phrase "for ten points" splits the dangling modifer from the main clause of a sentence. Others who are allegedly famous for supposedly error-ridden packets claim to run things through a word processor's spell-checker.

Personally, I think that too many people put off writing questions until the last minute, which puts pressure on editors who don't necessarily have the time to edit if most packets come in a week before the tournament (or later). I'm not going to point any fingers, but certain regions seem to be more prone to asking for freelance packets because of chronic late submission of often poorly-written packets, delaying the writing and editing of play-off packets.

Of course, the solution is for people to write more questions throughout the year and stockpiling rather than rushing to fill their share of a packet for a specific tournament and submitting first drafts of questions to meet a late deadline. Which coincidentally might help those players improve.
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Post by Seths »

Nathan wrote:sometimes the more pyramidal (and therefore correct) way to order clues will be less than optimal from a grammatical perspective.
Bingo. Question writers of all stripes abuse the passive voice like whoa, but thank god for this inelegence; it enables clues to be ordered correctly. "This book" must come before "favorite poet of King Charles I," or the question is a hose. Quiz bowl English is slightly different from standard English, sure, because different demands are placed on it. So it would be inappropriate to completely Strunkify packets. [/obvious]
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Post by steven-lamp »

Image
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Post by AKKOLADE »

steven-lamp wrote:Picture deleted
You may not care, but it's a legit topic. Also, for what must be the 50th time someone's said this on this site, don't bash others for discussing topics relevant to quiz bowl on a freaking quiz bowl forum.
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Post by steven-lamp »

Ok, I just reallllly was itching to bust that picture out. Sorry.
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Chris Frankel
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Post by Chris Frankel »

All right, I'll come clean with my main motive, since I didn't mean to come across as "Chris Frankel thinks a single misused comma cancels out the worth of a well-written packet." I was hoping someone from the chatroom during the reading of the specific packets I had in mind would mention this problem (and not myself), since a) I did not trade for the set directly, and b) I don't want my reputation as a frequent and vocal critic to undermine an important issue or turn this into another format war. Anyway, here are two verbatim excerpts (no changes in spelling, punctuation, etc.) from a packet that was used in a recent tournament:

Excerpt 1:
7.There are two US mountain chains of this name the Arizona range and its more famous range in New England. The Eastern mountain range consists of several prominent including Presidential, Wildcat and Bonds and is famous for its Notches, Crawford, Pinkham and Franconia former home to â€
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Post by Howard »

This looks like a significant problem. I'm not real concerned about dangling modifiers, but only the best readers would be able to read through these questions without stopping or saying something nonsensical. Rarely are there enough readers at tournament I attend of sufficient quality to be able to effectively read through these mistakes, and as a high school coach, the most I see at a tournament with that ability would generally be one or two. It's missing words and missing punctuation essential to meaning and misspelled words that give the wrong meaning/pronunciation that lead to the real problem. A poor tournament results because the players are having trouble understanding the questions. Hopefully these were a couple isolated incidents.
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Post by eigenwill »

>(e.g. "Written in 1642, its author was the favorite poet of King Charles I" as opposed to "Written in 1642, this book was authored by the favorite poet of King Charles I"), <

This seems particularly pedantic, hinging on whether "its" functions as an adjective or as a possessive pronoun. I suppose it's the former, as "author" is the second clause's subject. However, coming across this sentence ordinarily wouldn't faze me at all, and my gut feeling is that it's acceptable. It bothered me quite a bit that I couldn't answer the question to my satisfaction, and Google failed to help.

In any case, a better example would have "its" replaced with "the". I don't think the original sentence would confuse anyone.
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Post by cvdwightw »

Howard wrote:...only the best readers would be able to read through these questions without stopping or saying something nonsensical. Rarely are there enough readers at tournament I attend of sufficient quality to be able to effectively read through these mistakes, and as a high school coach, the most I see at a tournament with that ability would generally be one or two. It's missing words and missing punctuation essential to meaning and misspelled words that give the wrong meaning/pronunciation that lead to the real problem.
I agree. We can't all have perfect grammar, but I think all of us should expect a minimum level of competence. Imperfect grammar should be tolerated as long as it makes no difference in the way the question is read. As a player, I get annoyed by trying to figure out what the reader means and end up missing an important clue because there's a typo somewhere in that clue that no one caught.
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