question writing

This forum is for anyone seeking advice on starting a collegiate team, branching out into new types of tournaments, or other "how-to" aspects of collegiate quizbowl.
Post Reply
Kevin
Wakka
Posts: 153
Joined: Tue Apr 22, 2003 8:13 pm
Location: Metairie, Louisiana

question writing

Post by Kevin »

At Tulane we're not really a new team, but one thing that we haven't done in the past is write questions, and I'm trying to change that. Adding to the fact that we haven't written questions before is the fact that we're also a very young team for the most part. Last year we had maybe 7-10 people who went to at least one tournament, and maybe 6 of those people could be counted on to come to practice on a regular basis. This year we've grown dramatically--we're averaging 20-25 people at practice--which is fantastic, but we've really only got maybe 3 people from last year's team, so we're dealing with a lot of people who haven't done much quiz bowl (yet).

My question is, what are the best ways of getting relatively new players to write decent questions? I don't mind having to do a lot of editing myself (though I shudder to think of what would happen if we were writing for a packet-sub tournament where we were sending multiple teams and I couldn't edit/fill gaps myself), but just getting the questions to come in is a pain in the butt. We submitted a trash packet for Trashmasters at UT-Chattanooga, and out of 50 questions I think I ended up writing something like 37 of them myself. I asked for two to four questions from each player and ended up with about nine people sending questions back. Most of them were decent, as far as I could tell, but it was still frustrating to end up with a relatively small amount. And due to our student government's refusal to cut a check for some tournaments last year, we owe UTC something like 6 packets' worth of high school questions for their spring tournament in lieu of coughing over a few hundred bucks.

I've got enough time that shouldering a fair amount of the question-writing burden isn't a problem for me, but I'd like to get the team on the right track as far as question writing goes for after I leave at the end of the school year. Suggestions?
Kevin Marshall
Coach, Mount Carmel Academy, New Orleans, LA (2014-present)
Coach, Chapelle HS, Metairie, LA (2011-2014)
player and/or secretary and/or captain, Tulane Quiz Bowl (2007-2009)
Susan
Forums Staff: Administrator
Posts: 1829
Joined: Fri Aug 15, 2003 12:43 am

Re: question writing

Post by Susan »

I may have more to say here later (and I'm sure others will, too) but one quick idea: when you ask people to send you questions (for a packet you're collaborating on) do you just...ask them to send you questions? Or do you ask one person to send you 2/2 history, one to send you 1/1 science and 1/1 trash, etc.? I find for newer players, the more guidance you can give them in terms of what topics they're writing on, the better, since then they spend less time trying to figure out what the hell they're supposed to write. Especially for someone in your situation, where your teammates have very little writing experience, I think you might have more success if you ask someone for 2/2 history (19th-century American tossup, ancient world history bonus, 17th century European tossup, 20th century British bonus)--something very detailed like that. You could even choose the actual answers for them, which would also ensure that you wouldn't have to toss out their questions for being on inappropriately difficult topics.
Susan
UChicago alum (AB 2003, PhD 2009)
Member emerita, ACF
User avatar
ValenciaQBowl
Auron
Posts: 2474
Joined: Thu Feb 05, 2004 2:25 pm
Location: Orlando, Florida

Re: question writing

Post by ValenciaQBowl »

I have a one-page handout/file I give to my newbie players illustrating the organization of a bunch of clues into a pyramidal toss-up (on Thomas Paine), Kevin. It's pretty rudimentary, but that's because it's meant for someone who's never written a question before. If you'd like a copy, e-mail me at cborglum at valenciacc dot edu.
Chris Borglum
Valencia College Grand Poobah
Kevin
Wakka
Posts: 153
Joined: Tue Apr 22, 2003 8:13 pm
Location: Metairie, Louisiana

Re: question writing

Post by Kevin »

myamphigory wrote:I may have more to say here later (and I'm sure others will, too) but one quick idea: when you ask people to send you questions (for a packet you're collaborating on) do you just...ask them to send you questions? Or do you ask one person to send you 2/2 history, one to send you 1/1 science and 1/1 trash, etc.? I find for newer players, the more guidance you can give them in terms of what topics they're writing on, the better, since then they spend less time trying to figure out what the hell they're supposed to write. Especially for someone in your situation, where your teammates have very little writing experience, I think you might have more success if you ask someone for 2/2 history (19th-century American tossup, ancient world history bonus, 17th century European tossup, 20th century British bonus)--something very detailed like that. You could even choose the actual answers for them, which would also ensure that you wouldn't have to toss out their questions for being on inappropriately difficult topics.
So far I'd just asked for "trash" since we were writing for a trash tournament, and the only guideline I gave was "not sports" since I already had a bunch of sports questions; in retrospect, I should have been more specific and told people to write on say, 80's music or a 90's TV show, etc. I'll definitely try to give people specific subjects to write about in the future.
Kevin Marshall
Coach, Mount Carmel Academy, New Orleans, LA (2014-present)
Coach, Chapelle HS, Metairie, LA (2011-2014)
player and/or secretary and/or captain, Tulane Quiz Bowl (2007-2009)
User avatar
Captain Sinico
Auron
Posts: 2867
Joined: Sun Sep 21, 2003 1:46 pm
Location: Champaign, Illinois

Re: question writing

Post by Captain Sinico »

Here are some strategies that I have found helpful in getting new players to write (and eventually write well):
1. Have a writing seminar. Give a five-minute lecture on "How to write a good question." Explain the way to write and why, where to get information, etc. Use examples (break down some old questions into clues and tell them why each thing is where it is, etc.) use overheard transparencies or other media; go nuts! Field questions. This obviously requires your opinions on the matter of writing to have the unconditional respect of your teammates and also requires you to have a pretty much bulletproof knowledge of how to write yourself; be forewarned that trying this will backfire horribly if either of those two conditions aren't met.
2. Hold a writing party. It's easy to get into writing if there are a dozen other people writing with you. You can get a packet done in an hour or two if you have 10 people writing. Reserve a room at the library and go nuts.
3. Break things up. When you have e-mailed writing assignments, get people to send you 1/1 (or maybe 1/0-0/1) a day and provide (gentle!) feedback on how they're doing. This does two things: first, I find it's much more likely to get people writing than asking for, like, 5/5 a month from now. After all, it's a very reasonable request: nobody's so busy that they can't find 15 minutes each day to write a question or two. Once people start writing, it's easy to get them going again, I find: my experience is that the big hurdle to get over is just that initial batch of questions. Secondly, it gives both you and the writer a really solid gauge of where they are in their understanding of how to write and what rate you can expect them to improve at.
4. Don't expect too much too soon. Writing should be something that can be done competently by anyone, given enough training, but it is definitely something that is done very well by very few and done well by almost none before extensive work. Show people how things are done and why, require them to try to do things that way, but don't demand much beyond that; trying to force people to improve at faster than their natural rate generally backfires as well.

MaS
Mike Sorice
Coach, Centennial High School of Champaign, IL (2014-2020) & Team Illinois (2016-2018)
Alumnus, Illinois ABT (2000-2002; 2003-2009) & Fenwick Scholastic Bowl (1999-2000)
Member, ACF (Emeritus), IHSSBCA, & PACE
evilmonkey
Yuna
Posts: 964
Joined: Mon Sep 25, 2006 11:23 am
Location: Durham, NC

Re: question writing

Post by evilmonkey »

So I was in that situation last year - I had never written questions myself, and we were sending two teams to MLK. Here is what I learned in retrospect:

1. Make sure your questions are at an appropriate level. Check them against collegiate.quizbowlpackets.com. The tendency is to be all like "oh shit, i can writes about anything!", but don't get ahead of yourself - if you want to write about something, make sure it has come up before at the level you are writing at. A good portion of my packet was thrown out because it was too easy. Only when you have some experience under your belt should you attempt to get creative with your answer choices - at my current level of experience, I feel extremely uneasy if I can't find it in the archives, even if it seems appropriate, because it was probably just a pet topic of mine. Obviously, this whole paragraph doesn't apply to trash with nearly the same rigidity, but you should still try to make questions difficulty appropriate.

2. Ask for the editor to give you comments - Mike Bentley's comments ripping apart each of those tossups from MLK was the best thing that ever happened to my development as a question writer (I still suck, but it got me on the right track of what to do). When someone goes through a question you wrote and explains what went wrong, and perhaps how it could be fixed, thats when you can really understand how to write a question. (Of course, this is the point for me that question writing started taking longer, because I hate writing bad questions).

3. If you want your other players to develop, talk your edits of their questions through with them (if you have time).

4. If you have another team, designate someone the head editor and keep checking in with them. Last year, I got pissed at our other team when they didn't turn in their packet for MLK until THE NIGHT BEFORE - this despite several emails from me. Unless you really trust the other person in charge, ride them until you're sure the packet is submitted.

Also - EVERYTHING SORICE SAID.
Bryce Durgin
Culver Academies '07
University of Notre Dame '11
Texas A&M '15
User avatar
Sen. Estes Kefauver (D-TN)
Chairman of Anti-Music Mafia Committee
Posts: 5640
Joined: Wed Jul 26, 2006 11:46 pm
Location: Columbia, MO

Re: question writing

Post by Sen. Estes Kefauver (D-TN) »

Something worthwhile to explore might be having a practice every now and then be dedicated solely to writing (and then reading and critiquing) questions. Mizzou has done that and it's helped weed out some of the mistakes that new players make and teaches them to improve.
Charlie Dees, North Kansas City HS '08
"I won't say more because I know some of you parse everything I say." - Jeremy Gibbs

"At one TJ tournament the neg prize was the Hampshire College ultimate frisbee team (nude) calender featuring one Evan Silberman. In retrospect that could have been a disaster." - Harry White
User avatar
Gautam
Auron
Posts: 1413
Joined: Sun Feb 11, 2007 7:28 pm
Location: Zone of Avoidance
Contact:

Re: question writing

Post by Gautam »

Hello,

It occurred to me that quiz bowl currently lacks a resource where one can look at really well written questions and learn what makes those questions well written. This doesn't have to be big; a packet of 24/24 (even questions from old tournaments are okay) would be big enough.

While doing these question writing seminars, I find Jerry's article on how to write questions really useful to elaborate on the important topics, but I think having some concrete examples of the best written questions, with explanations of what makes them good, would be much more useful for some newer writers. This way, we can better communicate what makes a good clue or why is a particular clue a bad clue.

Do you new writers out there agree with me on this? I know Andrew Yaphe did that with some questions from an old ACF nationals packet, but I thought that having some resource like this for a regular difficulty level packet would be pretty sweet.

GK
Gautam - ACF
Currently tending to the 'quizbowl hobo' persuasion.
User avatar
P3nguinP0wered
Lulu
Posts: 46
Joined: Fri Apr 01, 2005 1:09 am
Contact:

Re: question writing

Post by P3nguinP0wered »

Personally, I think it's really helpful to look up similar questions on ACF DB and just compare the clues you use to the old ACF questions.
Darwin Fu
President- Quiz Bowl Club at UC San Diego
Mission San Jose '06
UC San Diego '10
User avatar
at your pleasure
Auron
Posts: 1714
Joined: Sun Aug 03, 2008 7:56 pm

Re: question writing

Post by at your pleasure »

I'm not much of a writer ,nor am I a terribly active one, but I would like to note that the hardest thing about question writing for me is coming up with answers and checking to make sure they are appropriate. It might not be a bad idea to introduce your players to the databases, so they can check to make sure that their answers are askable. Also, it might not be a bad idea to list a few good sources for different subjects, which would make reasearching the questions somewhat easier.
Douglas Graebner, Walt Whitman HS 10, Uchicago 14
"... imagination acts upon man as really as does gravitation, and may kill him as certainly as a dose of prussic acid."-Sir James Frazer,The Golden Bough

http://avorticistking.wordpress.com/
User avatar
KGeee
Wakka
Posts: 127
Joined: Sun Dec 17, 2006 2:23 am
Location: Choctaw, OK

Re: question writing

Post by KGeee »

As a player who never played in high school and didn't voyage out of HCASC (or know the outer existence) until my Junior year at Langston, the Stanford Culture Index is a wonderful starting source/list that is excellent for writing questions for players who have no foundation at all-and probably for those with a foundation as well, that has helped me to become the 11 point per game player I am:

http://ai.stanford.edu/~csewell/culture/index.html
Kyle Gregory
Langston University '09
UALR Law '12
University of Oklahoma College of Law Visiting Student 2011-2012
User avatar
lasercats
Tidus
Posts: 591
Joined: Fri May 16, 2008 6:11 pm
Location: Tulsa/Norman OK.
Contact:

Re: question writing

Post by lasercats »

Thank you very much for these tips! I just contributed to my first packet last week. This was very helpful!
Maggie Larkin
Booker T. Washington '07
University of Oklahoma '11
User avatar
Stained Diviner
Auron
Posts: 4865
Joined: Sun Jun 13, 2004 6:08 am
Location: Chicagoland
Contact:

Re: question writing

Post by Stained Diviner »

The fact that you got nine people on your basically new team to submit questions is actually a good sign, even if each was only writing one or two. Heap plenty of praise on them and take some of the advice above, and there is reason to believe that your team's next effort will be more balanced. Expecting 25 people to make major contributions probably is unrealistic, and your team will go far if five or so people step forward.
David Reinstein
PACE VP of Outreach, Head Writer and Editor for Scobol Solo and Masonics (Illinois), TD for New Trier Scobol Solo and New Trier Varsity, Writer for NAQT (2011-2017), IHSSBCA Board Member, IHSSBCA Chair (2004-2014), PACE Member, PACE President (2016-2018), New Trier Coach (1994-2011)
Post Reply