I believe that all high school Quizbowl players should start writing in grade 11. Writing is one of the best ways to learn expand your knowledge, and it also develops one’s overall language skills (grammar, sentence structure, proofreading, etc.).
For those that wish to continue playing Quizbowl at the university/collegiate level, submitting a team packet is often mandatory to play in a tournament (and if it isn’t mandatory, it often gets you a large discount). Learning to write while attending a post-secondary institution is difficult and is a big reason why some teams play only in non-packet submission tournaments. Don’t let writing prevent you from going to tournaments; it isn’t terribly difficult and is a very rewarding experience.
Writing Quizbowl tossups and bonuses is also financially rewarding. Some tournaments give substantial discounts off your entry fee if you write a pack, and writing a pack is usually mandatory. In addition, you can work for one of the major writing companies (NAQT, PACE, HSAPQ, ACF) and be paid!
Here is my writing advice (note that this is not a full, in-depth guide, but is based off of mistakes I encounter very often):
- Lead-in & Early Clues:
- Obscure does NOT mean vague. Make sure each clue is uniquely identifying.
- Obscure does not mean trivial either. Make sure even your early clues are relevant/important.
- Indicate what’s being asked for fairly early. Don’t have a question go too long without saying “this x”.
- Make your lead-in and early clues interesting–this can be the difference between an acceptable and an exceptional tossup. After all, Quizbowl is meant to be fun. In addition, the more interesting a clue is, the more memorable it is, and the more likely you are to educate somebody who doesn’t know the answer.
- Middle Clues:
- Don’t make the pyramid too steep. There should be no drastic change in difficulty between clues (otherwise known as a difficulty cliff).
- Again, try to make things interesting, but what’s more important is that your clues are relevant and reward deeper knowledge.
- Avoid as many “filler”/non-clue words as possible. However, don’t sacrifice pyramidality or clarity to shorten questions.
- Don’t use a trash clue (or any clue that is not related to the subject you are writing for) as a giveaway.
- Make sure that there is no difficulty cliff between the clue before the giveaway and the giveaway (see curved yellow fruit).
- In general, I don’t usually see too many problems in the giveaway. That being said, still place great care in your giveaway.
- Answer Line:
- The difficulty of the answer line does not necessarily determine the difficulty of tossup. For example, there have been ACF Nationals tossups on George Washington and Mount Everest.
- When in doubt on an answer line’s difficulty, opt for easier answer lines and use harder clues. Dead tossups are Quizbowl’s biggest enemy, and they make the game less fun.
- For a rough idea on whether an answer line is too difficult, read old packets, or search it up on Quizbowl DB, Quinterest, and ACFDB. However, note that these databases are far from complete, so do not judge your decision solely/largely on these databases.
- Some people think that bonuses are significantly easier to write than tossups, but this isn’t necessarily true.
- By far the most difficult part of writing a bonus is selecting the answer lines. This requires a good grasp of difficulty. To gain this, read older packets of similar difficulty of the tournament you are writing for.
- Make sure you always have a distinct easy, medium, and hard part (the order does not matter). This means that there should be a distinct difference in difficulty between each part.
- The easy part should be easy. I’d say that 85-95% of teams should be able to at least 10 a bonus.
- The medium part should be gettable by teams with a decent (deeper than basic) knowledge on the subject.
- The hard part shouldn’t be too hard. As with my advice on tossup lead-ins & early clues, don’t make the hard part vague or trivial.
- Almost always write a bonus lead-in with an actual clue. The form “x clue. For 10 points each:” is almost always preferable over “Name these x, for 10 points each.” The former also gives much for flexibility with your answer lines, as with the latter, all three of your bonus parts must have the same type of answer line.
- Make sure you comply by the formatting guidelines of the tournament you are writing for. ACF guidelines can be found here.
- Use non-Wikipedia sources. Wikipedia is not the most reliable source, and ACF applies a penalty for something that cannot be verified by a non-Wikipedia source.
- Make sure your grammar is correct. Don’t compromise grammar to cut out a few words here and there.
- Clues such as dates of birth & death, statistics (e.g. boiling point, solubility), publication dates, etc. are not useful and should not be used.
Note: If you are ever in need of writing assistance, you can email Ted Gan and he will be happy to help you!
Note: This is always a work in progress, so we’d like to receive your writing advice! If you have advice you’d like to see added to this list, email Ted Gan.