Writing Good History Questions

This is the holding pen for the best threads containing quiz bowl talk.

Writing Good History Questions

Postby Periplus of the Erythraean Sea » Mon Jul 18, 2016 5:00 pm

Over the years, there’s been a lot of discussion of philosophies of question-writing in various categories on the forums, particularly in literature, science, and the arts. History questions, while just as large a part of the distribution as science and literature, don’t get as much talk philosophy-wise on the forums, though there have been some other important philosophical discussions of history (the one that immediately comes to mind is the discussion of ACF Nationals 2016, mainly on Eric/Ike/Andrew’s podcast but also on the forums). To some extent I believe this is because, superficially, it can seem hard to get a history question “wrong” – as long as you assemble a series of factually accurate clues in some pyramidal order, you’ve created a “fine” history question with plenty of “buzzpoints” on which people could, hypothetically, buzz and unambiguously identify a correct answer. I think it’s possible to move beyond “fine” and into “great” territory by taking a few more steps when thinking about how to approach writing history as a category. There are two broad components to this:

1) Writing history questions in a way that makes it self-evident as to why a topic/area in history is important.
2) Executing (1) in a way that ensures questions are playable, i.e. they still have “buzzpoints” that people can buzz on, even if they aren’t familiar with the source you are getting the material from (this is key).

Philosophical Discussion

I’d like to start by bringing up some reasons that people sometimes find either old history or 20th century history challenging and/or boring to write about.

A lot of people have mentioned to me that “old history” to them can often seem like boring lists of kings, projects, religious figures, historians, etc. and they often don’t get why these things are worth knowing or are important. I’ve heard a lot of condescending opinions along the lines of “nobody really cares about that stuff” when discussing topics like British monarchs, Chinese dynasties, etc. Perhaps fewer people in academia study these things, but it’s worth remembering that academia is not the be-all, end-all of determining what’s worth caring about – these old monarchs and dynasties presided over very long periods of time across substantial populations, if perhaps not ones as large as those today.

I think this represents a failure of questions to inform people as to why they should care about these things: What made a particular ruler/period unique among his lineage? How exactly did some dynasty become so noteable as to be worthy of a question? How did everyday people interact with the government, and/or outside of the government? Essentially, questions on a 13th century European monarch or an old African empire will too often read like a contemporary court chronicler: lists of achievements, perhaps backed by the occasional anecdote or two. For the most part, I think questions on these topics should read like a modern survey book, or a modern documentary on those topics: highlight what’s noteworthy and exciting! (EDIT: this is why I highly recommend writing your questions using a modern survey book as your source)

Conversely, I struggled for a number of years to gain an interest in modern history in quizbowl (which I didn’t have a strong organic interest in before) because it’s often been written in a similar fashion, as if one is reading off an NAQT study list:

“In this country, Horrible Massacre M was perpetrated by Secret Police P during the reign of Dictator D.”
“In this country, Operation Neat Name occurred during the Crazy Conflict civil war”
“In this event, X people showed up at Y time in Z location” (this, to me, is the worst because in-depth details of particular events are rarely covered in anything except literally newspapers and other immediate accounts, and will rarely be encountered in general surveys that highlight why things had long-term impact or are noteworthy).

Questions like this are, admittedly, easy to write – they also lend themselves to flashcarding Named Things and other rather (important to quizbowl and often valuable but) de-contextualized and uneducational approaches to learning history. I don't mean to sound arrogant in saying this, but I sometimes find myself wondering whether authors of questions like this (or of questions like the above “list of accomplishments from obscure to easy” questions in old history) have any clue what they’re talking about! A question like this is like a Soviet style building: it’s perfectly functional, but other than the fact that you can use it, there’s little reason to care about it at all.

Answerlines and Execution

To me, there seem to be two main types of history answerlines: the “standard” answerlines (countries/regions, discrete events/conflicts, individuals, political parties, ethnicities) and the “creative” answerlines (common links, common words, answers that use the identifiers “these people” or “these things”, etc.). Below, I’ll provide some examples of questions by others that I think executed each kind of answerline well and/or questions I wrote with these approaches in mind, and explain why I think they did a good job and/or what my objective was with the questions

When using a “standard” answerline, picking a “theme” or “angle” is a good way of giving a spin to your question that makes it clear why your answerline is important for a particular region, group, etc:

MYSTERIUM wrote:Description acceptable. A traditionalist association of these people called the Gédímù (“ guhdeemu”) was later supplanted by the nationalist Yīhèwǎní. Dǒng Fúxiáng (“ fooshyong ”) organized a militia made up of these people called the Gānsù Braves. Three notable members of this religious group were collectively known as the Xīběi Sān Mǎ; those members of the Mǎ family were ethnically (*) Huí (“ hway ”) warlords. A subgroup of this religious group rebelled against the Qīng during the Dungan revolt. The eunuch and Míng dynasty explorer Zhèng Hé (“ junghuh ”) was a member of this religious group. An army of this religious group defeated the Táng dynasty at the Talas River. For 10 points, name this religious group that includes many residents of Xīnjiāng, such as the Uyghurs, which is associated with the independence movement for East Turkestan.
ANSWER: Chinese Muslim s [or Chinese followers of Islam ; accept Huí until it is read]


PADAWAN wrote:An 1804 decree regarding Jews in this country attempted to end their ability to use arrendas to serve tavern keepers and sellers of alcohol. In 1827, Jews here lost an exemption and had to send children to military schools as part of a system of conscription set up by the Cantonist Decrees. A committee concerned with the "Fundamental Transformation of" Jews in this country led to a special state-sponsored school system and the end of the kahal system. This country subjected Jews to temporary legislation called the (*) May Laws. Following the partitions of Poland, Jews in this country were restricted to living within the Pale of Settlement. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion originated in this country. For 10 points, name this country home to many tsar-sponsored pogroms.
ANSWER: Russia


SHEIKH wrote:In this city, “bundle brigades” distributed political pamphlets in seven different languages. This city was the main target of the statewide Bennett Law, which made the use of English in public schools mandatory. In 1917, Postmaster General Albert Burleson revoked the second class mailing privileges of this city's Leader newspaper. Cooperative housing projects known as “Garden Homes” were built in this city under Daniel Webster Hoan. A mayor of this city, Emil Seidel, ran as VP on the ticket of (*) Eugene Debs in 1912 and, with Victor Berger, was a leader of this city's public works-oriented “sewer socialism” movement. John Schrank shot Teddy Roosevelt in this city, prompting him to say “it takes more than that to kill a Bull Moose.” For 10 points, name this city where German immigrants built many breweries, the largest city in Wisconsin.
ANSWER: Milwaukee

The time the 1st Marine Division spent in this country led it to adopt a folk song from this country as its official one. The August 1908 visit of the Great White Fleet to this country inspired it to create its own navy. For a time, this country was part of a two-part security agreement with the U.S. since the alliance’s third member was suspended in 1986 due to its ban on nuclear powered ships and weapons. In a 1942 New Year’s message, the statement that this country “looks to America” was given by John (*) Curtin. Douglas MacArthur escaped to [emphasize] this country in a PT boat after saying that he would return to the Philippines. U.S. forces fought alongside those of this country during the Battle of the Coral Sea. For 10 points, identify this large Pacific nation that the United States defended from Japan during World War II.
ANSWER: (Commonwealth of) Australia


The tossup on _Muslims_ cluing entirely from China is a pretty standard example of a theme-oriented question with a standard-ish answerline - it highlights a lot of the most important Muslims in Chinese history. The Russia question on Jewish history is similar, with an even more "standard" answer. The Milwaukee question, which Jordan wrote, explores the city's history during the early 20th century, particularly as it pertains to immigrant groups. The Australia question, which I wrote, is meant to explore to explore a country's history from a particular "angle" - focusing almost entirely on Australian interactions with the United States.


Eschewing “theme” for a more general/broad-based approach is totally fine too! In fact, it’s frequently obligatory for more difficult answerlines, since there may not be enough accessible/important material to create a good “themed” question that’s playable and/or of appropriate difficulty. It’s also easier to do in many ways, since theme questions require you to be familiar with enough material to be able to identify details that could be worked into a coherent theme. However, since you lack an inherent guiding principle to your question, you need to be careful that all of your clues point to why the answer is important:

PADAWAN wrote: According to a literary source, this region accepted Christianity when a bad-ass bishop demonstrated its power by defeating a sword-swinging warrior with a crucifix. This region gave up its independence by accepting the Old Covenant. Primary sources on this region include a history by Ari the Wise and the Book of Settlements. Celtic monks called papar settled in this region around the 7th century. Local lords called godr in this region met at the (*) Law Rock, over which the Lawspeaker presided. A famous explorer from this region went on a journey when he was exiled for three years for killing his neighbor. This region is home to the oldest Parliament in world history. For 10 points, name this island territory settled by Viking explorers and governed by the Althing.
ANSWER: Iceland


Chicago Open 2014 wrote:
This man appointed Pompejus Occo as a representative to the court of Christian II of Denmark, and another of his secretaries kept a catalogue of contemporary dresses called the “Book of Clothes.” This man used his friendship with Janos Thurzo to gain direct access copper-producing regions near Baska Bystrica in modern Slovakia. His earlier dealings with Antonio Cavalli helped him wrest control of Tyrolean mines from the Baumgartners of Kufstein, which paved the way for his entry into the electoral politics of the Holy Roman Empire. Albrecht Durer painted a portrait of this man, who provided significant support to Maximillian I and Charles V of Spain. This man, who was from the “of the lily” branch of his family, began a business empire that grew under the control of his nephew Anton. For 10 points, name this scion of a merchant and banking family in Augsburg, known as “the Rich,” whose name Martin Luther made synonymous with usury.
ANSWER: Jacob Fugger the Rich [or Jacob Fugger II]


The Iceland question highlights the most important inhabitants and social institutions in medieval Iceland. Its lead-in in particular is well chosen, since it is the type of memorable anecdote that will often be highlighted by a secondary source, or stick in a reader's mind from a primary source. The Jacob Fugger question actually straight-up explains how he became powerful, then transitions to easier clues about the important things he did with this power.


The alternative “creative” questions have something of the same internal gyroscope as the “standard” answerline with a “theme” – so it’s easier to write a question that makes it evident as to why something is important. Keep in mind, though, that creative questions aren’t automatically exempt from standards just because they’re creative! You still need to pick clues that are either self-evidently important (i.e. they are from really famous events/people) or contextualized in a way that makes it clear to a listener as to why they’re important:

ACF Nationals 2014 wrote: Relatively large amounts of this commodity were found at a Spanish Bronze Age site known as the "Bat Cave" near Granada. The Chinese writer Xu Boling records that the Chenghua Emperor of the Ming Dyansty ordered this commodity to be purchased at equal the price of gold. Several centuries later, Engelbert Kaempfer described a variant of this called madak. The alchemist Paracelsus mixed gold and citrus juice with this substance to create his "Stones of Immortality." A letter written by the court oƒfficial Lin Zexu laments that "every province of his land" overflows with this substance, and shames the addressee for endorsing the sale of this commodity while it is illegal in her country. The HMS Nemesis was key to victory in some conflicts fought over this commodity, which resulted in the burning of the Summer Palaces and the signing of the Treaties of Tientsin and the Treaty of Nanking. For 10 points, give this powerful drug created from poppy plants, the namesake of two wars between China and Great Britain.
ANSWER: opium


SHEIKH wrote: The leaders of a group of this many men offered to make Ariaeus king, but Ariaeus declined since he wasn’t of royal blood. The elite Zhayedan units consisted of this many soldiers. In his Secret History, Procopius reports that “this many times this many times this many” was the number of people that Justinian killed. Upon reaching Mount Theches near Trebizond, a group of this many men is reported as having cried (*) “The sea! The sea!” in joy. The officers of that group of this many men were betrayed and killed at a feast held by Tissaphernes. This number provided an alternative name for the Persian Immortals, and is also the name of the mercenary company that fought at Cunaxa whose story is told in the Anabasis of Xeonphon. For 10 points, identify this number historically referred to as a myriad.
ANSWER: ten thousand [or a myriad before mentioned]


A particular “creative” approach that I think is worth using is what I’ll call the “Jordan Brownstein” style of common links, which I have so named because Jordan writes a lot of really good questions in this style, including the ones highlighted below. This style of question takes a common element that is independently important in a large number of historical contexts (rather than digging up unimportant, obscure leadins that just happen to have something in common) and fuses them together into a single question:

SHEIKH wrote: Two of these objects built for Caligula's worship of Diana were unearthed in Nemi. Specific parts of these objects taken at the Battle of Antium were used to decorate a speaking platform in the Forum called the rostra. These objects could be connected with a tool called the harpax, and the “Liburnian” was a common type of them. More than 100 of these objects could fit in a hexagonal structure constructed by Trajan to the north of (*) Ostia. Nero's plot to kill his mother Agrippina the Younger involved a self-destructing example of these objects. A device for drawing these objects together, the corvus, was first used at the Battle of Mylae. During a siege, some of these vehicles under the command of Marcellus were supposedly targeted by giant hooks and heat-rays devised by Archimedes. For 10 points, name these vehicles exemplified by the trireme, which made up the Roman navy.
ANSWER: Roman ships [or obvious equivalents like boats, barges, galleys, triremes, etc]

In one country, the destruction of 90% of these things sparked a period called the Kefu Qan, or “Bad Times.” The ubuhake system was based on the lending of these things in exchange for service and helped form the divide between Hutus and Tutsis, the minority group who owned these things. The ceremonies and myths about these things were the subject of Melville Herskovits’ dissertation. The teenage prophetess Nongqawuse convinced the Xhosa people to slaughter thousands of these (*) animals, sparking a massive famine. Judar Pasha's forces used gunfire to reverse a charge of these animals during the Battle of Tondibi. In the 1890s, millions of these animals in Africa were killed by a rinderpest epidemic. The Nguni breed of these animals was introduced to southern Africa by the Bantu migration. For 10 points, name these animals domesticated for their milk and beef.
ANSWER: cattle [or cows]



I’d also like to discuss another type of question: the historiography-driven approach to history, either as a full question or with individual clues – the “Marshall-plus” question, if you will. By this I don’t mean tossups on historians or history books, but rather questions on other kinds of “standard” answerlines that use clues drawing on the work of latter-day interpretations and studies. For these questions, assuming you're trying to put them in the history distribution (and not "Other Academic" or "Social Science") I think it’s important to “contextualize” your tossup by pairing clues about interpretations with “regular” history clues – that way, you aren’t screwing over people with knowledge of the events being discussed. The key here is to create a tossup that is maximally playable by players with a wide range of types of knowledge.

SHEIKH wrote:In a book on this country’s Agrarian Origins, Thomas Smith argued that its aristocracy was not abolished because it was revolutionary, as exemplified by activists called “men of spirit.” The book Outline of a Theory of Civilization argues against the uniqueness of a notion from this country translated as “national character,” a notion which later evolved to emphasize racial affinity in the 1920s. The John Whitney Hall Prize is named for a scholar of this country, study of whose classics was emphasized by the “national study” movement. (*) Iris Chang is best known for studying actions committed by this country whose omission from school textbooks is often protested by teachers. For 10 points, name this nation studied extensively by an anthropologist from the Office of War Information during World War II, during which it exploited comfort women.
ANSWER: Japan


My objective in writing this question was to provide lots of contextual clues and important terms/buzzwords that people could easily learn about from multiple sources, even if they weren't familiar with the titles being mentioned - this way you aren't turning the question into "are you familiar with these titles and authors" and also reward some more "conventional" history knowledge that you're more likely to encounter in a survey book (i.e. kishi activists, the constantly-evolving nationalist notion of kokutai, and the kokugaku scholars of the Tokugawa era).


Approaching Writing History for a Full Tournament

If you're writing history for a full tournament, your primary guide should be the following mantra: diversity, diversity, diversity. This can really be applied to any area of the distribution, but history questions vary across so many dimensions - answerline type, region, time period, subject matter - that I think it's particularly crucial in this area and particularly noticeable (and often painful) when something is off. In particular:

1) Reward a variety of types of knowledge: This means being conscious about balancing clues about political history, social history, military history, and historiography. The first two types of knowledge should be emphasized, but I would like to point that military history really should not be ignored because, even though it's not taught a lot in the academy, there are countless volumes about military history out there and lots of people do read them. I would suggest using more clues about what makes a battle historically/politically important or unique, rather than simply saying "X person was here at Y time."

2) Make sure you vary things by time period and geography. I do not care if you think one particular area of history is boring or easier to write - you are doing a disservice to both the players and thousands upon thousands of years and people from human history by deliberately ignoring them. In particular, if you're looking to find under-asked topics for world history, I think (these days) there's a wealth of unused clues about Central Asia (that place is _huge_ and has tons of cool stuff), colonial Latin America, Early Modern Southeast Asia (17th-19th centuries), and a bunch of random periods of East Asian history (middle of the Tokugawa era, middle and late Ming and Tang, the Jin/Song in general, and a crap ton of clues about the early 20th century throughout the region).

EDIT: grammar and comments
Last edited by Periplus of the Erythraean Sea on Tue Jul 19, 2016 12:08 am, edited 5 times in total.
Will Alston
Bethesda Chevy Chase HS '12, Dartmouth '16
"You are beyond parody" -Auroni Gupta
"...should be treated as the non-stakeholding troll he is" -Matt Weiner
User avatar
Periplus of the Erythraean Sea
Auron
 
Posts: 1553
Joined: Mon Feb 28, 2011 11:53 pm
Location: Falls Church, VA

Re: Writing Good History Questions

Postby vinteuil » Mon Jul 18, 2016 5:38 pm

This is a great post. To elaborate on one thing right off the bat:
Periplus of the Erythraean Sea wrote:1) Writing history questions in a way that makes it self-evident as to why a topic/area in history is important.

This assumes that the thing you're writing about is actually important to some people, and that you're writing about the thing in a way that actually reflects why and how it's important to them. Classic example of not doing this well: the bonus on a "minor" war (but one that's still important for understanding the period) that goes on to have a hard part that's just the final battle of it (which would often go unnamed in the section on that war in a real history book!).
Jacob Reed
Yale '17, '19
East Chapel Hill '13
"...distant bayings from the musicological mafia"―Denis Stevens
User avatar
vinteuil
Auron
 
Posts: 1062
Joined: Sun Oct 23, 2011 12:31 pm

Re: Writing Good History Questions

Postby Skepticism and Animal Feed » Mon Jul 18, 2016 5:56 pm

Back in the day, I wrote a lot of "creative" type answerlines - "Finnish fascists", things like that. I regret it. There is nothing you can accomplish by writing a tossup with the answerline "Finnish fascists" that you cannot accomplish by writing a tossup on "Finland" where all the clues happen to be about fascists. I'm glad this post makes that one of its central themes.

All the creative answerlines do is confuse people and result in negs that are the result of people not being able to think like the question author, rather than the result of people being deficient in knowledge.
Bruce
Harvard '10 / UChicago '07 / Roycemore School '04
ACF Member emeritus
My guide to using Wikipedia as a question source
User avatar
Skepticism and Animal Feed
Auron
 
Posts: 3122
Joined: Sat Oct 30, 2004 11:47 pm
Location: Arlington, VA

Re: Writing Good History Questions

Postby The King's Flight to the Scots » Mon Jul 18, 2016 6:46 pm

So, I like all of this, and I'll add that questions from SHEIKH and both the College History Bowls should be exemplars for how to write interesting history. I may have more to say later - but in general, I think this is more useful for experienced writers whose history lags their other categories, than for new writers trying to master question construction. If you're starting out, don't obsess over this stuff too much. Write a question on an answer that seems appropriate, using concrete clues that explain why that answerline matters. You can't learn how to write good questions solely from these posts any more than you can learn to play guitar from watching Prince on YouTube. I didn't start out a great writer, even early in my college years - I consider myself good now, but that improvement process had everything to do with writing lots of questions and watching people play them. Write your best "Great Northern War" tossup, see how it goes, then adjust. There's no shortcut there.
Matt Bollinger
UVA '14, UVA '15
User avatar
The King's Flight to the Scots
Auron
 
Posts: 1380
Joined: Mon Jan 26, 2009 11:11 pm

Re: Writing Good History Questions

Postby Periplus of the Erythraean Sea » Mon Jul 18, 2016 6:51 pm

Skepticism and Animal Feed wrote:Back in the day, I wrote a lot of "creative" type answerlines - "Finnish fascists", things like that. I regret it. There is nothing you can accomplish by writing a tossup with the answerline "Finnish fascists" that you cannot accomplish by writing a tossup on "Finland" where all the clues happen to be about fascists. I'm glad this post makes that one of its central themes.

All the creative answerlines do is confuse people and result in negs that are the result of people not being able to think like the question author, rather than the result of people being deficient in knowledge.


I think this is a key point - if you're picking a creative answerline, you need to actually make sure all the clues result in a pretty obvious one-to-one mapping with the answerline - some people in the subgroup "Finnish fascists" may belong to some other group. The answer of "(Chinese) Muslims" I think does this decently, since all the early clues unambiguously point to the Hui, the tossup then mentions the Hui, and the rest of the clues aren't going to confuse anybody. It's also necessary, since you probably can't do a tossup on "China" and an answer of "Xinjiang" wouldn't let you use accessible clues about Zheng He.

Matt's post is correct - simply reading posts won't make you a good writer. As the opening paragraphs say, this post is about writing "great" history questions, as opposed to merely serviceable ones. I will say, though, that I've been given helpful pointers in the right direction by a lot of articles, particularly various discussions about writing literature, Bruce's posts about using simple/easy answers to bring in new material, and Magin's and JL's guides to writing music, the latter of which I'm basically using as the basis for all my ARTSEE music (along with some inspiration from other sources).

EDIT: And please pay attention to what Jacob says! Writing a full bonus on a minor war is a terrible idea, unless it's of the "answer the following relating to Obscure Thing X" model (which typically involves having not all the clues be directly related to Obscure Thing X, because X is obscure!)
Will Alston
Bethesda Chevy Chase HS '12, Dartmouth '16
"You are beyond parody" -Auroni Gupta
"...should be treated as the non-stakeholding troll he is" -Matt Weiner
User avatar
Periplus of the Erythraean Sea
Auron
 
Posts: 1553
Joined: Mon Feb 28, 2011 11:53 pm
Location: Falls Church, VA

Re: Writing Good History Questions

Postby Corry » Mon Jul 18, 2016 8:48 pm

I've elaborated upon this before, so I'll be brief: I agree with pretty much everything this thread says. In particular, themed questions are great, and everybody should write them.

However, I am still suspicious of "creative" answer lines (creative questions are fine and good, of course). Even that question on "Chinese Muslims" is kinda borderline for me-- I powered it on "Gansu Braves" in the actual tournament, but the only reason I could figure out the answer line is because I specifically remembered another quiz bowl question on "Chinese Muslims" from ACF Nationals 2008. Now, the question in ACF Nationals 2008 had entirely different clues, but if I hadn't seen that 2008 question before, I would've likely had no clue that a tossup on something like "Chinese Muslims" would even be possible! I think this speaks to a wider truth, in that "creative" answer lines tend to hurt players who don't have "meta" quiz bowl knowledge (or question-writer-mind-reading abilities). And I don't think that's good for the game.
Corry Wang
Arcadia High School 2013
Amherst College 2017
NAQT Writer and Subject Editor
User avatar
Corry
Rikku
 
Posts: 327
Joined: Fri Feb 10, 2012 11:54 pm

Re: Writing Good History Questions

Postby Adventure Temple Trail » Mon Jul 18, 2016 8:58 pm

Corry wrote:I've elaborated upon this before, so I'll be brief: I agree with pretty much everything this thread says. In particular, themed questions are great, and everybody should write them.

However, I am still suspicious of "creative" answer lines (creative questions are fine and good, of course). Even that question on "Chinese Muslims" is kinda borderline for me-- I powered it on "Gansu Braves" in the actual tournament, but the only reason I could figure out the answer line is because I specifically remembered another quiz bowl question on "Chinese Muslims" from ACF Nationals 2008. Now, the question in ACF Nationals 2008 had entirely different clues, but if I hadn't seen that 2008 question before, I would've likely had no clue that a tossup on something like "Chinese Muslims" would even be possible! I think this speaks to a wider truth, in that "creative" answer lines tend to hurt players who don't have "meta" quiz bowl knowledge (or question-writer-mind-reading abilities). And I don't think that's good for the game.


I am also a person who has gone with the wackier-answer route many a time, and I am also down with the general advice to keep your answer line as simple as possible whenever possible. My suspicion, though, is that ability to answer questions with "wacky" answers follows something of a U-shaped curve as a player gains quizbowl experience -- when people just start out, they don't really have a sense for what is and isn't typical answer line framing, so you'll just say the proper thing if you know it and not say it if you don't. It's only after serious exposure to quizbowl and some amount of competency as a player that the "That's Not In The Canon(tm)!" reflex starts to kick in and the brain begins to reject the idea of "wacky" or "common link" answers* in favor of answers more frequently seen "in packets". At least in my experience, as I continued to improve as a player beyond that, I again reached a point where "wacky" answers felt just as answerable as regular ones -- as lessons such as "Attention must be paid" and "no, 'Chinese Muslims' is not an unreasonable answer line" accumulate, one learns to give the answer being asked for.

*If by "common link" you just mean "the underlined answer is not a proper noun," you are overlooking a lot of very simple answers that a lot of players have no trouble answering
Matt J.
ex-Georgetown Day HS, ex-Yale
member emeritus, ACF

Sailing away on my copper boat
Adventure Temple Trail
Auron
 
Posts: 2630
Joined: Tue Jul 15, 2008 9:52 pm

Re: Writing Good History Questions

Postby 1.82 » Mon Jul 18, 2016 9:36 pm

Corry wrote:I've elaborated upon this before, so I'll be brief: I agree with pretty much everything this thread says. In particular, themed questions are great, and everybody should write them.

However, I am still suspicious of "creative" answer lines (creative questions are fine and good, of course). Even that question on "Chinese Muslims" is kinda borderline for me-- I powered it on "Gansu Braves" in the actual tournament, but the only reason I could figure out the answer line is because I specifically remembered another quiz bowl question on "Chinese Muslims" from ACF Nationals 2008. Now, the question in ACF Nationals 2008 had entirely different clues, but if I hadn't seen that 2008 question before, I would've likely had no clue that a tossup on something like "Chinese Muslims" would even be possible! I think this speaks to a wider truth, in that "creative" answer lines tend to hurt players who don't have "meta" quiz bowl knowledge (or question-writer-mind-reading abilities). And I don't think that's good for the game.


What does this post mean? It doesn't require "'meta' quiz bowl knowledge" or having read 2008 ACF Nationals to know that China has Muslims; it requires very basic knowledge of the demographics of China and of the groups of people who live there, among whom are Muslims. Other than not knowing that Muslims live in China, I can't possibly parse what having "no clue that a tossup on something like 'Chinese Muslims' would even be possible" is supposed to mean, nor do I know why Muslims would be some sort of outlandishly difficult answerline. The only people whom I can imagine having difficulty with this are people whose knowledge of history is based entirely off reading old packets, such that their only knowledge that something exists would be its having been mentioned in a question at 2008 ACF Nationals.

This problem, as with many problems that people have with history questions, can be solved by reading a book.
Naveed Chowdhury
Maryland '16
Georgia Tech '17
User avatar
1.82
Wakka
 
Posts: 232
Joined: Thu Feb 05, 2015 9:35 pm

Re: Writing Good History Questions

Postby Ike » Mon Jul 18, 2016 10:09 pm

Our Lady Peace wrote:
Corry wrote:I've elaborated upon this before, so I'll be brief: I agree with pretty much everything this thread says. In particular, themed questions are great, and everybody should write them.

However, I am still suspicious of "creative" answer lines (creative questions are fine and good, of course). Even that question on "Chinese Muslims" is kinda borderline for me-- I powered it on "Gansu Braves" in the actual tournament, but the only reason I could figure out the answer line is because I specifically remembered another quiz bowl question on "Chinese Muslims" from ACF Nationals 2008. Now, the question in ACF Nationals 2008 had entirely different clues, but if I hadn't seen that 2008 question before, I would've likely had no clue that a tossup on something like "Chinese Muslims" would even be possible! I think this speaks to a wider truth, in that "creative" answer lines tend to hurt players who don't have "meta" quiz bowl knowledge (or question-writer-mind-reading abilities). And I don't think that's good for the game.


What does this post mean? It doesn't require "'meta' quiz bowl knowledge" or having read 2008 ACF Nationals to know that China has Muslims; it requires very basic knowledge of the demographics of China and of the groups of people who live there, among whom are Muslims. Other than not knowing that Muslims live in China, I can't possibly parse what having "no clue that a tossup on something like 'Chinese Muslims' would even be possible" is supposed to mean, nor do I know why Muslims would be some sort of outlandishly difficult answerline. The only people whom I can imagine having difficulty with this are people whose knowledge of history is based entirely off reading old packets, such that their only knowledge that something exists would be its having been mentioned in a question at 2008 ACF Nationals.

This problem, as with many problems that people have with history questions, can be solved by reading a book.


This is the most disingenuous post I have probably ever read on the history of HSQB that isn't from that one guy. Are you serious? Have you not gone to a high school tournament where teams get frustrated when they say "That's what the question wanted?!?!" when the answer line is "symphonies by Beethoven?" Even if you don't happen to agree with Corry that the tossup is bad, the idea that you can't see how this would be confusing to teams not "in the know" about quizbowl is honestly ridiculous. I won't defend or attack this specific tossup on Chinese Muslims, but I will say that Corry is largely right, and that people should listen to his post and not to your post unless they know what they are doing!
Ike
UIUC 13
User avatar
Ike
Yuna
 
Posts: 839
Joined: Sat Jul 26, 2008 5:01 pm

Re: Writing Good History Questions

Postby Ike » Mon Jul 18, 2016 10:32 pm

Okay so I think this post has some interesting points, but I'm not sure if I get all of it. You say that bad history questions consist of a sentence structure akin to

“In this country, Horrible Massacre M was perpetrated by Secret Police P during the reign of Dictator D.”

“In this country, Operation Neat Name occurred during the Crazy Conflict civil war”


and "lend themselves to flashcarding Named Things and other rather (important to quizbowl and often valuable but) de-contextualized and uneducational approaches to learning history." But then you praise questions that begin with a somewhat similar structure:

"In this city, “bundle brigades” distributed political pamphlets in seven different languages."

A traditionalist association of these people called the Gédímù (“ guhdeemu”) was later supplanted by the nationalist Yīhèwǎní.


To me, there really isn't a difference in either of these types of clues, both require you to understand that Horrible Massacre M and bundle brigades, or Operation Neat Name or Gedimu are "important." I don't really see how the questions in set B really lend themselves to not flashcarding named things in just terms of how they are written - bundle brigades is something I can add to my neural circuitry despite the fact it doesn't have capital letters. I guess the clue selection could be better in set B - not asking about minor wars or dictators as much, but the issue here isn't that we're listing, it's that we're listing uninteresting things to a historian. In particular, I find that when you think questions should inform people: "What made a particular ruler/period unique among his lineage? How exactly did some dynasty become so noteable as to be worthy of a question? How did everyday people interact with the government, and/or outside of the government?", the questions you've praised aren't doing it any better or worse than the hypothetical bad ones.

Also, I don't think this is a definitive guide, just a set of suggestions, and there are some ideas to think about. I think if you follow many of the ideas in here you will produce some good and fun history questions, but there are many tossups that diverge from this method and philosophy that are perfectly interesting and playable. In the spirit of citing our own tossups. I wrote a tossup on Napoleon III that lead-in with a clue about his sponsoring the making of margarine after I read about it in my kitchen reference ~The Culinarian~. I don't think that really fits any of the styles you're talking about, and may not be something in a general history book, but I contend it's a good choice for leadin, interesting and playable. Many other writers do something different, and I have no problem with that.
Last edited by Ike on Mon Jul 18, 2016 10:37 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Ike
UIUC 13
User avatar
Ike
Yuna
 
Posts: 839
Joined: Sat Jul 26, 2008 5:01 pm

Re: Writing Good History Questions

Postby Cheynem » Mon Jul 18, 2016 10:36 pm

I'll bite...why is "symphonies by Beethoven" confusing? What are you confusing it as an answerline for--symphonies in general? I agree that the stupid pronoun "works" is confusing, but a tossup that says "these compositions" does not seem confusing at all.
Mike Cheyne
Formerly U of Minnesota

"You killed HSAPQ"--Matt Bollinger
User avatar
Cheynem
Sin
 
Posts: 6134
Joined: Tue May 11, 2004 11:19 am
Location: Grand Rapids, Michigan

Re: Writing Good History Questions

Postby 1.82 » Mon Jul 18, 2016 10:36 pm

Ike wrote:
Our Lady Peace wrote:
Corry wrote:I've elaborated upon this before, so I'll be brief: I agree with pretty much everything this thread says. In particular, themed questions are great, and everybody should write them.

However, I am still suspicious of "creative" answer lines (creative questions are fine and good, of course). Even that question on "Chinese Muslims" is kinda borderline for me-- I powered it on "Gansu Braves" in the actual tournament, but the only reason I could figure out the answer line is because I specifically remembered another quiz bowl question on "Chinese Muslims" from ACF Nationals 2008. Now, the question in ACF Nationals 2008 had entirely different clues, but if I hadn't seen that 2008 question before, I would've likely had no clue that a tossup on something like "Chinese Muslims" would even be possible! I think this speaks to a wider truth, in that "creative" answer lines tend to hurt players who don't have "meta" quiz bowl knowledge (or question-writer-mind-reading abilities). And I don't think that's good for the game.


What does this post mean? It doesn't require "'meta' quiz bowl knowledge" or having read 2008 ACF Nationals to know that China has Muslims; it requires very basic knowledge of the demographics of China and of the groups of people who live there, among whom are Muslims. Other than not knowing that Muslims live in China, I can't possibly parse what having "no clue that a tossup on something like 'Chinese Muslims' would even be possible" is supposed to mean, nor do I know why Muslims would be some sort of outlandishly difficult answerline. The only people whom I can imagine having difficulty with this are people whose knowledge of history is based entirely off reading old packets, such that their only knowledge that something exists would be its having been mentioned in a question at 2008 ACF Nationals.

This problem, as with many problems that people have with history questions, can be solved by reading a book.


This is the most disingenuous post I have probably ever read on the history of HSQB that isn't from that one guy. Are you serious? Have you not gone to a high school tournament where teams get frustrated when they say "That's what the question wanted?!?!" when the answer line is "symphonies by Beethoven?" Even if you don't happen to agree with Corry that the tossup is bad, the idea that you can't see how this would be confusing to teams not "in the know" about quizbowl is honestly ridiculous. I won't defend or attack this specific tossup on Chinese Muslims, but I will say that Corry is largely right, and that people should listen to his post and not to your post unless they know what they are doing!


This is deeply confusing to me. I'm no music expert (by my count in my quizbowl career I have gotten one music tossup at a real tournament ever), but it seems to me that you're suggesting that we shouldn't write tossups on "symphonies by Beethoven." The fact that people can and do constantly write tossups of that nature suggests that we shouldn't and don't cater to the high schooler who can't figure out a tossup on "symphonies by Beethoven," much like we shouldn't cater to the history equivalent of that, a player who can't figure out that "this group of people in China" might mean "Muslims" without having seen an old packet that states that fact.
Naveed Chowdhury
Maryland '16
Georgia Tech '17
User avatar
1.82
Wakka
 
Posts: 232
Joined: Thu Feb 05, 2015 9:35 pm

Re: Writing Good History Questions

Postby wcheng » Mon Jul 18, 2016 10:54 pm

Corry wrote:I've elaborated upon this before, so I'll be brief: I agree with pretty much everything this thread says. In particular, themed questions are great, and everybody should write them.

However, I am still suspicious of "creative" answer lines (creative questions are fine and good, of course). Even that question on "Chinese Muslims" is kinda borderline for me-- I powered it on "Gansu Braves" in the actual tournament, but the only reason I could figure out the answer line is because I specifically remembered another quiz bowl question on "Chinese Muslims" from ACF Nationals 2008. Now, the question in ACF Nationals 2008 had entirely different clues, but if I hadn't seen that 2008 question before, I would've likely had no clue that a tossup on something like "Chinese Muslims" would even be possible! I think this speaks to a wider truth, in that "creative" answer lines tend to hurt players who don't have "meta" quiz bowl knowledge (or question-writer-mind-reading abilities). And I don't think that's good for the game.


I'm not going to comment on your assertion that "creative" answerlines hurt players without quizbowl meta-knowledge, but as the person who actually wrote the tossup on Chinese _Muslim_s in question, I would argue that it does not require any significant meta-knowledge. I began writing this tossup not really with the intent of having a "creative" answerline, but with exploring an important ethnoreligious group in Chinese history that generally isn't covered much in quizbowl or history education. Accordingly, my choice of clues was largely based on things I had learned from reading about Chinese Muslims before I even began studying quizbowl in any serious capacity (the Gansu Braves, the Xibei San Ma, Zheng He, the Battle of the Talas River, Xinjiang, etc.), which I thought other people might have encountered themselves. I also made the answerline and pronoun as reasonably generous as possible, by mentioning that the group in question is religious while still in power, requiring only _Muslim_s, and accepting Hui until it is read, to minimize the chance for confusion and maximize the number of acceptable answers. Could this tossup have been worded more clearly? Probably, but I still think that a person who has read about any of the clues in the question would have understood what this question was asking for.
Weijia Cheng
Centennial '15
Maryland '18 (Fall)
User avatar
wcheng
Wakka
 
Posts: 100
Joined: Mon May 26, 2014 12:02 pm

Re: Writing Good History Questions

Postby thebluehawk1 » Mon Jul 18, 2016 10:56 pm

This is the most disingenuous post I have probably ever read on the history of HSQB that isn't from that one guy. Are you serious? Have you not gone to a high school tournament where teams get frustrated when they say "That's what the question wanted?!?!" when the answer line is "symphonies by Beethoven?" Even if you don't happen to agree with Corry that the tossup is bad, the idea that you can't see how this would be confusing to teams not "in the know" about quizbowl is honestly ridiculous. I won't defend or attack this specific tossup on Chinese Muslims, but I will say that Corry is largely right, and that people should listen to his post and not to your post unless they know what they are doing!


I would like to point out that the only thing Naveed seemed to actually be criticizing seemed to be the example itself. Which I will defend as a fine tossup. Very early in the tossup it said "this religious group" and furthermore "Chinese" wasn't underlined. So really the answerline was just "Muslims" which I don't think is too vague at all. To me it seemed like a creative way to ask about something that isn't regularly tossed up, but is still important from a historical standpoint. Sure I agree that we shouldn't try to confuse players with strange answerlines and there I agree with Corry. However I agree with Naveed when he argues that the particular example was not a good one.
Justin Hawkins
John Carroll HS '15
University of Maryland '19
User avatar
thebluehawk1
Lulu
 
Posts: 9
Joined: Mon Nov 16, 2015 2:51 am
Location: College Park

Re: Writing Good History Questions

Postby Ike » Mon Jul 18, 2016 10:58 pm

Okay here's some data:

2012 ICT had a tossup on Haydn string quartets that went like so:

...The "Sun" and (*) "Erd\"ody" [air-DOH-dee] groups of these pieces were written while their composer was employed by the Esterh\'azys. For 10 points--name these chamber works by the composer of the {~Farewell~ Symphony}.

answer: _string quartet_s by (Franz) Joseph _Haydn_ (accept variants containing all underlined words; prompt on partial answers)


Across sixteen rooms, it was powered in 3, answered for 10 points in 9 rooms, and 7 teams negged it. Meaning that 75% of the ICT field got it.
2010 HSNCT had a tossup on the Farewell Symphony, which across 38 rooms, 37 of which answered correctly, or roughly 98% conversion. (There was no cute giveaway in that one.)

Now this is a tiny bit like comparing apples and oranges: like the giveaway for the ICT could be more low-hanging, like "FTP name these works for violins, violas and cellos by the composer of the Farewell Symphony" and ~n~ may not be sufficiently large. But I think we can draw some reasonable conclusions: why are college teams, who are on average four years more experienced than their HSNCT counterparts answering the first tossup correctly 22% less frequently than their much younger HSNCT counterparts? I suspect it's that when you ask the average person--and apparently 25% of DI college players--what they know about Haydn, they don't think about Haydn's string quartets as a Reified Thing. The same goes for Beethoven Symphonies* and Chinese Muslims and Japanese fascists and Roman Women or whatever else people have complained about over the years.

Often times, I like the content of these questions - I kind of am sad I didn't get to play the Roman Women question for example. But what's so annoying is that defenders of these questions, instead of taking a step back and realizing that some people are less knowledgable and unfamiliar with either musicological / historian / quizbowl convention, will just attack people for not "reading a book" or having real knowledge. And that's terrible and they should stop -- if everyone actually "read a book," we wouldn't have a need for giveaways in quizbowl, we could just cut tossups off before FTP.

*I should say that NAQT and ACF has ameliorated the problem of this in music now with warnings like "Composer and genre required."
Ike
UIUC 13
User avatar
Ike
Yuna
 
Posts: 839
Joined: Sat Jul 26, 2008 5:01 pm

Re: Writing Good History Questions

Postby Nice hockey Cote d'Azur » Mon Jul 18, 2016 11:24 pm

Ike wrote:Okay here's some data:

2012 ICT had a tossup on Haydn string quartets that went like so:

...The "Sun" and (*) "Erd\"ody" [air-DOH-dee] groups of these pieces were written while their composer was employed by the Esterh\'azys. For 10 points--name these chamber works by the composer of the {~Farewell~ Symphony}.

answer: _string quartet_s by (Franz) Joseph _Haydn_ (accept variants containing all underlined words; prompt on partial answers)


Across sixteen rooms, it was powered in 3, answered for 10 points in 9 rooms, and 7 teams negged it. Meaning that 75% of the ICT field got it.
2010 HSNCT had a tossup on the Farewell Symphony, which across 38 rooms, 37 of which answered correctly, or roughly 98% conversion. (There was no cute giveaway in that one.)

Now this is a tiny bit like comparing apples and oranges: like the giveaway for the ICT could be more low-hanging, like "FTP name these works for violins, violas and cellos by the composer of the Farewell Symphony" and ~n~ may not be sufficiently large. But I think we can draw some reasonable conclusions: why are college teams, who are on average four years more experienced than their HSNCT counterparts answering the first tossup correctly 22% less frequently than their much younger HSNCT counterparts? I suspect it's that when you ask the average person--and apparently 25% of DI college players--what they know about Haydn, they don't think about Haydn's string quartets as a Reified Thing. The same goes for Beethoven Symphonies* and Chinese Muslims and Japanese fascists and Roman Women or whatever else people have complained about over the years.

Often times, I like the content of these questions - I kind of am sad I didn't get to play the Roman Women question for example. But what's so annoying is that defenders of these questions, instead of taking a step back and realizing that some people are less knowledgable and unfamiliar with either musicological / historian / quizbowl convention, will just attack people for not "reading a book" or having real knowledge. And that's terrible and they should stop -- if everyone actually "read a book," we wouldn't have a need for giveaways in quizbowl, we could just cut tossups off before FTP.

*I should say that NAQT and ACF has ameliorated the problem of this in music now with warnings like "Composer and genre required."


I suspect the low conversion is due to the giveaway, as teams with little knowledge might be confused and guess "Haydn Symphonies" or something to that effect.

As for questions with creative answers, the problem comes when someone has knowledge of the clues but doesn't want to buzz because they are unsure of what to say. In the cases you mentioned and in some of the other questions Will mentioned, the answers are straightforward enough that it shouldn't be a problem. If they're not buzzing because they are unaware that there are Muslims in China or just didn't know any of the clues, then there is no inherent problem with the answerline.
Tejas Raje
Cornell '14
Nice hockey Cote d'Azur
Wakka
 
Posts: 157
Joined: Sun May 29, 2011 9:51 pm
Location: Princeton, NJ

Re: Writing Good History Questions

Postby Corry » Mon Jul 18, 2016 11:40 pm

Adventure Temple Trail wrote:I am also a person who has gone with the wackier-answer route many a time, and I am also down with the general advice to keep your answer line as simple as possible whenever possible. My suspicion, though, is that ability to answer questions with "wacky" answers follows something of a U-shaped curve as a player gains quizbowl experience -- when people just start out, they don't really have a sense for what is and isn't typical answer line framing, so you'll just say the proper thing if you know it and not say it if you don't. It's only after serious exposure to quizbowl and some amount of competency as a player that the "That's Not In The Canon(tm)!" reflex starts to kick in and the brain begins to reject the idea of "wacky" or "common link" answers* in favor of answers more frequently seen "in packets". At least in my experience, as I continued to improve as a player beyond that, I again reached a point where "wacky" answers felt just as answerable as regular ones -- as lessons such as "Attention must be paid" and "no, 'Chinese Muslims' is not an unreasonable answer line" accumulate, one learns to give the answer being asked for.


Your experience curve theory is entirely plausible, but I don't think what you're saying actually contradicts what I'm saying. Unusual answer lines hurt the gameplay experience for new players- if they don't know what to say (e.g. in the case of "Chinese Muslims"), they just won't buzz, regardless of whether they have knowledge on the subject. The only people who benefit from unusual answer lines are the people you mention who are on the far-right end of the experience curve, aka the people who have been playing quiz bowl for a long time. This is not ideal.

*If by "common link" you just mean "the underlined answer is not a proper noun," you are overlooking a lot of very simple answers that a lot of players have no trouble answering


This is not what I meant to say; I have no problem with common-link answers, which is why I didn't mention them in my initial post.
Corry Wang
Arcadia High School 2013
Amherst College 2017
NAQT Writer and Subject Editor
User avatar
Corry
Rikku
 
Posts: 327
Joined: Fri Feb 10, 2012 11:54 pm

Re: Writing Good History Questions

Postby Corry » Mon Jul 18, 2016 11:45 pm

To clarify further, I got the question on "Chinese Muslims" due to a combination of two separate bodies of knowledge: my "everyday" knowledge, and my "meta" knowledge. In terms of everyday knowledge, I knew about the Gansu Braves because I took HIST-172-01 "Modern China" at Amherst in the fall of 2015. Notably, "Gansu Braves" has never been a quiz bowl clue before, and I was quite happy to see it come up in MYSTERIUM.

However, my everyday knowledge was not the sole reason why I got the question on Chinese Muslims. I also got it because I knew that "Chinese Muslims" was a plausible quiz bowl answer line, due to my awareness of the quiz bowl "meta." If I had been new to quiz bowl, I highly doubt I would've been able to figure out that the question was asking for "Chinese Muslims," regardless of the fact that I knew who the Gansu Braves were. I probably would've buzzed "Chinese people." Or "Chinese soldiers." Or as Matt J. suggested, I might just not have buzzed at all, which is also a non-ideal outcome.
Corry Wang
Arcadia High School 2013
Amherst College 2017
NAQT Writer and Subject Editor
User avatar
Corry
Rikku
 
Posts: 327
Joined: Fri Feb 10, 2012 11:54 pm

Re: Writing Good History Questions

Postby Periplus of the Erythraean Sea » Mon Jul 18, 2016 11:52 pm

Ike wrote:To me, there really isn't a difference in either of these types of clues, both require you to understand that Horrible Massacre M and bundle brigades, or Operation Neat Name or Gedimu are "important."


OK, so I should clarify - you can't ALWAYS provide that sort of context that I'm talking about. Not every clue is going to be a home run - Jordan and I discussed this a number of times while writing SHEIKH (i.e. we would often say "it kinda sucks we can't give context to this, but the rest of the tossup works really well and is a neat idea"). But you shouldn't have a tossup that consists entirely of such clues when possible. I will personally cop to having written a lot of subpar tossups along those lines for Modern World and the Cane Ridge Revival, since I had read a lot of packets with questions in such a style and thought they were what should be imitated; I've changed my mind since then and have tried to avoid slipping into such patterns.

As for the Chinese Muslims thing: I think an answerline is fine when each of the clues, taken individually in context with the rest of the tossup's information, can only possibly point to one answer. This does seem to be the case for the Chinese Muslims question - I don't see how you could really arrive at any other answer, especially since it says "religious groups" before the "Three Mas" clue, so you can't buzz with "warlords" or something like that. This is why tossups with answers like "Haydn String Quartets" usually have a "composer and genre required" statement these days, rather than just launching in with "these works", which I think is a good innovation.
Last edited by Periplus of the Erythraean Sea on Mon Jul 18, 2016 11:57 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Will Alston
Bethesda Chevy Chase HS '12, Dartmouth '16
"You are beyond parody" -Auroni Gupta
"...should be treated as the non-stakeholding troll he is" -Matt Weiner
User avatar
Periplus of the Erythraean Sea
Auron
 
Posts: 1553
Joined: Mon Feb 28, 2011 11:53 pm
Location: Falls Church, VA

Re: Writing Good History Questions

Postby Corry » Mon Jul 18, 2016 11:55 pm

Periplus of the Erythraean Sea wrote:As for the Chinese Muslims thing: I think an answerline is fine when each of the clues, taken individually in context with the rest of the tossup's information, can only possibly point to one answer. This does seem to be the case for the Chinese Muslims question - I don't see how you could really arrive at any other answer, especially since it says "religious groups" before the "Three Mas" clue, so you can't buzz with "warlords" or something like that. This is why tossups with answers like "Haydn String Quartets" usually have a "composer and genre required" statement these days, rather than just launching in with "these works", which I think is a good innovation.


I mean, I guess the question on Chinese Muslims would work if it began with "nationality and religion required" or something.
Corry Wang
Arcadia High School 2013
Amherst College 2017
NAQT Writer and Subject Editor
User avatar
Corry
Rikku
 
Posts: 327
Joined: Fri Feb 10, 2012 11:54 pm

Re: Writing Good History Questions

Postby Periplus of the Erythraean Sea » Tue Jul 19, 2016 12:00 am

Corry wrote:
Periplus of the Erythraean Sea wrote:As for the Chinese Muslims thing: I think an answerline is fine when each of the clues, taken individually in context with the rest of the tossup's information, can only possibly point to one answer. This does seem to be the case for the Chinese Muslims question - I don't see how you could really arrive at any other answer, especially since it says "religious groups" before the "Three Mas" clue, so you can't buzz with "warlords" or something like that. This is why tossups with answers like "Haydn String Quartets" usually have a "composer and genre required" statement these days, rather than just launching in with "these works", which I think is a good innovation.


I mean, I guess the question on Chinese Muslims would work if it began with "nationality and religion required" or something.


But nationality wasn't required! Look, all of those clues are pretty obvious - I guess the leadin refers to Chinese maddhabs, so you might buzz with "Islamic scholars" or something, but it seems pretty darn clear after that - the Gansu Braves were Muslim troops recruited to put down other rebellious Muslims, and after that you get "religious group" so you don't really have any excuses.

I think the "these people" issue only arises when the people being discussed belong to multiple groups, i.e. it can be unclear whether you're talking about an ethnic group or people with a specific occupation/gender/status, in which case I think you should use "this ethnicity" or change your answerline.
Will Alston
Bethesda Chevy Chase HS '12, Dartmouth '16
"You are beyond parody" -Auroni Gupta
"...should be treated as the non-stakeholding troll he is" -Matt Weiner
User avatar
Periplus of the Erythraean Sea
Auron
 
Posts: 1553
Joined: Mon Feb 28, 2011 11:53 pm
Location: Falls Church, VA

Re: Writing Good History Questions

Postby Corry » Tue Jul 19, 2016 12:19 am

Periplus of the Erythraean Sea wrote:But nationality wasn't required! Look, all of those clues are pretty obvious - I guess the leadin refers to Chinese maddhabs, so you might buzz with "Islamic scholars" or something, but it seems pretty darn clear after that - the Gansu Braves were Muslim troops recruited to put down other rebellious Muslims, and after that you get "religious group" so you don't really have any excuses.

I think the "these people" issue only arises when the people being discussed belong to multiple groups, i.e. it can be unclear whether you're talking about an ethnic group or people with a specific occupation/gender/status, in which case I think you should use "this ethnicity" or change your answerline.


Note that I buzzed before "religious group." Although I suppose I'd had fewer complaints with this question if it had opened with "members of this religious group;" hence why I considered this one a borderline case.

EDIT: This is probably worth noting, but I was under the impression that both "Chinese" and "Muslims" were part of the required answerline. I have less of a problem with the question now that I know that only "Muslims" was necessary, although I do wish that the question opened with "this religious group" from the get-go.
Corry Wang
Arcadia High School 2013
Amherst College 2017
NAQT Writer and Subject Editor
User avatar
Corry
Rikku
 
Posts: 327
Joined: Fri Feb 10, 2012 11:54 pm

Re: Writing Good History Questions

Postby Auks Ran Ova » Tue Jul 19, 2016 3:31 am

Yeah, the difference between the 08 ACF Nats Chinese Muslims question and the modern one is that the trend then was for the answerline to require "Chinese Muslims" (or, in harder tournaments, "Brazilian Muslims" or "Japanese fascists" or whatever) whereas now quizbowl in general tends to be a little smarter and writes questions looking for "Chinese Muslims", which is much more playable. I think it's a little silly to accuse Naveed of being somehow "disingenuous", but it is worth noting that sometimes bad and/or new teams are confused by multi-part answerlines, or answerlines more complicated than a single noun--which is why requiring only "Muslims" in the discussed example is the preferred way to write things now, since it cuts down on prompt-related confusion and allows people to express knowledge without being confused by slightly unfamiliar game mechanics. That doesn't mean that we should stop writing stuff like "Haydn string quartets" or whatever, just do it judiciously.
Rob Carson
University of Minnesota '11, MCTC '??
Member, ACF
Member, PACE
Writer and Editor, NAQT
User avatar
Auks Ran Ova
Forums Staff: Chief Administrator
 
Posts: 3866
Joined: Sun Apr 30, 2006 10:28 pm
Location: Minneapolis

Re: Writing Good History Questions

Postby Ike » Tue Jul 19, 2016 3:55 am

Auks Ran Ova wrote:I think it's a little silly to accuse Naveed of being somehow "disingenuous", but it is worth noting that sometimes bad and/or new teams are confused by multi-part answerlines, or answerlines more complicated than a single noun...


I certainly don't think it's silly -- Naveed maintains that:

The only people whom I can imagine having difficulty with this are people whose knowledge of history is based entirely off reading old packets, such that their only knowledge that something exists would be its having been mentioned in a question at 2008 ACF Nationals.

This problem, as with many problems that people have with history questions, can be solved by reading a book.


Even you, Rob, maintain that new teams or teams unfamiliar with mechanics to quizbowl might get confused by what's going on here. Corry Wang, a really good writer of history and presumably a good / great history player often times gets confused as well with this type of question. But to say that "this problem ... can be solved by reading a book" and it's only a problem if your knowledge "is based entirely off reading old packets" despite the fact that the post right above Naveed's post provides a credible account otherwise, is in my opinion very disingenuous! More importantly, every writer should be writing questions to reduce what Corry calls "meta-" knowledge of how quizbowl works, and I hate it when our responses to new teams is essentially a form of "you're not smart enough, go read a book" when they are just really confused!
Ike
UIUC 13
User avatar
Ike
Yuna
 
Posts: 839
Joined: Sat Jul 26, 2008 5:01 pm

Re: Writing Good History Questions

Postby vinteuil » Tue Jul 19, 2016 10:00 am

I strongly agree with the position that two-part answers are to be avoided whenever possible. I'm posting because I don't think it's been sufficiently emphasized that you practically never "need" to use these answerlines.

Let's take our two main examples: "[works in _genre_] by [creator]" and "[people of one group] that are also part of [another group]." In both cases, the set of clues that could be used for that answerline is the intersection of two sets of clues, so that you could literally always use those clues in a tossup on one of the sets individually. Now, sometimes that might not be advisable for one of the two crossed answerlines, but it's almost never a bad idea for both. Example in this thread: if you mention places in China early, you can't make "Chinese Muslims" a tossup on "China"—but you can (and we did!) make it a tossup on "Muslims." (I agree with Corry that we should have clarified what kind of group it is at the very beginning.)

For the other kind of question: there is literally zero reason to write a question on "{string quartets|piano sonatas|symphonies} by {Haydn|Beethoven|Mozart}," since all three of them wrote prolifically in all three genres—just write the tossup on the composer and say "one piano sonata by this guy"! There is a vanishingly small set of composers who would be given away by writing in a given genre—but we already know how to write questions on Scott Joplin without using the word "rag" until late.

I can think of one (false) justification for these questions: some writers might be trying to prevent buzzes on "stock clues" or outright guesses. For example, the tossup on Ives symphonies at ACF Nats: I immediately recognized the clues as Ives, and, like a doofus, negged quickly with "Orchestral Sets." But the same effect would have been had by writing the tossup on "symphonies".

Again: the hybrid answerline is largely (completely?) unnecessary; if you're struggling to get rid of one, remember that there are two (if not more) possible alternative answerlines.

Addendum: this kind of answerline selection seems very category dependent. You don't see too many literature writers asking about "poems by Hardy" (even if that's where the clues come from) or "Chinese plays" (similar).
Jacob Reed
Yale '17, '19
East Chapel Hill '13
"...distant bayings from the musicological mafia"―Denis Stevens
User avatar
vinteuil
Auron
 
Posts: 1062
Joined: Sun Oct 23, 2011 12:31 pm

Re: Writing Good History Questions

Postby Skepticism and Animal Feed » Tue Jul 19, 2016 10:45 am

So I think a lot of it boils down to "can I describe what I am looking for easily", i.e., does this answer line easily turn into a pronoun. Some creative answerlines do better here than others.

Back in the day, I wrote a lot of navy tossups. The answerlines would be things like "The American Navy", "The Confederate Navy", even "The Carthaginian Navy" or "The Swedish Navy" (don't laugh, they used to be a major naval power. Laughing at the Swedish navy was the last and fatal mistake of many a Victual Brother!). These tossups always began with the words "This navy", succinctly letting the player know that we were looking for somebody's navy. That's still not necessarily ideal, because people might still neg with things like "The 6th Navy" or "The White Fleet", or there might be a dispute as to whether names like "The Red Navy" are acceptable, but thankfully that didn't seem to happen.

I also wrote a lot of two country answerlines. The answerline would be something like "Russia and France", and the clues would all be things like "these two countries signed this treaty. these two countries fought this battle. one of these countries spied on the other during the blah affair." It was always prefaced with "Warning: two answers required" ahead of the tossup.

Contrast that with something like "Chinese muslims", where you don't have a succinct option. You can say "This ethnic group" but that doesn't necessarily imply that you need a nationality and a religion. You can say "this ethno-religious group", but does anyone know what that phrase actually means, and it may have a more specific meaning in academia. And "one of these pieces by this person" is just clunky and makes your tossup longer.

I guess my point is "does it pronoun" is a good question to ask. There's probably a lot to say about pronouns. I wonder if anyone has solved the problem that quizbowl used to have 10 years ago, when tossups on kings tended to begin with "This ruler" and then transition to "he" or "this king", while tossups on queens tended to go with "this ruler" all throughout the tossup. Clever people would do things like "hmmm...they keep saying this ruler, buzz, Hatsepshut". I tried to keep people honest by occasionally writing tossups on male rulers where I just said "this ruler" over and over again but I don't think anyone noticed that.

EDIT: I think I once wrote a tossup on "Swiss Catholics" where I instructed the moderator to read a lengthy disclaimer before the tossup, basically saying "We are looking for a nationality and a religion - for example Chilean Zoroastrians". That's probably not as good as a tossup on Switzerland that just began with "One Catholic in this country..." but people didn't seem to hate it.
Bruce
Harvard '10 / UChicago '07 / Roycemore School '04
ACF Member emeritus
My guide to using Wikipedia as a question source
User avatar
Skepticism and Animal Feed
Auron
 
Posts: 3122
Joined: Sat Oct 30, 2004 11:47 pm
Location: Arlington, VA

Re: Writing Good History Questions

Postby ThisIsMyUsername » Tue Jul 19, 2016 11:45 am

I've been keeping out of this discussion, because I still have one CO question left to write, and am in the middle of proofreading the rest of the set. So, apologies in advance if I am not able to respond to any replies. But Jacob Reed's proclamations about music questions in this thread strike me as preposterous (and potentially harmful), and so I must comment on things that have been said.

I don't want to say too much about the Naveed-Ike exchange, just this much: Naveed is right that it shouldn't require "meta-quizbowl" knowledge to understand that Beethoven's symphonies are a reified entity (among works that do not share an opus, they are probably the single most reified group in Western classical music!). But Ike is right that we should be as sympathetic as possible to players' problems playing questions, even if the reason seems silly from the perspective of a more experienced player. I can't tell if Ike is saying: it is fine to toss up these things (because they are obviously things worth knowing in this form), you just should add "Composer and genre required" tags, be generally mindful of the fact that these questions are harder to follow, and tailor your clues accordingly, rather than just going "These are real. Learn about reality." But I hope that he is, and that is my position too.

Now this:

vinteuil wrote:For the other kind of question: there is literally zero reason to write a question on "{string quartets|piano sonatas|symphonies} by {Haydn|Beethoven|Mozart}," since all three of them wrote prolifically in all three genres—just write the tossup on the composer and say "one piano sonata by this guy"! There is a vanishingly small set of composers who would be given away by writing in a given genre—but we already know how to write questions on Scott Joplin without using the word "rag" until late.

I can think of one (false) justification for these questions: some writers might be trying to prevent buzzes on "stock clues" or outright guesses. For example, the tossup on Ives symphonies at ACF Nats: I immediately recognized the clues as Ives, and, like a doofus, negged quickly with "Orchestral Sets." But the same effect would have been had by writing the tossup on "symphonies".

Again: the hybrid answerline is largely (completely?) unnecessary; if you're struggling to get rid of one, remember that there are two (if not more) possible alternative answerlines.

Addendum: this kind of answerline selection seems very category dependent. You don't see too many literature writers asking about "poems by Hardy" (even if that's where the clues come from) or "Chinese plays" (similar).


I walked away from my computer in disbelief and came back to re-read this, to make sure I hadn't misread this. "Literally zero reason"?! I simply don't understand how you could possibly believe this!

First of all, the Joplin's rag type of example is not "vanishingly small." Yes, many common-links are written in ubiquitous genres like the symphony or the string quartet. But sometimes they are written in less common genres. People have also written tossups on things like Chopin's polonaises and Strauss's waltzes. For things like this, you have to mask the genre or it's a buzzer race on the first line. There are also intermediary cases like Liszt's etudes. There, the answer space is narrow, but it might seem that it is not precariously narrow. But you know what would happen if you wrote that as a Liszt tossup and said "this etude" every clue? When playing a top-tier music player, a third- or fourth-tier music player will buzz early and guess an etude composer, even if they recognize zero clues! I know this because on common-links that say "this instrument," people playing me have already started buzzing on the first or second clue and guessing instruments! And it would be the strategically correct thing to do.

Now, one could reply that a way around this is to write that Liszt etudes tossup, but not say "this etude" on any of the early clues. This brings me to the second important point: even for things like this where the genre is common, it should be obvious that the kinds of clues you can use vary greatly depending on whether it is (e.g.) a "Mozart's piano concertos tossup" vs. "Mozart tossup just on piano concertos." Let us say I am writing such a tossup, and I want my lead-in to be from the Piano Concerto No. 9. I could phrase it:

(1) "Composer and genre required. One of these works..." (ANSWER: Mozart's piano concertos)
(2) "Composer and genre required. In the ninth of these works..." (ANSWER: Mozart's piano concertos)
(3) "In one of this composer's works..." (ANSWER: Mozart)
(4) "In one of this composer's piano concertos..." (ANSWER: Mozart)
(5) "In this composer's ninth piano concerto, ..." (ANSWER: Mozart)

Which one of these I choose dramatically affects how the clue is processed by a player.

- In (1), you know that you can reason your way through the clues, knowing that they all aply to pieces of the same genre. This is a particular frame of mind.
- In (2), you have the same general state of mind, but you have two more helpful pieces of information. There are at least 9 of these, so you can throw away a bunch of less numerous genre-composer combinations off the bat. If you're very confident that the clue doesn't match various 9th symphonies (Beethoven, Mahler, etc.), you can eliminate an additional whole bunch of answers. It could also serve another purpose: maybe that clue in the lead in is something that someone would not feel comfortable buzzing on without "conformational information." (i.e. The player in version 1 would go: that sounds like the Jeunehomme, but I'm just not sure. The player version 2 goes: sounds like the Jeunehomme, and the Jeunehomme is number 9, buzz.)
- In (3), you have no information except the clue itself. Nothing is helping you and you can't draw connections between it and a future clue.
- In (4), you've eliminated various composers who didn't write more than one piano concerto. But the player who couldn't buzz on the first clue in version (1) still can't buzz on the first clue here. She needs to hear "ninth."
- In (5), your possible answer-space is extremely restricted. Not many composers wrote nine or more piano concertos.

Big Takeaway #1: If I require two components for my answer, I can afford to be far less coy about individual clues, without fear of transparency. Many clues that are doomed to be either unbuzzable (3 and sometimes 4) or transparent (5) in one-component answers are now usable.

Big Takeaway #2: For many topics, two-component answers or one-component answers from the same basic clues are both viable models; they just have different purposes. Writers should not default to writing a "Mozart's piano concertos tossup" vs. "Mozart tossup just on piano concertos" out of an ideological prejudice. They should consider which one works better for psychological, playability-oriented reasons, based on the clues they wish to use.


If you think I'm making these up, please feel free to reread past tossups on Mozart's piano concertos and see how many clues would work entirely differently (or not at all) if they were Mozart tossups.

These are all basic precepts of how clue phrasing/context affects buzzability, and I'm surprised to hear them flouted so categorically by a good writer and an experienced player such as yourself.

Additional Comments:

I have no idea how the anecdote about you screwing up the Ives tossup is supposed to support your point. I think it does very much the opposite. These tossups are intended to require you to know more than who wrote the piece being described. The fact that you apparently had only a binary association between the clue and the composer, but not the piece, just means that you should have waited for one more clue. If I recognize the first clue of a literature tossup as being from an Austen novel, guess Pride and Prejudice, and get negged because it was Sense and Sensibility, it would be silly for me to use that as justification for why we should write tossups only on Austen and not on her individual novels.

Of course we don't write tossups on "poems of X"! But we do write tossups on "sonnets of X," "letters of X," etc. Once again, sometimes these can be tossups on author X, and would play better; sometimes, they're better off as two-component answers.
John Lawrence
Yale University '12
King's College London '13
University of Chicago '19

“I am not absentminded. It is the presence of mind that makes me unaware of everything else.” - G.K. Chesterton
User avatar
ThisIsMyUsername
Tidus
 
Posts: 736
Joined: Wed Jul 15, 2009 11:36 am
Location: New York, NY

Re: Writing Good History Questions

Postby Cheynem » Tue Jul 19, 2016 12:09 pm

I would also I guess throw out that the type of answerlines you use is somewhat contingent on the type of tournament you are writing. For a novice high school set, I generally try to keep answerlines easy and you don't need to worry too much about being coy or too transparent. On the other hand, for ACF Nationals or Chicago Open, I'd feel far more comfortable using slightly more complicated or unconventional answerlines. For example, I probably wouldn't tossup, I dunno "Abraham Lincoln's Cabinet" for a novice set, but I would at a harder tournament.
Mike Cheyne
Formerly U of Minnesota

"You killed HSAPQ"--Matt Bollinger
User avatar
Cheynem
Sin
 
Posts: 6134
Joined: Tue May 11, 2004 11:19 am
Location: Grand Rapids, Michigan

Re: Writing Good History Questions

Postby The King's Flight to the Scots » Tue Jul 19, 2016 12:37 pm

What Ike's argument avoids is that tossups aren't written in a vacuum, they're written in the context of a tournament that has to have 30 or more world history questions, in a year with about 10 collegiate events. To meet that quota, you have to do one of three things: write on the exact same answers for every event, write questions that exceed the appropriate difficulty, or mix in a few common-link questions. Since #1 isn't acceptable, "Chinese _Muslims_" isn't competing with tossups on "China" for space; it's competing with tossups on the Panthay Rebellion or the Dzhunghar Genocide. That's because you use an answerline like "Chinese Muslims" to introduce clues you wouldn't be able to write a whole tossup on, when you've already exhausted the normal canon of answers.

The tossup Will cites manages to test previously-unexplored areas of knowledge and end with an accessible giveaway for everyone. To me, that tossup seems more accessible to "new players" than even a tossup on a standard answer like the Qianlong Emperor. Does a novice who doesn't know of Chinese Muslims as a distinct group really have a chance at the more difficult topics we consider "standard" answers because we've heard them a lot? Now, although I don't think "Muslims" is an especially hard answer to name, it's possible that some new players will recognize clues and not figure out what answer they should give. I think that's unfortunate, but I don't think that outweighs the clear benefits I mentioned previously. We've all been new players once; and at the beginning, we all had to neg and miss out on a lot of questions to figure out how to play the game right. I had to learn that, hey, maybe saying "The Bells" when the question has specified "This author" 7 times isn't OK! New players will sometimes miss those questions, they'll learn that "Muslims" is an appropriate topic for a question, and they'll adjust.
Matt Bollinger
UVA '14, UVA '15
User avatar
The King's Flight to the Scots
Auron
 
Posts: 1380
Joined: Mon Jan 26, 2009 11:11 pm

Re: Writing Good History Questions

Postby vinteuil » Tue Jul 19, 2016 12:47 pm

John, you're absolutely right that I shouldn't have been quite so categorical, and your Mozart example is pretty convincing. (Although, "an early E-flat-major concerto by this composer" would do a decent job of replacing the "Number 9" information.)

But I'd still contend that this is actually an extremely rare case. You've picked a set of works that are usually identified by a generally-agreed upon numbering system. That criterion fails for your Liszt and Chopin étude examples (not to mention Haydn string quartets!), since the vast majority of pianists and listeners don't think of them by their "number." The most you can gain by writing a question on "Liszt Études" is knowing that all the works clued are in the same genre, which (at least to me) isn't extremely more helpful than knowing that they're by the same composer. You could mitigate that problem by saying "a piano work by this composer" or similar; or you could write the question on "Études," minimizing of transparency by not dropping "Liszt" or "Chopin" every sentence (see, among genres you've cited, my "Polonaises" tossup from STIMPY that was entirely Chopin).

Moreover, you've picked by far the most well-known Mozart piano concerto with a number low enough not to start to be a transparency issue by itself ("the seventeenth of these works" narrows it down to, like, four sets of pieces). I just don't see that many examples of sets of works that are both in "identifying genres" ("madrigals->Monteverdi!") and have additional, well-known, generic identifying information available, so that you'd really have that many more resources available when cluing.

That's the point I was trying to get at with the Ives example. If you read my final sentence again, the point wasn't "Ives Symphonies is bad because I only know Ives," but rather "Symphonies (with no Ives in the answerline) would have done just as good a job of stopping me from jumping in on clues I couldn't place." To go with your analogy: tossup on Sense and Sensibility would do just as good a job at preventing confused Jane Austen players from buzzing as would a tossup on Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen.

Again, I shouldn't have been so categorical in my language, but I'm still not convinced that there are many cases where "Xs by Y" is a better choice than "X" or "Y".
Jacob Reed
Yale '17, '19
East Chapel Hill '13
"...distant bayings from the musicological mafia"―Denis Stevens
User avatar
vinteuil
Auron
 
Posts: 1062
Joined: Sun Oct 23, 2011 12:31 pm

Re: Writing Good History Questions

Postby 1.82 » Tue Jul 19, 2016 1:44 pm

Ike wrote:
Auks Ran Ova wrote:I think it's a little silly to accuse Naveed of being somehow "disingenuous", but it is worth noting that sometimes bad and/or new teams are confused by multi-part answerlines, or answerlines more complicated than a single noun...


I certainly don't think it's silly -- Naveed maintains that:

The only people whom I can imagine having difficulty with this are people whose knowledge of history is based entirely off reading old packets, such that their only knowledge that something exists would be its having been mentioned in a question at 2008 ACF Nationals.

This problem, as with many problems that people have with history questions, can be solved by reading a book.


Even you, Rob, maintain that new teams or teams unfamiliar with mechanics to quizbowl might get confused by what's going on here. Corry Wang, a really good writer of history and presumably a good / great history player often times gets confused as well with this type of question. But to say that "this problem ... can be solved by reading a book" and it's only a problem if your knowledge "is based entirely off reading old packets" despite the fact that the post right above Naveed's post provides a credible account otherwise, is in my opinion very disingenuous! More importantly, every writer should be writing questions to reduce what Corry calls "meta-" knowledge of how quizbowl works, and I hate it when our responses to new teams is essentially a form of "you're not smart enough, go read a book" when they are just really confused!


This is begging the question. Who exactly are these hypothetical "new teams" who are "really confused" by a tossup on Muslims? The only person who has declared their confusion is Corry Wang, who was by no means a new player when he played MYSTERIUM and who has since acknowledged that he was unaware of what the actual answerline was. If you're a new player who knows something about China and knows that China has Muslims because you have read a book, you will get this tossup. If you're a new player who does not know that China has Muslims, then you will not get this tossup. It's very straightforward.

I know this because I was very new to quizbowl very recently. Tossups like this are the most accessible for new players. Tossups that are bad for new players are tossups on obscure named things that come up a lot in quizbowl but are never actually referred to by name in real books; on severak occasions at practice, I've seen a tossup on an area of history that I know things about end with an answerline that was meaningless to me, leading to Jordan telling me "yeah, that has a name in quizbowl." Those are the sorts of questions that make people "really confused."
Naveed Chowdhury
Maryland '16
Georgia Tech '17
User avatar
1.82
Wakka
 
Posts: 232
Joined: Thu Feb 05, 2015 9:35 pm

Re: Writing Good History Questions

Postby Auroni » Tue Jul 19, 2016 1:51 pm

Our Lady Peace wrote:Who exactly are these hypothetical "new teams" who are "really confused" by a tossup on Muslims?


Without wading into this morass, I can confidently say that across my time spent reading for lots of new players at tournaments and at practices, there is definitely a component of "oh, that's all they wanted?" for answers such as these. Of course, this observation aren't meant to be prescriptive; we can and should continue to write more on answers such as "Chinese Muslims" to the exclusion of answers such as the "Dungan Revolt." But it's worth observing how people actually receive these questions (which, as Matt suggested, I do not believe to be a set-in-stone response), instead of getting totally lost in theory.
Auroni Gupta
Michigan '17
"I love Milf Money" - Will Nediger
User avatar
Auroni
Auron
 
Posts: 2905
Joined: Thu Nov 15, 2007 6:23 pm
Location: ann arbor

Re: Writing Good History Questions

Postby ThisIsMyUsername » Tue Jul 19, 2016 2:45 pm

Jacob, I don't understand where you and I are diverging, and why.

Your analogy of "Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility" vs. "Sense and Sensibility" is a complete red herring to me. Obviously, "Sense and Sensibility" is all you need! Requiring Austen is just over-underlining. It doesn't affect the clue selection or how the clues are written. And so I don't see its relevance to anything we're discussing.

Let me try to find the source of our differences. I assume that you assent to the following three propositions:

(1) It is generally acceptable (and preferable in some circumstances) to toss up a work rather than its author. You seem to assent to this by saying it's fine to toss up Sense and Sensibility. I assume you agree that while it's fine to write a tossup only on Sense and Sensibility whose answer is Jane Austen, you wouldn't say that that is the default option. You would hopefully admit that making the single work the answer grants a unified through-line that makes the tossup easier to navigate.

(2) One-component answers on specific groups of works are fine. You would presumably be fine with tossing up the Duino Elegies, Brandenburg Concertos, etc.

(3) Many individual works of music are effectively two-component answers (you have to state composer and genre), because their "title" is just a genre label. These are fine to toss up. As you well know, for an individual piece, I can't just say "Symphony No. 5." (Again, this is why your Austen's Sense and Sensibility example is non-sensical to me.) I assume that you have no problem with the answer Beethoven's Symphony No. 9, Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1, etc. You wouldn't require that these just be on Beethoven or symphony, Tchaikovsky or piano concerto.

So, why do you come to the conclusion (I'm summarizing you here, but accurately, I hope): "one should rarely write two-component answers on specific groups of works; instead, one should make the answer one of the components"? This is a radical departure from any of the previous three statements.

I agree that when we ask for group of works + composer (Beethoven's symphonies), the cognitive demand can be a little bit higher than for a two-component one-work answer (Beethoven's Symphony No. 9). Not much, if the group is well reified (is "organic" rather than "artificial", to use Andrew Hart's terminology), but a little. I see no evidence (nor arguments in this thread) that this cognitive demand is higher than that of a one-component common-link that jumps around among composers (e.g. a tossup on "masses" that jumps between masses by various composers). (To Auroni's point, I've seen just as many incredulous "That's all they wanted?!" from new players on those questions too.) These are completely normative at this point. So, I simply don't understand the need for special pleading here. The reasons that it is fine (and normative) to require both "Beethoven" and "symphonies" are usually the exact same reasons why every tossup on Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 isn't just on "Beethoven," "symphony," or "9"!

Your argument seems to rest on the opposite premise: that there are frequently clues that work better for a tossup on Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 than for a tossup on Beethoven or symphonies, but there aren't frequently clues that might work better for a tossup on Ives' symphonies than in a tossup on Ives or symphonies. I still have no idea why you would think this.
John Lawrence
Yale University '12
King's College London '13
University of Chicago '19

“I am not absentminded. It is the presence of mind that makes me unaware of everything else.” - G.K. Chesterton
User avatar
ThisIsMyUsername
Tidus
 
Posts: 736
Joined: Wed Jul 15, 2009 11:36 am
Location: New York, NY

Re: Writing Good History Questions

Postby Cody » Tue Jul 19, 2016 3:11 pm

I agree with John fully on this, and am baffled by the idea that a tossup on "Mozart's piano concertos" would in any way be non-standard outside of quizbowl. Such constructions are completely standard in classical music for the reasons John has enumerated (and are certainly standard in quizbowl). Visit any classical discussion forum or any classical record label website and you will find scores and scores of examples! "x pieces by z composer" is a perfect example of a question that is easy to answer if you know any classical music because of its widespread use in actual classical music.

I also think the point about pronouns is being too easily ignored -- in general, the way you construct your answerline can make the pronouns flow easily or it can make them complicated. I'm of the opinion that "x pieces by z composer" is a great way to simplify your pronoun usage while giving more contextual information (a la the "ninth of these works" example).
Cody Voight – CBGS ‘09, VCU ‘14. I write lots of science and am an electrical engineer.
VCU Tournament Director ‘13-‘17. HSAPQ President ‘15-16.
Hero of Socialist Quizbowl Labor (NSC ‘14). “esteemed colleague” of Snap Wexley, ca. 2016. Stats Hero (Nats ‘16).
Quizbowl at VCU
User avatar
Cody
2008-09 Male Athlete of the Year
 
Posts: 2020
Joined: Sun Nov 15, 2009 12:57 am
Location: Richmond

Re: Writing Good History Questions

Postby Ike » Tue Jul 19, 2016 9:45 pm

it is fine to toss up these things (because they are obviously things worth knowing in this form), you just should add "Composer and genre required" tags, be generally mindful of the fact that these questions are harder to follow, and tailor your clues accordingly, rather than just going "These are real. Learn about reality." But I hope that he is, and that is my position too.


This is in fact a good summary of my position.

There are plenty of reasons that you want might want to write on two part answers, John articulates some of them well. My entire point is you should only do so if you have a good reason to not write a one part answer, you know what you're doing, and you give ample warning to players if need be. Often times I feel that writers will often produce a poor question, and instead of investigating what went wrong, they'll give a seemingly-flippant and honestly, just arrogant, defense of their question.

Here's an example of what I think is an appropriate response: I wrote a tossup on _Cezanne's still lifes_ that did not give this warning for this year's Nationals. I didn't think anybody could possible be confused since I considered them to be a reified thing, but on tape you can see Stephen Liu being a bit baffled as he plays it. I actually felt bad for writing what I thought was a clear question, that turned out to be a bit murky, and the next time I write a tossup on something similar, I'll try to avoid this issue. My response won't certainly be "Lol, dumb Stephen Liu, go take a class where you will learn about Cezanne's still lifes!"
Ike
UIUC 13
User avatar
Ike
Yuna
 
Posts: 839
Joined: Sat Jul 26, 2008 5:01 pm

Re: Writing Good History Questions

Postby vinteuil » Mon Jul 25, 2016 2:55 pm

John and I talked about this a bit before CO, and I think we're more or less on the same page at this point. (Sorry if I'm misrepresenting you, John!)

Let me try to summarize. As John acknowledges:

ThisIsMyUsername wrote:I agree that when we ask for group of works + composer (Beethoven's symphonies), the cognitive demand can be a little bit higher than for a two-component one-work answer (Beethoven's Symphony No. 9). Not much, if the group is well reified (is "organic" rather than "artificial", to use Andrew Hart's terminology), but a little


My assertion was that this increased cognitive demand is actually significant, and therefore one should avoid this answerline format as much as possible. (Ike's anecdote provides a reasonably good example, although, as he says, extra warnings and phrasing modifications might have made that question play differently.)

In advocating for a drastic reduction in these kind of answerlines, I went over the top by saying that it is almost always possible to avoid this answerline format. This sparked John's (absolutely valid) counterclaim that eliminating this answerline format would make it impossible to use certain clues. Basically: I claim that John is underestimating the cognitive demand of this kind of answerline, and John claims that I'm underestimating the restrictions that getting rid of it would have on writers. At this point, I think it's clear that both claims are, to some degree, right.

Keeping John's argument in mind, I'll continue to advocate for the elimination of "Xs by Y"—but only whenever changing that answerline would not negatively effect the choice and phrasing of the clues. I still think that this is the situation with the vast majority of "Xs by Y," especially sets like Haydn string quartets and Beethoven piano sonatas that have now become standard quizbowl answerlines. (Cody is of course right that people in the real world talk about those works as a group, but that's not really the issue at hand.)

And this brings me all the way back to the original point that I was piggybacking on. You rarely need to write about "the Nazi occupation of Norway"; you can usually just write about Norway. I understand that an answerline like "Milton's sonnets" is probably less difficult to figure out (especially with a detailed warning), but I maintain that one should choose the absolutely easiest-to-process answerline for the clues whenever it is reasonably easy to do so.

P.S. Sorry for hijacking your thread, Will!
Jacob Reed
Yale '17, '19
East Chapel Hill '13
"...distant bayings from the musicological mafia"―Denis Stevens
User avatar
vinteuil
Auron
 
Posts: 1062
Joined: Sun Oct 23, 2011 12:31 pm


Return to Best of the Best

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 1 guest