This post is a companion to viewtopic.php?f=6&t=6993. Most of what I would have written there has already been expressed better than I would have, but I'd like to use a well-known, well-written set of standards as a benchmark to address a particular set of premises:
1. Community standards for good quiz-bowl continue to evolve and improve
2. NAQT has (according to many posters here) willfully ignored those standards
3. NAQT has therefore (again according to many posters) willfully produced bad quiz-bowl questions
More specifically I will stand up for some "binary matching" bonuses (as opposed to long bonus parts) and NAQT tossup length. [NAQT topic distribution has already been covered extensively in this forum over the years. For example, nothing I wrote here could make Current Events questions "academic," nor take away the importance of understanding what's in the news.]
The first part is demonstrably true but I strenuously disagree with the second two. (Getting my background out of the way: I started playing quiz-bowl as a high school freshman in 1988, mostly on Chip's questions, and began writing practice questions soon after that, mainly to improve as a player. I became an NAQT member in 1999. My highest priority is a well-run tournament; my question output varies directly with the urgency of shipping deadlines. And I of course speak only for myself.)
One of the best sources of best question writing practices is http://www.acf-quizbowl.com/documents/packetsub.php (of course see also http://www.acf-quizbowl.com/documents/howtowrite.php, though I'd like to think that NAQT questions live up to the basic standards set forth there), starting at "Additional Packet Penalties." Most of that document is well-written, spot-on advice. However:
If I correctly understand the guidelines' Hemingway example then this hypothetical bonus (off the top of my head) would also be prohibited:If you write a "given the x, name the y" binary matching bonus with no prose clues at all, that's +$5 for each bonus of that kind
For 10 points each, who was president of the U.S. when...
A. Japanese planes bombed Pearl Harbor?
B. Commodore Matthew Perry led four ships into Tokyo Harbor?
C. Yoshinobu resigned, ending the Tokugawa Shogunate?
Now this specific example would be mediocre at best. (I surmise Jeff would return it if he found it in his NAQT history editing queue.) Part C in particular doesn't fit the theme set out by A and B. It might be in the bottom quartile of a good packet's question quality. Nonetheless I'd happen not to think twice about a packet with a handful of bonuses that read this way.
However, I'm not at all convinced that this bonus alone would be one-third as bad as "A large amount of minor formatting problems" combined, except perhaps by analogy to brown M&Ms (Van Halen used the brown M&Ms clause as a test to see whether concert promoters actually read the contract).
NAQT bonuses frequently use this structure, where each part completes the sentence that the lead-in began. Up to a point, this is a style I would vehemently defend:
1. It is relatively quick to write. An individual writer can then spend the "extra" time on quality control, on additional questions, or on anything else (life is short!).
2. It is relatively quick to read. If you're writing questions with a very large body of use, your target audience will include not only "the slow reader" (most untimed tournaments will have a room that consistently leaves the next round's teams waiting at least 5-10 minutes; at timed tournaments this would be the 16-18 tossup room) but also any audience members, who deserve at least a fighting chance to follow the question.
Of course there's a thin line between this and the patently unacceptable "for 10 points each, who wrote [...]." New writers should be actively discouraged from those, and maybe a blanket ban on "non-prose" bonus parts is what it takes to enforce the ban, but I'd rather see a packet where 10 bonuses resembled my hypothetical than a packet with even one factual error, misleading pronoun, or incomprehensible sentence.
From the Hemingway example:
A well-written prose bonus "teaches something" and is "interesting"; however, many attempts at interesting teaching are just a long-winded fail. Many times I suspect a writer throws a half-dozen unrelated things about the subject matter into a bonus part just to see what sticks. This gets very tedious, as very little of the prose actually makes a difference to whether the team with the bonus knows (or solves) the right answer.See how the second example teaches something and recaps interesting parts of the story so that even people who don't know the answers get something out of the question?
Before we get to topic distribution, quite a few Quotes For Truth from the ACF writing guide (it's not that I disagree with anything I haven't quoted, but that I especially like these):
Any clue with Wikipedia as its only source: +$25
(I was railing against these 10 years ago (likewise 30-20-10s), because the people who wrote/structured them weren't numerate enough to understand expected bonus conversion rates)5-10-15 bonus: +$5 each
Dead tossups are the enemy of having fun at quizbowl tournaments
omit useless nonclues
(Go to any packet archive that has questions from the mid-1990s or earlier and despair.)please do not tell us where or when someone was born, what their father's profession was, or where they went to college
The notes about answer lines are particularly good; my biased observation is that NAQT has tended to be slightly ahead of the curve there.
Moving on to tossup length, the ACF guidelines include:
Mind you, this is for the third sentence of a seven-sentence tossup. For a high school tournament (to say nothing of a tournament for novice players), if you assume that every clue of a tossup plays at least some role in distinguishing a good buzz from a not-as-good buzz then the difficulty ceiling on the first clue will be much lower.The question should then talk about some material likely to be encountered in an undergraduate course [...] but still lesser-known to the casual person:
Dispensing with some obvious points: Yes, I strongly agree with the pyramid model, along with unambiguous pronoun usage and similar standards. No, there is absolutely no reason to put an easy clue early on purpose. (When HSQB posters have complained about this, I suspect either that some writer or editor vastly misapprehended the clue in question, or that tossup actually went on to get progressively still easier, and was just not at the right difficulty level for the set.)
Anyway, despite the length of this post, I strongly support efficient wording, thick clues, and getting smoothly to the point. One particular issue I have with long tossups for newer writers is the kitchen sink implication that one should work in every single thing one knows about the subject. This approach often leads to questions with sentences that come off as non sequiturs, where one sentence doesn't quite acknowledge the existence of the ones immediately before and after it.
None of this is meant to attack longer college tossups, and certainly not ACF tossups. They've found the right length for their target audience, and I believe at the high school level NAQT has chosen the right lengths for our target audiences. (For what it's worth my typical Invitational Series tossup is six lines of Courier New with the right margin at 6.)
One last note that leads us to what I think particular NAQT editors prioritize and why:
Customer feedback suggests quite the opposite, in fact (to my great surprise). Consider, again, a fairly large high school invitational. A handful of readers are likely to be parental volunteers, perhaps some who've never read a quiz-bowl packet out loud before. To some extent their performance will be unavoidably brutal. The cadence of compound-complex sentences will lead to stumbles, as will words that the writer falsely assumed were universally known. (Yes, a good reader would know to give a good-faith phonetic pronunciation and just keep on reading, but not every moderator at a given tournament will have been trained appropriately.)Pronunciation guides are usually a waste of time, to be honest.
So for the sake of all readers, my own ideal is for NAQT questions to be clear and concise, without any 40-minute rounds (or 17-tossup rounds) and with relatively few post-tournament sore throats. An inscrutable typo is arguably worse than an out-of-order clue; in the original thread the accusation of badly written sentences was the most devastating critique I saw. (The alleged bias against Eastern Seaboard Jews would have been far worse, of course, were there any merit to the allegation.)
It goes without saying that commercially available questions (NAQT or anyone else) must be free of factual errors, protest bait, or neg bait. I expect NAQT to be held accountable for any of those. As a general rule every question should be rewarding to those who know the material and interesting (or at very worst, mercifully quick) to those who do not. Neither prose bonuses nor six-line (Times New Roman) tossups strike me as necessary to that goal, and both of those strike as very strange places for a line in the sand or a categorical label of "bad quiz-bowl."
I will shift my own bonus writing substantially away from the structure I cited (and probably more towards "Ten years after U.S. ships sailed into Tokyo harbor, a Shogunate ended. For 10 points each") but I'm not nearly prolific enough anymore for this to cause a discernible difference. As mentioned before my main personal motivation to write these days is to make sure we never, ever miss a shipment. As such I'd much rather spend 15 minutes on a solid question (that essentially faded into the background within that packet) than an hour on a masterpiece. Your mileage will obviously vary, though you can see why it initially baffled me that "let's make a group pledge never to write for NAQT" would be perceived as an effective question-improving tactic.