Posting Effectively in Tournament Discussions

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Cheynem
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Posting Effectively in Tournament Discussions

Post by Cheynem » Mon Nov 18, 2013 1:58 am

I would like to offer some commentary about effective styles of posting in tournament discussions. I say this as a writer/editor who likes to receive feedback and as a player of tournaments who likes reading tournament threads. This should not necessarily be considered an attack on any individual posts, as I hope my first point makes clear.

FIRST: I get it. It's extremely, EXTREMELY tempting after a tournament is over to just rush to the Internet forum and relay a bunch of observations and thoughts on specific questions. When I was first starting out, I would do this all the time. This is natural. However, my advice to you is to have patience and take some time to organize your thoughts. Think about when you read a movie review--the reviewer doesn't just randomly list scenes or quotes he likes, he lays out an overall impression of the movie's strengths and weaknesses (so theoretically if the director of the movie read the review, he or she would know what did or didn't work). In short, in posting this, I don't want to be like "I post way better than you."

Foundations: Major Impressions

The movie Finding Forrester has an entertaining scene where Forrester talks about "soup questions." A soup question is a question with a definable point of learning knowledge. I would suggest when you make a tournament discussion post to make it a "soup post"--that is, try to provide the reader (tournament editor/writer), with some identifiable knowledge.

For starters, try and identify what your major impressions of the tournament are. Were they good? Bad? Building off of that, think about what made it good or bad. What were the lasting impressions that you had beyond individual questions? Was it too hard? Too inconsistent on bonuses? Too inconsistent within categories? Too rife with grammatical errors or "quizbowlese"? Multiple categories in this vein? These are all things that are important for editors, writers, and people reading the thread to know. You should always proceed from this, especially in the general discussion threads.

Checking Your Impressions

When I was young (2009), I thought Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes was the same thing as A Thousand Cranes. When I heard a tossup on A Thousand Cranes, I thought it seemed odd that it didn't mention paper objects or Hiroshima. If I was an impetuous fellow, I would have dashed off to the Internet and criticized that tossup. This is an extreme example, but it illustrates that sometimes your perception of difficulty or clues is colored by your own experiences. Thus, before you proclaim a tossup to be "too easy" or "impossible" or a bonus "a gimme," check around with other teams or other people. If it seemed like multiple people at your site agreed with you, you may have a point.

Explain Yourself

Remember that the person reading your post doesn't really know where you're coming from. So if you run in and say "I really liked the tossup on Mr. Popper's Penguins because I just saw that movie," it's not particularly insightful. That's probably better than "I really hated the tossup on Mr. Popper's Penguins," though, because in that case you're suggesting it's a problem without explaining yourself. Just saying "this is was bad" or "this was hard," really isn't enough. This is where thinking in terms of the "big picture" is helpful. Rather than thinking about a specific question in a void, think about how they exemplify trends. Saying "I did not like the tossup on Mr. Popper's Penguins because it reflected this tournament's preponderance of Jim Carrey movie questions" is better. Or "I did not like the tossup on the supporting character from Mr. Popper's Penguins because it showed how this tournament tended to toss up harder answerlines." Think globally here.

Question-Specific Discussion: Pitfalls to Avoid

The question-specific threads usually produce the biggest pitfalls in posting because it seems like carte blanche to just post anything in this vein to your heart's content. But at a buffet, it says "all you can eat," but you shouldn't really do that because you will get sick and fat. So here are some good rules of thumb for the question-specific threads:

1. Again, use the question-specific threads as a way to highlight overall trends like I discussed above. It might be useful when doing this to group your questions by category rather than by packet--that way, you can say stuff like "the lit really skewed hard, look at these answerlines..."

2. It is okay to highlight very poor or very good tossups if you explain why. Like if there was an obviously awful answerline that was too hard or too stupid, mention it, but give a brief explanation. Saying, for example, "Tossing up The Damned by Visconti was just way too hard in difficulty for ACF Regionals" is a perfectly fine statement.

3. Remember that nobody is interested in a narrative of your tournament experience. Try and keep your thoughts in connection with the question set.

4. It's always okay to point out errors that need to be corrected. Remember that errors are different than "this was too easy/too hard."

Being an Informed, Respectful Poster

Finally, I'll close with this. I think a poster should make some effort to be informed and respectful about the set they are discussing. By "respectful," I do not mean, "never criticize." I just mean that the discussion should probably avoid trying to say things like "Yeah, I know Mike Cheyne hates ancient history, so I assume that's why the set's ancient history questions sucked..." You're just not going to get anywhere with posts like that. If the editor or question writer makes statements to this vein, you can build off of them but don't start out that way.

I would also suggest being informed about the questions you're discussing is a good strategy. This is why it might be good to take notes or (even better) look at the packets afterwards before posting. This isn't always possible, so asking for a question to be posted is also acceptable. This is important because you avoid posts like "The question on [not what the question was on] was bad!" or "Your question on Richard II said he was of the House of Windsor!" when you just misheard what was going on. If you're not sure what the question said, I would check it yourself or request that it be posted before you make a sweeping statement.

I hope these suggestions help. Tournament discussion ideally is a very entertaining and helpful response to tournaments. By keeping these guidelines in mind (and I don't want to suggest these are the only such guidelines to follow), I think such discussions can be of maximum utility for everyone involved.
Mike Cheyne
Formerly U of Minnesota

"You killed HSAPQ"--Matt Bollinger

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Cheynem
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Re: Posting Effectively in Tournament Discussions

Post by Cheynem » Mon Nov 18, 2013 2:10 am

The last thing I would say is that:

Remember that the tournament is written. The fact that Clue Q was slightly before Clue X in a tossup on Whatever isn't really that compelling for editors or writers (unless you're making an overall argument that it's a clue that will generate lots of buzzer races or that it reflects a greater trend). EVERY tournament will have tossups with imperfect clue ordering, inconsistent bonuses, etc. Pointing out every instance of them in your opinion is sort of fruitless. Again, feel free to point out specific factual errors, sure, but keep in mind that the editor isn't going to write another tossup on The True Story of Ah Q any time soon (presumably). It's more important to think of global trends and issues.
Mike Cheyne
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Re: Posting Effectively in Tournament Discussions

Post by jonpin » Mon Nov 18, 2013 9:09 am

One corollary on that last point is that, when public discussion is not yet permitted because there are mirrors still to run, if you believe there was a glaring factual error, email the people running the tournament (or writing the set) so that they can fix it for later mirrors. This is especially helpful at the high school level for NAQT and HSAPQ because their sets are used over the course of several months, so if you are an early tournament and catch errors (or incomprehensible grammar or missing alternate answers, etc.), and you alert the people who write the tournament, you can save the other tournaments some hassle.
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Re: Posting Effectively in Tournament Discussions

Post by theMoMA » Mon Nov 18, 2013 3:28 pm

This is a great post, and I endorse everything Mike has said. I'll add that I think tournament discussion should always begin from the premise that writing tournaments is hard work, the people who write them are sacrificing their time and energy, and quizbowl wouldn't exist without their efforts. This doesn't preclude criticism by any means, but I think people should be more thankful and charitable than they are most of the time.

One small act of kindness might be to contact the editors privately with your concerns about individual questions, especially in light of what Mike said above. If you think a clue was misplaced or phrased misleadingly, and you worry that your criticism is of limited value to others, there's nothing stopping you from sending one of the editors an email even if a forum post on the subject might be unhelpful or even unwarranted. I find that this is also a good way to alert editors about potential minor corrections for future mirrors. That way, you can have a conversation about minor problems with individual questions in a way that doesn't detract from the helpful public criticism of the set.
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Re: Posting Effectively in Tournament Discussions

Post by Skepticism and Animal Feed » Tue Nov 19, 2013 11:04 pm

I'll add that as a writer, I often interpreted discussion threads full of clue nitpicking (i.e. "I think that clue x is more famous than clue y, but clue x was first") to suggest that the tournament was relatively free of high-level, systematic errors, because surely if the latter existed people would talk about those instead. So it's possible that I escaped criticism that I deserved and that could have made me better, if people had focused on those high-level issues instead of talking about one line of one tossup.
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Re: Posting Effectively in Tournament Discussions

Post by Lagotto Romagnolo » Fri Feb 07, 2014 1:14 am

In light of recent events, I would like to request that this thread be moved to or copied to the 'Best of the Best' subforum. I will go out on a limb and assume that many others on the forum feel the same.
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