Advice for Prospective Writers
The following are some suggestions put together by the committee that evaluates writer applications; they are not formally part of the official requirements for applying, merely suggestions on how to write the best application possible.
Make sure you are familiar with the style of questions that NAQT produces. You may wish to look at our sample packets.
NAQT limits its tossups to 291 characters for middle school and high school novice levels, 425 characters for high school and Division II college, and 500 characters for Division I college. Tossups that are well over 500 characters will be sent back for revision before sample evaluation resumes. Aside from that, it can be helpful to get tossups close to corresponding length limits to signal the intended difficulty level of a tossup, but this is not a strict requirement.
Write interesting, engaging questions. NAQT produces about 20,000 questions per year, and we’ve seen plenty of nearly identical tossups on (say) Jane Eyre. That doesn’t mean you can’t write on very canonical topics, but try to find interesting, memorable clues that haven’t come up before — but would still be known to good players — for the first half or so of a tossup, or for at least one part of a bonus. Or try to include a particularly clear description of a complex concept, or otherwise write a question that will work well for quiz bowl play while also inspiring players who hear it to go learn about the question topic on their own.
It is also impressive if some of your questions are on new (but accessible) answers, which generally means finding creative ways to ask about new answers that draw on clues used in questions on more well-worn answers; for instance, we probably won’t get excited about the thousandth tossup whose answer is an Eastern religion, but a tossup on cutting hair that draws clues from several religions could show more creativity. Note that these questions are often especially hard to write well, so we don’t recommend trying to get creative unless you’re pretty comfortable with the relevant topic.
Write what you know well. If and when you are hired, you’ll be able to write in any category and at any difficulty level you want, but in the interest of showing us your best work for the purpose of applying, it’s probably optimal to write in the areas with which you’re most comfortable.
Think about the principles of good quiz bowl writing. These include, but are not limited to, the following: in tossups, clues should be pyramidally arranged, uniquely identifying (occasional exceptions are fine to provide context, etc., but certainly the first clue and the bulk of the other clues must be unique), comprehensible when being read orally and processed aurally, and about important aspects of the answer that are likely to be known by people of varying degrees of expertise; each bonus should have an easy, a medium, and a hard part (relative to the intended audience, of course), and bonus parts should relate to each other and/or to a theme in a reasonable, usually obvious way.
Think about the principles of good English writing. We prefer tossups that are more than simple sentences next to each other; clues should explain their relationship to each other, and tossups should not sound choppy when read aloud. Style and euphony are more important in NAQT questions than you may be used to from other quiz bowl experiences.
Think about the intended difficulty. The evaluation committee is not particularly impressed by difficult questions; we prefer to see novel, interesting questions about accessible answers than novel, interesting questions that we worry are likely to go unanswered. No one likes dead questions; we hope that about 85% of the times an NAQT tossup is read, it will be answered correctly (and with a good number of early buzzes and even more buzzes in the middle, not a sudden spike of buzzes near the end), and that our bonuses are converted at about 90% for the easy part, 50% for the middle part, and 15% for the hard part.
Proofread and fact-check carefully. We receive frustratingly many applications with typos, grammatical or punctuation errors, and even factual mistakes. This is a job application, so treat it professionally.
Don’t worry much about formatting mechanics (how bonus parts are laid out, whether to power-mark tossups, etc.). Send us a plain text file or a Word document formatted in some reasonable way; you can learn the details of the NAQT style guide if/when you are hired. The only thing we really prefer is that you underline (or enclose in underscores) the required portion(s) on answer lines, because we like to see if you have a good sense for what should be required.
Don’t take it too hard if we don’t accept you immediately. The most common response to an application is that we request revisions (with some specific guidance and a request that you try to generalize our feedback to make additional improvements) before making a final decision. We want to help you (and help you help us).
Thanks in advance for applying! We need writers to create our product, and we’re always grateful for people who are interested in becoming part of our corps.
If you have any questions about becoming an NAQT writer, feel free to contact NAQT at firstname.lastname@example.org.