It surprises many people to find out that you can write a question with an answer in mind. Likewise, you can find your answer along the way if you start with a good question. There are different ways of writing trivia questions, and there is a lot more that goes into it than just finding an excellent piece of trivia, or trying your hardest to “stump” trivia players with tough questions. More often than not, it’s about the question, not the answer.
From the very beginning, you can go in several different directions. Walk around your neighborhood and write random questions as they come to you, or sit down and brainstorm a specific topic. Of all the ways to write a great trivia question, you will learn 10 today. Maybe you’ve never written trivia before, or you already have a good question that just needs a bit of work to become great. Either way, bring your ideas and apply the following tips to them! And once you’ve mastered the art of writing trivia questions, don’t forget to check out everything else you need to know to plan for, how to kick your trivia night up a notch, and ultimately run an excellent trivia night.
1. Determine the Type of Question You’re Writing
Bet you didn’t think it was possible, but there are many different types of questions. How is your question going to be received? Will you read it out loud or will the players read it off their computer screens? Is it perhaps a multimedia question, with a picture, video, or audio segment? Start by asking yourself what the purpose of your question is. Are you going to post it on your blog, sell it to a trivia night organizer, or use it in your own live trivia game?
2. Think of a Theme or Category
Trying to come up with a question can be hard. When you’re given the freedom to think of anything, you start to stutter. There are so many themes and categories; which one do you settle on? It’s almost always easier to work with a pair of horse blinders on to keep you on track. If that’s the case, settle on a category first.
A themed trivia night needs questions that match the theme. That also helps you narrow your focus down to one category. If you need inspiration, have a look at these categories. There are many to choose from. Choosing one or two to focus on will point your mind in the right direction. Working with a theme is easier because you know where to look and what to focus on. Rather than thinking of all the possibilities, you can think of one specific niche and push your mind in that direction.
3. Determine Your Audience
Who is going to be answering your questions? This is an important tip for trivia nights, where you’ll have to cater to a certain crowd. Given you have an idea of your target audience, you should work on writing questions for that audience specifically. Naturally, if your audience consists of middle-aged men, don’t write questions for teenage girls.
4. Do Your Research
Unless you already have pretty good background knowledge of the topic, you can’t jump straight into writing. Chances are, you know little about the topic, or you don’t know enough to call yourself an expert on it. Start by doing some research first. General research will give you enough information about the topic to brainstorm the questions. Background information will give you the right tools to ensure your questions and answers are accurate and engaging.
5. Write Unambiguous Questions That Can’t Be Disputed
As a rule of thumb, every question should have one answer. If it has two answers, that should either be specified in the question itself, or you should think of ways to make the question more specific and unambiguous. The answer should be indisputable. Just imagine how embarrassing it would be to have to change everyone’s scores because of one silly mistake!
It might be your first instinct to try to confuse your players. That makes the question more difficult, right? A difficult question is not necessarily a good one though. What’s better than a difficult question is a simple question that makes sense and has a clear answer. Don’t try to confuse the players with your clever wordplay. Make sure everyone can understand the question and has a fair shot at providing the right answer. There are other ways to make the question difficult!
Avoid using adjectives and superlatives like “biggest.” The word can mean longest, largest in volume, largest in surface area, or tallest depending on the context. This will make the question confusing and the answer disputable. When you ask “What is the biggest country in the world?”, define if it’s by population, surface area, or any other metric. It’s best to avoid these questions altogether.
6. Make Your Question Better
If you’ve got a question brewing that you think is interesting but is not quite there yet, you can make it better by changing it slightly. Make it work by adding pieces of trivia to the question itself. For instance, instead of asking “Whose #1 hit on the US Billboard chart was “Heartbreak Hotel”?”, you can say “Elvis’s first #1 hit on the US Billboard pop chart also earned him his first gold record. What was the song?” Not only did you change the question, you also changed the answer.
The original question wasn’t necessarily bad, it was just a bit boring. Add some spice to your questions with the help of additional information. You can give the trivia pros a chance to answer before you’re done reading the question. Offer hints along the way to let real trivia lovers show themselves. Make sure your hints go from hardest to easiest.
7. Use Humor
A really great question is kind of funny too. People of all ages respond well to humor. It’s entertaining, and what is trivia for if not entertainment? In other words, if you want to keep your audience coming back, make your questions funny. They don’t have to be laugh-out-loud funny; you can be sarcastic or witty, or use puns.
The point of trivia is entertainment. People don’t come to a pub quiz to be humiliated in front of everybody. It’s not a high school biology quiz. Even if your questions pertain to the subject, they should first be entertaining and then educational.
8. Think About Others
When we write questions, we tend to focus on ones that we find interesting, thus kind of neglecting the audience. We’ve talked about the importance of preparing questions for your audience already. Your audience should not only know the answers, but also enjoy the topics you’re presenting.
If you find the question amusing, that’s a good sign, but don’t stop there. Don’t rely solely on yourself to judge how good a question is. You might have some niche interests that other people don’t find as fascinating. Your questions shouldn’t be a manifestation of your interests only. Make sure everyone in the audience can have a laugh and answer the question, including you.
9. Avoid Answers in the Form of Numbers
This is not a math quiz; numbers are boring! Don’t beat yourself up if you’ve got some questions with numbers, that’s completely ok. However, don’t fall into that trap. It’s easy to come up with questions where the answer is a date, age, year, and so on. It’s not so easy to answer these questions though.
Right off the top of your head, you can probably think of some questions where the answer is in the form of a number. Don’t take the easy way out; your audience will be bored. If you insist on the topic of the question, you can rephrase it and put the number in the question. For example, instead of writing “When did the Second World War end?”, you can write “On September 2, 1945, U.S. General Douglas MacArthur accepted Japan’s formal surrender. That day signified the end of which global conflict?”
10. Make Sure the Answer Isn’t Too Easy or Hard
You already know that the question should have a clear answer, and there should only be one answer. If your question is impossible to answer, it’s not a very good question! A well-written easy question is better than a poorly written hard one. Your audience should be able to come up with the answer. Even if they don’t get it right, it shouldn’t be too far off.
Of course, make sure the answer is not too obvious either. If the answer is very simple, that’s no fun. Such questions are especially boring for seasoned trivia whizzes. In conclusion, the question should have an answer that your audience should know, but it shouldn’t be so obvious that it makes the game uninteresting.
How Can You Tell How Hard the Question Will Be?
“Hard” is a very vague term. What’s hard for some people is easy for others. However, sometimes you can tell if you know the answer early on in the question. If the question is well-written and long, it will give you hints along the way, from hardest to easiest. The point of a great trivia question is to give players the opportunity to answer before you’re done reading the question.
Those who are not familiar with the answer can at least learn some trivia along the way. You should be able to tell what the answer is from the very beginning if you’re that good at trivia. Still, that doesn’t make the question hard or easy. A great question is not always a difficult one!
What’s a Bad Trivia Question?
This question has a more specific answer. A bad trivia question is a question that makes you yawn. The purpose of the quiz is entertainment, so anything that’s not entertaining can go right in the trash. A bad question can be so because it asks you to present your answer in the form of a number; the year a device was invented, the date on which a celebrity died, the age a president was…
That goes hand in hand with the Guinness Book of World Records questions. If your question was inspired by the Guinness Book of World Records, it’s probably a boring random fact that very few people would care to remember. For example, “How much does the heaviest man in the world weigh?” First of all, the question doesn’t specify if you’re talking about the heaviest man to ever exist or the heaviest man alive right now. Second of all, nobody cares. It’s probably an absurd number, but it’s not that fun to think about.
Another one is “What’s the diameter of the largest pizza ever made?” This one is a bit more specific, so it gets props for that. However, it’s still too specific and boring. The number is probably crazy, but it means nothing to the players. Don’t dig yourself into a hole with these “fun facts” and stick to interesting questions. If you really care about the diameter of the largest pizza, work that number into the question instead of making it the answer.
A Great Question Isn’t Always Hard
Many people mistake great questions for hard ones. A great question won’t always be hard to answer. In fact, it will have a clear answer that people actually know. A question that’s impossible to answer is a failure. Questions are meant to be answered (at least in trivia), so keep that in mind.
Take these tips (along with the many others we provide!) seriously next time you’re working on a pub quiz or something of the sort. At the same time, have fun with it! As long as your questions can’t be misinterpreted, you’re all good. Easy questions can be great questions too, so don’t sweat it! For some great question inspiration, look here.