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Five Steps to Writing Great Quizzes
by Kelly James-Enger

Return to Targeting Topical Markets · Print/Mobile-Friendly Version

What's the best way to sell an editor on your latest article idea?
  1. Spend three pages setting out every facet your story will cover in meticulous detail.

  2. Brag about your third-grade award for penmanship.

  3. Mention that you've never sold anything yet, but that you're certain this story is perfect for his/her magazine.

  4. Suggest a quiz to complement the feature story.

I hope you answered "D." While it's always smart to suggest possible sidebars, resource boxes and other short pieces to accompany a feature story, quizzes immediately capture the attention of readers and offer an interactive element as well.

Do you have a story idea that would be perfect for a quiz -- but aren't sure how to pull it together? Read on for the "Q and A" on writing quizzes -- and a five-step process to make it easier.

Step 1: Clarify your Goal

Most quizzes fall into two basic categories -- they either test readers' knowledge or act as self-assessment tools. You should have some idea of what you'll accomplish with the quiz before you write it.

"Decide what point you want to make," says Boston freelancer Lain Ehmann, who has written quizzes for a website. "Is this just entertainment or are you trying to convey information?"

Step 2: Decide on Format

You want your quiz to be lengthy enough to meet your goal, but not so long that readers lose interest. Depending on the topic and the length of the main story, a 5- or 10-question quiz is often appropriate. Then determine the format of the questions themselves -- will they be true/false, multiple choice, fill-in-the-blank, or a combination?

You must also decide whether the quiz will be a separate, shorter sidebar to accompany the main article or if it will be part of the feature itself. For example, "What's Your Eating Personality?" which was published in Fit, consisted of a brief intro, a 10-question multiple choice test, and a key describing the characteristics of the four different eating "types."For another story, "Your Money Style: What it Means to You and Your Checkbook," published in Correspondent, the 10-question quiz accompanied the feature story as a sidebar.

Step 3: Research your Subject

You may have to do some legwork on the subject at hand before creating the quiz. This may mean interviewing experts and performing research or you may be able to rely on your own experience the way freelancer Kelly Caldwell of Naperville, Illinois does. She uses her recruiting and human resource background to write quizzes on employment-related topics for monster.com.

In general, the more information you know about your subject, the better. For example, when I wrote "Your Money Style," I interviewed psychologist Linda Barbanel, author of Sex, Money &Power, about the four basic money "types" she describes -- Love Buyer, Freedom Searcher, Keeper, and Power Seeker. I asked her about the characteristics of each type and made sure I thoroughly understood the differences between them before taking the next step.

Step 4: Formulate the Quiz Questions (and Answers!)

Now for the fun part -- actually writing the quiz! Make sure your questions are clear, relevant, and easy to understand. "I think of how I would write about the topic as an article and come up with 10 points I'd make," says Caldwell. "Then I turn those points into questions. For example, if I wrote about interviewing techniques for managers, I'd suggest asking open-ended questions of the job applicant. So the quiz question becomes 'Do you ask open-ended questions?'"

Do your best to make your questions entertaining, says Ehmann. "Even when it's a serious topic, I make the questions and answers somewhat tongue-in-cheek," she says. "I think it draws readers in more, helps them let down their guard and, I hope, give more honest answers."

A helpful tip: if the quiz is of a self-assessment nature (e.g., "test your love quotient"), the easiest way to write the answers is so that all "A" answers correspond to one category, all "B" answers correspond to another category, and so on. Or you can assign points to answers (1 point for every A, 2 points for every B, etc.) and have readers tally their scores after taking the quiz.

Step 5: Write the Key or Explanation

The key is the most important part because this is where you actually convey information. If the quiz is designed to educate readers about a particular topic (such as tax breaks for families), your key should give not only the right answer but explain why it's correct. If it's a self-assessment test like "What's your Eating Personality?" you'll want to include specific advice and tips geared to each type.

To test your quiz before turning it in, ask a friend or family member to give it a test run. Is it fun to take? Do the questions make sense? Is it challenging but not overly difficult? Did he or she learn something by taking it? If the answer to these questions is yes, you're ready to submit your quiz -- and get to work on your next quiz-worthy topic.

Find Out More...

As Easy As ABC: Writing List Articles, by Theresa O'Shea

Filling in on Fillers, by Moira Allen

Six Tips on Writing and Selling List Articles, by Kathryn Lay

What's Your Writing IQ? Writing Fillers and Quizzes, by Marie E. Cecchini

Copyright © 2001 Kelly James-Enger
This article first appeared in Writer On Line.

This article may not be reprinted without the author's written permission.

Kelly James-Enger escaped from the law in 1997. Since then, the former attorney's work has appeared in more than 40 national magazines including Redbook, Woman's Day, Family Circle, and Self. Kelly specializes in health, fitness, nutrition, relationship, and writing-related topics and is currently a contributing editor for Oxygen, Energy for Women, Complete Woman, For the Bride, and The Writer. She is the author of Six-Figure Freelancing and Ready, Aim, Specialize! Create Your own Writing Specialty and Make More Money. She speaks frequently at writer's conferences throughout the country and can be reached through her website at http://www.becomebodywise.com/.


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