By Theresa O’Shea
Q. Which kind of easy-to-write, easy-to-sell article do writers frequently fail to include in their repertoire?
A. The seasonal or anniversary quiz
Most people enjoy doing quizzes in magazines, newspapers or on-line. They are usually light-hearted and related to readers’ interests, and editors will often find space for one – especially if it is linked to an anniversary or a festival.
The Christmas period, in particular, represents a bumper opportunity for the quiz compiler. While the general quiz on Christmas customs may be rather tired, the scope for more specific quizzes is huge. A gardening magazine may welcome a quiz on the symbolism and/or care of Christmas plants; a food publication, one on Christmas culinary customs around the world; a magazine aimed at the older generation, one on Christmas nostalgia or Christmas music.
Easter provides nearly as many opportunities, but so do minor festivals like Halloween, May Day, April Fools’ Day and Valentine’s Day. Quizzes don’t just have to be about folklore either. A Valentine’s quiz could focus on famous lovers in life and literature; one aimed to tie in with Halloween might test readers on gore, ghosts and monsters in the movies; and an April Fools’ quiz could look at some the most outrageous hoaxes played on that day over the years.
The good news is that once you’ve researched and written a quiz, it is often easy to re-write or re-vamp the material the following year for a different publication. My very first published piece of work was a Christmas quiz, which has served as a basic template for a number of subsequently published pieces. Conversely, the quiz format allows you to re-write and re-sell work published in “straight” article form.
The possibilities are endless – and they don’t stop at seasonal events. To coincide with the birthday of a famous actor or singer, try compiling a quiz as a thinly disguised biography. If it’s the anniversary of a certain space voyage, make up a general knowledge quiz on space travel. These type of quizzes may tie in with other features the editor has planned. You may even consider using a short quiz to tie in with your own full-length article, as an attention grabbing sidebar.
How many questions will depend both on the publication and the topic – although any fewer than fifteen and the quiz will look rather thin. When submitting your query, suggest a number to the editor and if the quiz is to be more than around twenty questions, suggest headings to break it up into more digestible sections.
How hard should the questions be? The balance has to be just right – if the quiz is too difficult readers will feel ignorant, too easy and they won’t bother doing it. Even though the editor will often change the order in which you submit the questions, make the first few relatively easy to give the reader confidence, and then start introducing trickier ones. It is also a good idea to provide a few extra questions so the editor can pick and choose.
And don’t stick to the same format. There are many ways to formulate questions: multiple choice, true/false, matching (dates with events, people with places etc), anagrams, as well as the usual what/why/when/where/how kind of question.
The answers are usually published on a different page or at the bottom of the same page, and sometimes they are not printed until the following edition. It may seem obvious, but you must take the greatest care to check that your answers are correct: a reader is far more likely to spot an error in a quiz than in an ordinary article. Although the answer will often only be one or two words, sometimes you may want to give extra information – to inform the reader, and to boost your word count!
Finally, depending on the topic and the readership you may wish to include a key to evaluate scores achieved. For example, in a general knowledge quiz about Spain published in a magazine aimed at expatriates living in Spain, I provided a light-hearted “integration” grade according to how many questions readers got right.
Q: What are you going to do now you’ve read this article?
A: Start compiling!
Theresa O’Shea have had over fifteen quizzes published in magazines and newspapers, such as Health & Efficiency (UK), Yours (UK), the Sunday Post (Scotland), and Look Out (Spain).