Houghton Mifflin HarcourtHistory Channel

Writing for NHBB

Hello! Thank you for your interest in writing questions for NHBB. We are hiring new writers this summer; we’ll be starting the process in early June, after our last events for the 2016-17 season wrap up. In the meantime, here’s the information on what we’re looking for, what we offer, and what you can do this month while we get ready! If you have any questions beyond what’s explained here, do not hesitate to ask.

*Question Style
NHBB tossups are written in pyramidal style, as described in the Anatomy of a Tossup essay linked below. If you have experience writing in that format for high school or college quizbowl, great! If not, don’t worry; there are further essays explaining the style and lessons on writing in it below!

NHBB writers submit questions on a “write-as-you-like” basis and are paid per question. Novice writers start at $3.50 per question, and experienced writers make up to $5 per question. Further bonuses may be given for meeting voluntary assignments during the production year.

Writing good questions in pyramidal style takes significant practice and experience. A lot of that experience is generally gained through playing, coaching, or moderating quizbowl in high school or college. We do provide guided practice in writing via the Provisional Writer Program, which will be running again this summer. Generally speaking, we do not hire writers who have not had either prior question writing experience with a completed high school or college tournament or a successful completion of the Provisional Writer Program.

Writers who have worked on a previous high school or college set and are interested in writing for NHBB should e-mail me a list of tournaments they’ve written for and a sample of their past work at brad@historybowl.com.

*Provisional Writer Program
The Provisional Writer Program is intended to train novice writers in the important rules and guidelines of pyramidal question writing. Provisional writers will receive specific, constructive advice on their questions as they learn from a progressive curriculum designed to develop question writing skills from their prior quizbowl experience. Upon successful completion of the program, provisional writers will become full writers for NHBB.

The program will next run from July to August 2017 and is limited to 20 participants. If more than 20 writers apply, priority will be based on the quality of the sample tossups.

Unfortunately, due to workload, we can only work with 20 people this summer. Fortunately, the lessons from the Provisional Writer Program are posted below and will be updated as more are produced this summer. If you are not accepted into the program, you can still read the lessons and continue to practice writing on your own.


*How to Apply
To apply as an NHBB writer – whether as an experienced writer or for the Provisional Writer Program – please send a brief description of your quizbowl experience (playing, coaching, moderating, writing) and a sample of five tossups to me at brad@historybowl.com. For experienced writers, these questions can be from past tournaments, as long as the tournament set is cleared for discussion.

Thank you!




Essay Collection

Want to learn how NHBB writers craft the questions used in competitions? Interested in writing quizbowl questions of your own? Great! This page is a collection of lessons and essays about question writing. The ideas here are generally applicable to writing quizbowl questions for all subjects, not just history, though there are NHBB-specific essays as well.

Many of the essays here were used in the initial Provisional Writers Program, which trained new writers for NHBB in fall 2015; while the Provisional Writer Program is preparing for a second iteration in summer 2017, all interested new writers can practice with these lessons. Roughly a dozen new lessons will be added over the course of the year, so bookmark this page!

Introduction to Writing:

Why Write Questions?

Anatomy of a Tossup


The Basics of Question Writing

What Makes a Good Clue?



Advanced Lessons

Tossup Themes

Clue Density

“Description Acceptable” Tossups


NHBB-centric Lessons

NHBB Cultural History