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Saint Jerome in His Study

"Importance" is an abstract concept with no formal definition that nevertheless is used as a key factor in distinguishing facts which can be incorporated in quiz bowl questions ("knowledge") and those which are not suitable ("trivia"). A fact is "important" if it has qualities which justify its inclusion in questions, or (more cynically) if knowing it will garner one points.

There are varied criteria which can be used to determine if a piece of information is "important":

  1. in the colloquial meaning, it is marked by or indicative of significant worth or consequence;[1] this could include as much as "everything that is discussed in quiz bowl" or as little as "nothing", depending on one's personal leanings
  2. it is known by many people in the general population
  3. it is known by many people in quiz bowl
  4. it is studied in academia
  5. it is encountered in academic settings
  6. it does not involve rote memorization
  7. it requires engagement with the material
  8. it is interesting

The practical definition of "importance" within the community is some mixture of these, as individual editors and writers will shift their clue choice and distributions to align with their personal beliefs. These deliberate differences often arise from a desire to reward different knowledge bases, especially those that are outside the accepted norm.

Generally speaking, quiz bowl tends to limit its scope to academic subjects - however, the criteria of "importance" can (and often is) applied to topics in pop culture-specific tournaments. Arguments in favor of increasing or decreasing any given category's distribution are inevitably couched in discussions of their "importance" relative to one's preferred categories.


Here are a few hypothetical topics and some examples of how they align with the sample criteria provided above.

a Rice Krispies TreatTM the political history of Paraguay the numbat, an insectivorous Australian marsupial Francis Ford Coppola's 1972 film The Godfather Kendrick Lamar's 2015 album To Pimp a Butterfly Season 6 of Friends
it is known by many people in the general population Yes No No Yes Yes Yes
it is known by many people in quiz bowl Yes Yes No Yes Yes Yes, but it depends on demographics really
it is studied in academia Very rarely Yes Yes Yes, but not in the fields of academia that quiz bowl typically chooses to represent
it is encountered in academic settings Perhaps as a snack Yes Yes Yes, but not in the fields of academia that quiz bowl typically chooses to represent
Is it "important"?
Academic quiz bowl No Yes No Yes Sometimes No
Other formats Hopefully not Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes

Some key takeaways:

  • There are topics which are not considered "important" for any trivia format, quiz bowl or otherwise.
  • There are topics which are considered "important" outside of quiz bowl that are not considered "important" inside of it. The largest category of such things is pop culture, which is largely excluded from the distribution, but also in other specific subjects like zoology.
  • There are topics which individuals within quiz bowl will debate over whether they are sufficiently "important". Many works of this kind lie along the boundary between high and low culture and between contemporary and historical, two divisions that quiz bowl is otherwise very willing to follow closely.

Other formats

Many trivia formats have a practical definition of "importance" which diverges greatly from that of quiz bowl; it is unclear whether they have formalized this concept at all.

Many of the things which trivia formats include that quiz bowl does not can be viewed as consequences of these differences.