A clue is a clause within a question that contains a piece of information that applies to the question's answer. When used in tossups, they are ideally arranged in pyramidal order. Phrases within a question that are not clues or connecting words should be eliminated entirely; players cannot buzz off of them in tossups, and they cannot get closer to the correct answer in bonuses.
Rules for good clues
- Factual correctness: A clue must be factually correct and non-hypothetical.
- Specificity/uniqueness: A clue must be unique to the answer to the tossup. A clue should not be vague, either.
- Ability to stand alone: Related to #2. A clue should generally be able to stand alone and still point to the tossup's answer.
- Relevance: A clue should relate to the essence of what makes the tossup answer academically important. Attempt to avoid biographical clues.
- Interestingness: Related to #4. A clue should contain information that the writer believes will be interesting to the players. Avoid Stock clues.
- Non-transparency: See article on transparency and description below.
- See: Hypothetical clues
Clues that refer to things that did not actually happen, and especially to what their consequences might mean for trivial pseudo-knowledge. An archetypal hypothetical clue asks what might have happened after a different result of a Presidential election--e.g, "if Al Gore won the 2000 Presidential election, this man would no longer be the last sitting Vice-President to win..." These clues are to be avoided because they reward something other than factual knowledge of academic subjects.
Vague clues result from an attempt to make a clue more difficult by removing specificity from it, generally by replacing proper nouns with pronouns. While some such efforts are necessary (recounting a specific, minor adventure of a protagonist, replacing his name with "the protagonist" for pyramidal reasons), clues devoid of any specific information are generally discouraged, because they punish deep knowledge by encouraging lateral thinking about easier clues. Difficult clues should be difficult because they contain difficult, specific information, not easier information that has been made difficult by removing most or all specific details.
- See: Stock clues
Stock clues are clues that are often used early in questions, but are actually well-known. They often take the form of biographical clues, and are sometimes dubbed chestnuts.
Clues that refer to factually correct and specific information that is not relevant to the reason that a person is academically important. A typical example would state that, "This man could write in Greek with one hand and Latin with the other." These clues are generally uninteresting and reward trivial knowledge over deep academic knowledge about what makes a person worthy of remembrance.
Clues that cannot stand alone
These are clues that apply to more than one possible answer. An archetypal example is, "This metal dissolves in aqua regia," which applies to both gold and platinum. Whenever possible, the question should not induce players to buzz in on factual information that pertains to another answer. The logic that a player should know not to buzz in with the incorrect answer based on previous clues is not sufficient; since the player did not buzz on those clues, it must be assumed that they are of no use to them. These can be avoided with qualifying statements such as "Like gold, this metal dissolves in aqua regia." Make sure to place the qualifier before the potentially non-unique information, however, so that players hear the qualifier before they buzz.
- See: Transparency
Clues should not give away the answer through pronouns or other non-specific manner. For example, clues in a tossup shouldn't make it painfully obvious that a woman physicist is being asked about, since that would lead someone with no knowledge to assume that Marie Curie or perhaps Lise Meitner was the answer.
- See: Taco Bell Soap
It is possible for clues to meet all or a vast majority of the principles of good writing, and still be unusable because there is no way any percent of the quizbowl playing community would reasonably be able to offer a guess based on the clue. Clues like this may be based on information that only a small percent of the entire population knows, and may be intentionally or unintentionally used as some kind of a poor joke.