Friday, August 12, 2011

Going Digital: How To Write A Magazine Quiz For The Ipad

Happy Friday, Edsters!

I type this the day before what will probably be the scariest day of my interning life. My manager is out of the office tomorrow, so I have the pleasure (is it, though?) of sitting at her desk and, as far as I can tell, basically being her for the day. Yes, that's right – I am a 9:30 to whenever-they-need-me-there-until Editorial Assistant tomorrow. Not only that, but tomorrow is the day before a HUGE event the Mag is throwing for a swoon-worthy guest list, so it's going to be absolutely crazy there. I already have two bio packets due by noon!

So I'd like to promise you more on that next Friday, but it's unclear if I'll make it out alive, so... More on that later, potentially.

How about something a little lighter than the weight of the magazine world resting more heavily than usual on my shoulders? I went digital this week! By that, I mean I got to write a quiz for the iPad version of our Mag, which was a ton of fun. I only wish I had an iPad so I could see it with my own two eyes!

Articles, I brainstorm all the time, but quizzes? I've been skipping over those in magazines since I was about 12, when I realized that I was deliberately picking the safe "b" option, the one that made me just the right amount of daring/caring/glam/assertive and, oh yeah, people occasionally fall into more than three categories. This wasn't one of those superficial bad boys, though. As it turns out, a lot of work goes into writing a quiz – so at least give them a glimpse!

Here's how I landed the gig and pulled it off.

Any gold I've struck during my time at the Mag can be accredited to being nice to editors and doing whatever they ask me to efficiently and with a positive attitude, and getting to write this iPad quiz was no exception. I filed a couple of contracts for our digital editor a couple of weeks ago, and I let her know I'd be interested in any writing opportunities she came across.

The assignment she gave: to read a nonfiction book, decide what kind of quiz I thought would work best, convene with her, and then try my hand at writing said quiz.

I read the whole book cover-to-cover. Not that I had time to do that at work, mind you – as reluctant as I am to do homework ever again, I did bring the book home with me, because I wanted to be thorough. Indeed, I proceeded to treat it like actual homework. I went crazy flagging interesting stories and facts with Post-It notes, just like I do when I write a paper, so I'd be able to be sharp during my meeting with the digital editor. The book was jam-packed with facts, and I decided that a True/False would be the best format for the quiz.

After I met with her, she told me to pick about 15 interesting facts and to write questions and answers for them. She instructed me to make each question and each answer about three-lines long. All of this was harder than it sounded: even though I had at least 35 pages flagged down, not all of the fun facts translated themselves easily into true/false questions, and some of them were so weighed-down with jargon that it was near-impossible to condense them into three lines apiece.

I reread the book, peeled off the majority of my Post-Its, added a few more, made margin notes, and wrote some preliminary questions. I tried to focus on getting the information down before adding in a dash of writerly style. My editor advised me to write the questions and answers as though I was explaining them to a 14-year girl. Although our reader base is about double that age, I found it really helpful to consider a younger audience in mind while writing: it forced me to clean up my prose and refrain from using complicated jargon that, let's face it, not even actual adults want to read in a glossy.

And then I was done! Done at last! Done with the book I had started off loving, but rapidly grown averse to, as I probably read it at least four times in the question-writing process!

Except, of course, I wasn't done, because the digital editor had a bunch of edits for me to take into account. Her comments were all very constructive, and most of them were easy enough fixes, though a few gave me trouble (how can I give her more information on this factoid when the book doesn't discuss it further? How can I possibly pare down this question any further?). It took me a little under two hours to fix everything, at which point I emailed everything back to her, and she told me to prepare my book for research.

Happily, my crazy Post-It noting turned out to be exactly what I needed to do for research, so there wasn't much to do from that point. I annotated my quiz with page numbers corresponding to each bit of information, emailed it to the editor, and dropped the book off at research. The quiz is going to our executive editor next, and then, hopefully, voila! Quiz!

I think this is one of my favorite projects so far, and I'm glad it pushed me out of my comfort zone a little. What's the most fun project you've ever gotten to do at your internships, Edsters? Are you interested in going digital, too?

Quizzically yours,
Features Intern

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