After seeing I've found a particular set of "question"s with bad titles, I went on to go through my tags and edit some of those questions.

Now I went to the tag, and found these (both renamed now):

I suppose there are quite more of these around, without "question" in the title.

Obviously these are bad titles, but what would be better ones? These are both about the same problem (classes in packages need to be compiled from the root of the package tree instead of from their own directory), but knowing this, one already has the solution.

If someone searches, he would most likely search for the compiler error cannot find symbol. So should the title be Javac says "cannot find symbol"?, or such?

I suppose similar things exist for other programming languages, too: You have a compiler error message, and don't know what to do. How should we title such questions?

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2 Answers

With the error message, maybe in quotes, maybe put into useful context.

  • Compiler reports "Class not found"
  • Compiler can not find class, but during debug everything works
  • Compiling works, but the main class can not be found

Additional information is provided in the question and via the tags.

Edit: While thinking about it, you have to distinct between two types of compiler-error-questions:

  • I get this error, I already tried x and y, but it still fails.
  • I get an error/What does this mean.

The former is a good question, the last...well, not so much, still on-topic but not a so good question. Also I think that these questions are problematic if it comes to choose the right title, and it needs to be reevaluated each time what an appropriate title is.

Edit2: There's of course also the option to put the whole message into the title, but I think that's not useful. The names will vary from question to question, so will other informations like linenumbers. The best option I see right now is to use a generic but meaningful title, at least that let's someone with the same problem find duplicates very fast.

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You changed the first of my example questions to "After compile application fails to find main class", which is in fact not the original problem, but a changed problem after the original problem was solved (see the answers). Is this the right way to do this? –  Paŭlo Ebermann Aug 12 '11 at 9:23
@Paŭlo Ebermann: I just edited your question to point out that I had edited the titles. Also I think that a question title should grow/change with the question as it evolves, the core problem has been pointed out in the edit and I think that should be reflected in the title. If you think otherwise you're free to rollback or edit the question title. –  Time Traveling Bobby Aug 12 '11 at 9:26
The question title should fit the original answers, I think, otherwise it is not useful for later searchers. The question in your changed title was only solved in a comment (omit the ".java"). So you would also have to edit the answer to include this. –  Paŭlo Ebermann Aug 12 '11 at 9:36
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I would search using tags : or or . Also put the error string into the search box.

For example :
[linker] [c] undefined symbol to

What I wanted to say is this : the title should look like the question summary. I have seen lots of questions where they ask one thing on the title, and something completely different in the question's body. Tags are also important.

Maybe the "can not find symbol" is just a side effect of the problem in the question, and in that case, it shouldn't be in the title. Actually, if all these questions would be renamed to contain this string, then how would you differentiate them?

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The question here is how should such questions be titled... not how to search for them. –  Jeff Mercado Aug 12 '11 at 6:14
But how would an asker know what the original problem is? Knowing this means almost already solving the question. –  Paŭlo Ebermann Aug 12 '11 at 9:29
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