A good title helps your question get the attention it deserves. What goes into a good title?
1. Make the topic stand out.
The purpose of a title is to attract people interested in your topic or who can give you an answer. People scan web pages quickly. Make it easy for them to notice your question. Some people read via the RSS feed (Stack Overflow example), so they don't see tags.
2. Keep it short.
You don't have to put all the details in the title. There's plenty of space to expand your question in the body of the text.
Likewise, don't insist that your title be expressed as a perfectly formed English sentence.
3. Lead with the most important words.
These articles discuss how people read web pages, based on using an eye tracking system to monitor users. For Stack Overflow-like pages people read most of the first and second entries (the bars of the "F"), and then scan down the rest of the list, reading on average the first 16 characters of each line.
4. Don't start with "How do I..."
Writing in that style ensures that your title will fail criteria 1-3, and get less attention than it deserves.
This is a question site, and people will understand your titles are questions.
5. Don't sweat replicating a tag keyword.
The tags are orthogonal to the title. There's a good chance that if a question is about some particular topic, a good title for the question will include the topic name. Glance at the front page and you will see this is quite common.
6. "What is a ..." is fine
Since the "..." is usually just a couple of words, titles like this still capture the essence of the question very briefly.
Some Good Examples
Here are some good titles, taken from existing posts. They succinctly summarize the question and will catch readers' eyes whilst scanning down the list.
Some Bad Examples
These titles, also taken from existing posts, accurately present the question when read individually, but make it hard to pick out questions of interest when scanning the list.
Finally, be flexible
Different questions benefit from different styles of titles. Applying any single hard and fast rule is probably a mistake.
While this is overall an excellent set of advice, I have some issues with a few of the titles:
I am not sure the rigid format
Is a good one. The starts-with-tag-colon convention is a bit artificial and should be tweaked. Here's what I'd rather see:
(obviously all these questions would also be tagged with the right keywords)
To be clear, I think it is fine to duplicate the tags in the title, but only when they can be worked into the titles organically and conversationally.
If we're ritualistically appending tags to the front of the title, that doesn't feel like a tremendous improvement over a bunch of "How do I..." titles in the system, to me.
(Jeff raises some good points. This is a followup to his note, since I can't edit his post, and I need a bit more formatting that what a comment provides.)
However, if you want people to pick out your post from a list of other titles all competing for reader attention, it pays to note that the people in the study were scanning on average the first 16 characters of the titles.
So, it's interesting to truncate your title to 16 characters and see how they hold up. If you put something that interests a reader in the first 16 characters, there's a pretty good chance the rest of your title will be read. Once someone has clicked through to your question it's almost assured your question will be read. The main job of the title on the questions page is to get the reader that far.
Your title should be, in order of greatest to least importance:
Notice that none of these points are 'exclusive'. For example, a short and descriptive title is always searchable. And precise and short are quite similar.
Your title should not be/contain:
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protected by hims056 Sep 30 '13 at 7:41
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