What is meta? ×
Meta Stack Exchange is where users like you discuss bugs, features, and support issues that affect the software powering all 127 Stack Exchange communities.

I'm kind of curious; if I see a question with a title like this:

How to x y and z

Is making the title a question a valid reason for editing it?

share|improve this question
in general when the title sucks, the question sucks as well ... both need editing love –  waffles Nov 4 '11 at 3:36
If I type "ma" into the edit summary textfield, the first and third autocomplete suggestions are "made title a question" and "make title reflect question" respectively. I've used these a fair bit... –  Shog9 Nov 4 '11 at 3:55
I generally approve such edits, provided they describe the content of the question as well or better than the original. Simply tacking on a question mark is of course something to dismiss. But yes, questions should begin with a question, and (most) feel that the front page looks a bit better for it. –  Tim Post Nov 4 '11 at 4:44
I'm sure this is a dupe I just can't easily find the original. –  The Unhandled Exception Nov 4 '11 at 12:56
Related: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/10647/… –  Bavarious Nov 12 '11 at 3:55
related: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/19999/… –  Jason Plank Dec 7 '11 at 16:05
add comment

4 Answers

up vote 24 down vote accepted

People disagree drastically on what constitutes a "good enough" edit. Personally I say yes; we've had a user on the Unix and Linux SE that's been doing just that, and I'm a big fan:

Screenshot of the suggested edit stats

The first thing the CHAOS team did when they started was go through the top 1000 questions on a bunch of sites and clean up their titles, specifically turning them into questions if they weren't, so clearly it's considered important

share|improve this answer
Well, if CHAOS did it... (not saying I'm an equal or anything, just that it must be acceptable behaviour). –  Mahnax Nov 4 '11 at 3:56
@Mahnax Well, the argument you're going to get isn't "are questions in titles good", it's going to be "is it important enough to waste somebody's time reviewing the suggested edit". I say yes, but other people say no –  Michael Mrozek Nov 4 '11 at 3:57
Fair enough, I can see where they could be coming from. –  Mahnax Nov 4 '11 at 3:58
Looks like they just did it to *puts.sunglasses.on* spread CHAOS. YEEEAAAHHHHH –  Time Traveling Bobby Nov 4 '11 at 7:35
TBH, I was wondering myself if some of my edits weren't a little small. I took your approvals to be a green flag. :) –  John Nov 4 '11 at 16:40
add comment

That depends. If the only thing your edit does is to make the title a question, don't bother. This gets debated now and then all over Stack Exchange; I'm firmly in the camp that holds that titles do not need and often should not be questions, because

  • the title is a title for the whole page, not for the question;
  • having fully grammatical titles is not always desirable (think newspaper headlines): concision is paramount, so that the important words stand out — and question words are often noise;
  • titles in the form of questions are less attractive in search results (I'm looking for answers, not questions).

Wisdom of the Ancients

On the other hand, if you're improving the title, and happen to make it a question, that's good. The key point is to improve; whether you turn a question into a non-question or a non-question into a question is irrelevant.

For example, the title edits that Michael Mrozek shows weren't just making titles into questions for the sake of it (the edit changelog message is misleading); they were generally (at least the ones I looked at) improving the title. For example, changing “an echo question” into “What does the syntax of these echo commands mean?” is a definite improvement. So is turning “Linux Serial port problem” into "How can I monitor serial port traffic?". On the other hand, I have a slight preference for “Monitoring serial port traffic” — not enough to bother to edit, but it's the title I'd pick if I was editing the post for another reason.

Some final notes, if you intend to go into an edit spree. Thank you, but…

  • If you're doing this on a site other than Stack Overflow, please pace yourself. Check the front page, and try to make your edits not be too big a proportion of it.
  • Don't just edit the title; look for other things that can be improved (poor titles often go together with poor grammar and poor formatting).
share|improve this answer
Yes, yes, yes. Taking an already perfectly good title (e.g., "Embedding a button in a UIPickerView", "Dealing with interrupted audio file download", "Creating class diagram for iPhone app") and adding "How to" and a question mark is a waste of edit reviewer's time (not to mention, adds noise to the title). –  Josh Caswell Nov 12 '11 at 1:47
@JoshCaswell Therein lies the problem; how do we define, and who defines, what should and should not be edited? –  Mahnax Nov 12 '11 at 2:52
@Mahnax: Does the title accurately and concisely describe the problem such that a reader will have a clear idea (especially combined with the tags) what they are about to see when they click the link? If yes, there's no need to make the title a question. –  Josh Caswell Nov 12 '11 at 8:25
Please, please resist the urge to think about newspaper headlines while writing titles. We have enough problems. –  Shog9 Nov 19 '11 at 2:44
@Josh: I've been reluctant to change question titles because I figured that regardless of how inaccurate or unspecific a title might be, someone asked it in that form, and therefore it may be useful for specific people in that form. –  Kenny Evitt Feb 19 '12 at 0:58
add comment

If the title isn't actually a question, making it into one is a grammar improvement, and that on its own is a reason for editing it. But as waffles mentioned, it's a good indication that there might be other problems in the body of the question. So if I can, I try to improve the body as well, not just the title.

share|improve this answer
Making a newspaper headline into a complete sentence isn't a grammatical improvement, and neither is making a perfectly descriptive SO title into a question. –  Josh Caswell Nov 12 '11 at 8:27
@Josh SO titles aren't newspaper headlines. I don't get your comparison. –  Jason Plank Nov 12 '11 at 13:46
They serve exactly the same purpose, to summarize the contents of the page they head and allow readers to quickly determine their expected level of interest. Question words in many cases are superfluous. –  Josh Caswell Nov 12 '11 at 18:16
OK, and if you're summarizing the contents of a question, doesn't it make sense that the summary would also be a question? Seems to be a logical progression of content to summary. –  Jason Plank Nov 13 '11 at 4:04
Not necessarily, because either: you're searching on Stack Overflow, know what the site's all about, and expect to find a question, or you're searching the web and are looking for the answer to your problem and don't give two hoots about whether it's in a question & answer format, a blog post, a tweet, or a webcomic, as long as you get the info you're after. The title needs to get people to read the page, and a question-form title is not intrinsic to that goal. Were every title in the database to start with "How to", it would only make it harder to search. –  Josh Caswell Nov 13 '11 at 8:26
If you start a sentence with "How to", it's not going to end up being a question-- it will only be a sentence fragment. This is, I realize, a moot point if you don't think titles need to be sentences. Moreover, we could just modify the site's search/indexing algorithms to reduce the importance of the words "how to" (and also remove those words from the meta keywords if necessary). –  Jason Plank Nov 13 '11 at 14:25
add comment

Yes. This is acceptable. As a basis for my answer, I provide you with Shog9's answer to a related question:

That's why editing is so crucial: read the whole question, distill its essence into a single sentence, and replace the title with that question. At worst, you've managed to improve one question; at best, you've shown them how they should ask future questions

Since he is now a Valued Associated I consider that a pretty definitive stamp of approval.

share|improve this answer
Oh, cool, can we now take everything Shog9 has said in the past as official policy? –  mmyers Nov 4 '11 at 15:11
@mmyers Sure, why not? ;-) –  The Unhandled Exception Nov 4 '11 at 19:26
add comment

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .