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I've been thinking it would be a good idea to have subtitles to questions.

As well as specifying your questions title, you would (could) also specify a subtitle. This would be used on the main page below the title, instead of the first few lines of the question which we now see (as a fall back, when no subtitle has been specified, the first lines could be used, perhaps).

The benefits I see in this are,

  • The main title may be more succinct and more "catchy" than currently, whilst not worrying about losing any detail. As well as looking nicer, I believe this will prompt more people to view more questions and the more people you can get "through the door" into a question the better quality, the questions and answers will be (more answers/more edits/more votes). And that's the main point, right?

  • The first few lines of a question more often than not do not sum up the question correctly. This would provide an opportunity to provide a synopsis of the question, making the front page more uniform, and frankly I think, more useful. I, at least, and I am probably not the only one, have all but entirely lost the habit of reading the current question excerpts since they rarely contain information that's going to let me know whether I will find the question useful and/or can contribute to it. I read the title, and do or do not click through based on that anyway.

  • A subtitle/synopsis may be helpful for search terms, and results.

I know some are going to balk at my use of the term "catchy" in my first point, please be assured I'm not suggesting having non-descriptive titles. Just less involved ones with more detail below. It's hard sometimes to know where to stop with a title. You want all the detail there but don't want to repeat the whole question! This suggestion I think provides a nice medium.

It will be good to hear your thoughts.

share|improve this question
Wow! I appreciate everyone's opinions but I'd love some more feedback on the downvotes. I really think this is a good idea, and if I'm wrong, please talk me out of it. :) [-3 out of 9, can't be good!] – tjm Nov 6 '11 at 19:53
Voting works differently on Meta - it's merely a "yea" or "nay" on the suggestion itself. It doesn't mean your suggestion is of bad quality, just that people don't think it should be implemented. Re feedback - I think Mark Trapp's answer already speaks for most people here. I think it's simply not necessary, and adds complication. It's hard enough to make people write good titles in the first place - imagine what happens when a second line comes into play – Pëkka Nov 6 '11 at 19:56
@Pekka. I guess you're right. The upvotes for Mark currently match my down's, so I guess he's voiced the opinion of most of you. As to the current state of good titles, I agree, but please read my comments to Marks answer as to why I think this would improve the state of affairs rather than worsen them. Thanks. – tjm Nov 6 '11 at 20:02

Answer summary: This is unnecessary.

Full answer:

The body of a question is free-form: if a person wants to put a summary up-front, they can do so by just adding it before their full post.

share|improve this answer
I see your point, but surely seperation of question and summary can only be a good thing. Adding a summary to the front of the question detracts from the question but having it there to be viewed as a seperate entity only adds to it. And, making it a sort of standard thing to do will improve the listings, I think, dramatically, as I have outlined. (Also, I get it's a gag - but I'm in no way suggesting there should be summaries of answers!) – tjm Nov 6 '11 at 19:48
@tjm People, in general, are terrible at writing concise questions and even titles. What makes you think they're going to be better at writing summaries when there's a separate field? – user149432 Nov 6 '11 at 19:52
It may not improve the quality of their writing, but just like the title field, the summary can be limited to a number of characters. So brevity is not an issue. I beleive it would encourage people to think more about what is the title, what is the summary, and what is the question though, and as such almost force them to write better/more concise questions. Yes it's not going to work for everyone, but most on S.O. do, I believe, try their best to get their point across effectively. It's in their intersts as much as anyones. And I think this will be an aid. – tjm Nov 6 '11 at 19:57
And of course the summary will be subject to edits/revisions just as the title and questions are. – tjm Nov 6 '11 at 19:58
@tjm I agree with Mark here - there are thousands of people every day who don't know how to properly fill in even that one field. It will not become easier when there's a second one to fill in. If there's one thing I've learned from watching these sites evolve over the past two years it's that trying to make people think and read stuff doesn't work. – Pëkka Nov 6 '11 at 19:59
@Pekka. Perhaps you're right. But, I don't believe it can make anything worse. As stated in the question, the subtitle could be voluntary, in which case the current system would be used. But for those that chose to use it, and I believe many would (since it would make their question more attractive to others) it would be an improvement. Perhaps it's not worth the cost of implementation though. A shame in my eyes. – tjm Nov 6 '11 at 20:09
If people can't work out the fields already there, adding another means they'll probably fill it with what they're not supposed to. Lots of ways avail themselves in making things worse when you give users more boxes to bash their way through. @tjm – random Nov 6 '11 at 20:21
@random. That is a good point which, I admit, I hadn't taken into consideration. – tjm Nov 6 '11 at 20:26

Actually, I think this wouldn't be a bad idea... if it was done how account summaries are handled. Not part of the UI, available to those familiar with the system, and only shown in certain (TBD) situations.

For example,

<!-- summary: Feels so good you want to put pants on -->

in your profile shows up only when the user has certain rep and only when you hover over their gravatar:

enter image description here

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Cool. Nice to have someone on my side :). That would indeed be a distinct improvement, and challenges a lot of the fears of implementing the suggestion as originally stated I think. – tjm Nov 7 '11 at 17:13

I prefer the mechanism as it is -- it forces me to think of a good first line for my questions. If the first line is not very good then the question as a whole is not yet good and needs reworking.

Writing well takes effort. Bringing visibility to questions takes effort. A "subtitle" field that would help excuse imprecise or poor writing is of no help to anyone -- but a good first sentence is worth its weight in gold.

share|improve this answer
I agree, writing well absolutely takes effort. But I don't believe the subtitle field would at all "excuse imprecise or poor writing". Quite the opposite in fact. It would make the author think harder about what they are asking and how they are asking it. If I can't summarise my question into the subtitle field, then perhaps my question is too rambling, perhaps it should be two questions, etc. It is not always appropriate for the first line of a question to sum up the question itself, and it is not the sign of a badly written question if it doesn't. – tjm Nov 7 '11 at 2:07
... It does however make the reprinting of the first line on the index page, almost redundant. I think your rule to determine whether a question needs reworking is a good one in the current environment, but it needn't be like that. Perhaps I should have focussed on the word synopsis, rather than subtitle (but I'm not sure how much it would have helped my cause). Some good points have been raised, but I'm still not convinced. I think this is a good idea, but I don't think I'm going to win this one. It's very interesting seeing the reaction to this, though. It's been fun! – tjm Nov 7 '11 at 2:07
Hehehe, -8 is nothing, I made a much less popular suggestion -- perhaps it could make the questioner think harder about their question, but they've already been given a chance to come up with a title, which is usually squandered. Perhaps we could ask for both then throw away the main title? :) – sarnold Nov 7 '11 at 2:13

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