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I see many questions with really long titles and bodies with nothing more than:

"Title says it all"
"See title. ~thanks~"
"In PHP. thanks!"

Examples (a couple I already edited):

I assume the "thanks" variants at the end are to get around a minimum length. Should these be edited or voted to close? If edited, how? Should I just repeat the title in the body?

It seems like a question that can fit entirely in the title is inherently low quality.

UPDATE: There's over 700 of just the "title says it all" pattern for anyone that wants to have fun editing these: http://stackoverflow.com/search?q=%22Title+says+it+all%22

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I was about to say that I was shocked that these questions were let through the minimum quality filter. Then I looked at their dates. –  Charles Jan 18 '12 at 2:43
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I don't see why "close" is a response to this problem at all. If the question itself is bad, close it, but if the question is fine they just didn't state it right, state it right for them and ask for more details. –  Ben Brocka Jan 18 '12 at 15:58
    
@BenBrocka To be fair, most of what he's referring to are old questions, so asking the OP isn't usually a productive course of action if they aren't active on the site still (and there are a number of them out there like this). That said, at times when the OP is not going to respond, it falls on us (the community) to figure out what to do with this. I agree though that close is not necessarily the right response to this problem in every case, as always, it depends (I'm sure you've seen my answer below elaborating). –  casperOne Jan 18 '12 at 16:06
    
The examples are old but whatever we decide would (presumably) be the policy going forward. Closing questions is scary for new users so I personally prefer to avoid a "close first and edit later" attitude unless there is a good reason answers shouldn't be allowed on a question. –  Ben Brocka Jan 18 '12 at 16:09
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Questions with too much text are a greater problem IMO. –  Gert Arnold Jan 18 '12 at 18:04
    
"a question that can fit entirely in the title is inherently low quality." --- I disagree with this although I realize I'm probably in the minority. Still, I agree that some supporting info or at least a restatement of the question should be in the body. –  kekekela Jan 19 '12 at 18:05
    
@kekekela It was more of a question than a statement, but the answers pointed out this isn't always true. –  ThinkingStiff Jan 19 '12 at 20:30

4 Answers 4

up vote 16 down vote accepted

I have to respectfully disagree with Andrew's response that it is not a question. While I don't necessarily like questions that are completely self-described in the title, there are many questions which really don't need anything beyond the title to explain what's desired in the question.

Here is an example that I think is cut-and-dry (in the interest of transparency, had a "very low quality" flag on it which I declined, with a custom message indicating that it was very difficult for me to decline as it was "cut-and-dry, asked-and-answered" after looking at it for a long while):

Excel: Assign a macro to a hyperlink?

In the above, there is a clear answer that is accepted.

Looking at the descriptive text of the close as "not a real question" reason, it states:

It's difficult to tell what is being asked here. This question is ambiguous, vague, incomplete, overly broad, or rhetorical and cannot be reasonably answered in its current form. See the FAQ.

In the question above, it is none of those things.

While pithy is antithetical to Stack Exchange, there's currently not a close reason for it.

Yes, lack of content is usually a red flag indicating that a question may be very low quality, but it's not an immediate condemnation of whether or not it is low quality.

Note that Jeff has commented that the criteria for VLQ is that the post is not salvageable. In the case above, there's nothing to salvage. It's just... brief.

So the overall recommendation is, it depends. Some recommendations:

  • Try to edit the post to provide better content (thank you to GraceNote for pointing that out). An example would be the edit I performed on this question. It doesn't put words in the OPs mouth, it doesn't detract from the answers provided, and indicates something to help expand the question in general.

  • If it has an accepted answer, it likely means that someone interpreted it correctly in the eyes of the user, and it really needs a little love to give it some more content (unless it has other glaring issues which it should be closed for).

  • If there are multiple answers with upvotes, it's an indication that multiple people understood the question as asked (brief as it is) well enough to provide answers, and that others on top of that indicated that they understood the question and answers enough to provide an upvote on it.

  • If the question is upvoted, it's possible that people understand the question, but as we all know, voting is not anywhere near a reliable indicator of whether or not a question is good (I'd look at this as a last resort and only if you have nothing else to rely on, and even then, take it with a grain of salt). Note this applies to answers as well, but in the point above, it's the presence of multiple upvoted answers (which is different from a single upvoted question) that is the indicator.

  • If there's a duplicate of it on the site (and in a lot of cases, there probably are), vote to close it as a duplicate and then flag for moderator attention, indicating it's a duplicate. This is much better for the site overall, since we like multiple representations of asking the same thing (it boosts organic search).

In the event that the question meets none of the above criteria, I'd advise the following (assuming one has the privileges to do so):

  • If the question is recent, vote to close and possibly leave a comment on what exactly makes it VLQ. This has the dual effect of a) letting others know why the question is VLQ, as well as let's the poster know that there are problems and they might be able to edit it to provide better content.

  • If the question is not recent, then vote to close/delete and flag for moderator attention *with a custom message. Indicate why the question is not clear or deserves to be close in the case that a title might be interpreted as cut-and-dry. This will help moderators tremendously in understanding your point of view on why it's VLQ and help us make the best decision for the site.

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-1, if they can't be bothered to write something of substance in the question body then I can't be bothered to leave their question open. –  user7116 Jan 18 '12 at 14:42
    
@sixlettervariables As indicated in my fourth bullet point. It says it very clearly that upvotes on a question are no where near an interpretation that a question is a good question, and this should only be used as a last resort and taken with an extreme grain of salt. –  casperOne Jan 18 '12 at 14:44
    
the tldr got me, with wiki down I'm having trouble concentrating. –  user7116 Jan 18 '12 at 14:45
    
@sixlettervariables Don't punish me for Wiki being down. I didn't cause it =) I don't disagree that if they can't be bothered to write something in the question body now then it gets shot down with extreme prejudice, but when the question is old and it's cut and dry, it's more difficult to handle, and that's really the case here, old questions. Do they add value to the site? Yes, they do, and unfortunately, even the bad ones which we wouldn't accept today. We generally treat this content very differently than new content we see that we don't want now. –  casperOne Jan 18 '12 at 14:48
    
My approach is if it was worth asking once, it'll get asked again. –  user7116 Jan 18 '12 at 14:51
    
@sixlettervariables Suggested advice in the fifth bullet point. Always better to try and close as a dupe if it exists as we like dupes because it improves organic search (and we can always cull them out later if a dupe does the job of providing quality content for us). =) –  casperOne Jan 18 '12 at 14:53
    
I actually don't disagree with what you say here at all. I posted my answer from mobile and so didn't flesh out everything. However, I was careful to say "I think many of those". I agree it's absolutely possible to have a real question of such simplicity. –  Andrew Barber Jan 18 '12 at 16:35
    
@AndrewBarber I didn't downvote out of hostility, honest. =) While I agree with the statement that those instances can be deleted, my concern is that it wo be taken as the canonical statement for all questions of that type (and we know that's what people will do) and based my dissent on that. I assume you'll flesh it out at which point I'll review my vote. =) –  casperOne Jan 18 '12 at 16:48
    
There goes my fledgling flag weight. I did about ten of those last night. :) What about triviality? Isn't a question that fits in a title extremely trivial? –  ThinkingStiff Jan 18 '12 at 18:47
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@casperOne Oh, I don't mind the down votes at all. (insert obligatory link to Meta-voting-meaning-FAQ) :D –  Andrew Barber Jan 18 '12 at 18:51
    
@ThinkingStiff About flag weight: a) given that you are under 500, it's ridiculously easy (even if a moderator reviewing them is strict) to get it back, just flag a few other things that are valid, and you'll be good b) Your statement indicates that your primary focus of flagging is for the gaming aspect. While gaming aspects are fundamental to Stack Overflow, your primary reason for doing anything should be to improve the content and help the community by doing so, if you do that, then your flag weight will rise, I assure you. c) Flag weight just doesn't matter, it's a stupid metric. –  casperOne Jan 18 '12 at 18:52
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@AndrewBarber Upvoted your comment in a lame attempt to compensate. =P –  casperOne Jan 18 '12 at 18:53
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@casperOne No, that's why I put a smilely after it. I love editing and want to make questions better. I did a search for "thanks" and was going crazy removing it from titles, and bodies if there were other edits. Then I happened upon that pattern. I noticed a lot of the "thanks" results were also "title says it all" questions. After seeing Andrew's response, I started flagging. –  ThinkingStiff Jan 18 '12 at 18:56
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@ThinkingStiff Sorry, there is a certain someone I interact with on the site that tends to inverse their smileys and they all look like frowns to me. But you're doing the right thing, I'd not worry about it. You're not flagging inappropriately, and you came to meta when you were unsure and I think you've gotten good, constructive answers to continue guiding you in what's best for the site. We need more users like you. Thanks for the effort. –  casperOne Jan 18 '12 at 19:02

My recommendation is that if you run into a question where the body is just "See the title" or similar, revise the question body to rephrase the presented question. Like casperOne, I don't believe that the style alone is enough to warrant closure - if the underlying question is close-worthy, or if the lack of detail is enough to make it unanswerable, that's closeworthy. But if it's a valid question in its brevity, then closing isn't very wise to do.

There are two advantages to rephrasing the question in the body. The first is that this makes it look better - just pointing at the title looks bad. The second is that having a second wording improves the searchability of the question. Remember how many problems we have with duplicates because people just phrased things differently? By using two ways to phrase the same problem (when possible), it creates two avenues of access within a single question. As our goal is to help people to find these questions in addition to having the answers, improving searchability is a great way to handle questions which otherwise are just the title.

To take a specific point out of your question, if the title is unwieldy and long to allow for this, another course of action is to condense the title and bring the complexity into the question body. This isn't always feasible, and often requires talking with the author to set it up properly, but in the end, the meat of the information should be in the question body, not in the title.

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Word use nitpick: the primary meaning of verbiage refers to the superfluous use of language, which is probably not what you meant. –  jwiscarson Jan 18 '12 at 16:06
    
@jwiscarson I'm more familiar with its usage to just mean word choice (though this apparently is a predominantly US usage). I imagine the primary meaning you're referring to draws a common root with verbosity, though, neh? –  Grace Note Jan 18 '12 at 16:26
    
Yes -- I say this out owing to my background in technical writing. My professors absolutely hated seeing verbiage used in a non-pejorative sense. Colloquially, you used verbiage correctly, and the colloquial use may eventually overtake the technical use. Feel free to disregard my pedantry. :) –  jwiscarson Jan 18 '12 at 16:30
    
What about triviality? Isn't a question that can fit in a title, sometimes not even a long one, too trivial? –  ThinkingStiff Jan 18 '12 at 18:33
    
@ThinkingStiff Triviality an issue that is independent of the question being in the title. It's like how if two questions have the same answer, they might be duplicates, or they might just be two completely different problems with the solution being the same. A tiny question is an indicator that it might be a low quality question, but it is only that - an indicator. It's the kind of thing that may promote asking for more information, closing if it is far too vague, or it may just be sufficient without being trivial. –  Grace Note Jan 18 '12 at 19:05
    
@ThinkingStiff It's quite possible to do very difficult questions in few words, but it doesn't make it right to do so in the title. Picking good titles is an art; ask any newspaper subeditor. –  Donal Fellows Jan 18 '12 at 22:29
    
I think of it more like the bread 'filling' in a sandwich, like a Big Mac. The nutritional value it adds is superficial, but the appearance of value is greatly increased. If you can make a minor edit that takes the question out of 'lazy' and more into 'quite succinct', it's really worth the effort. I agree that it helps yield better results in searches, but the real benefit is not seeing extremely terse but useful questions voted to the bottom of the results. –  Tim Post Jan 22 '12 at 9:37

I think many of those can be closed as not a real question. You could leave a comment to ask for more information when the asker is still active.


When I say "many of those", I'm making a wild (though educated) guess as to the ratio of good/bad questions that follow this pattern. My guess is that many of the questions which can possibly fit entirely in the title of a question would qualify as "not a real question" because they won't be detailed enough to be answerable.

That is, that it qualifies that "it's hard to tell what is being asked here", to paraphrase the close reason.

I should have been more careful, though, to state that it is not merely the fact that the question fits entirely in the subject which causes this. It is certainly possible to craft an appropriate question in such a short length. It's just hard to do.

In some of the cases, you could leave a comment to request that the asker flesh out their question with more details. You might do so with or without also issuing a vote to close as I noted above. I don't think the judgment there is any different than any normal question which might apply as "not a real question".


Another item I realize I could have been more detailed about: If I was not at 3K reputation on the site, I would probably not flag most of these questions as not a real question, as that is demanding that a moderator make an up-or-down decision on the spot. I would instead leave a comment (if the user is still active), and only flag it if it's really, very clear that it is "not a real question" in any way, shape or form.

Being a 3K user on Stack Overflow, though, I would vote to close as NARQ. In fact, I did so on each of the three you posted. I feel the 'vote to close' option is a bit less strong, because it requires 5 votes to close, so others must agree with me.

I think I see that you flagged a number of these questions as NARQ, and perhaps you did so in response to my initial answer. If that's the case, I deserve the down votes I got on this! I deserve them anyway for leaving this answer so simple for so long... bad me! (FYI: I truly don't mind DV's like these, anyway.)

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+1, vote to close with extreme prejudice. –  user7116 Jan 18 '12 at 14:42
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I vote to make +1s in comments punishable by exile. –  Grant Thomas Jan 18 '12 at 14:55
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I did take your advice and went and voted to close/flagged quite a few. But I agree with you. I think most of these questions are really low quality and not very useful. The consensus, though, seems to be to give the questions more of a chance. Since casperOne and GraceNote's answers I've been copying the title into the body more and just voting to close on really bad ones. –  ThinkingStiff Jan 18 '12 at 21:26
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@ThinkingStiff I'll echo casperOne's kudos at wanting to improve the site, and being thoughtful about how you do it. –  Andrew Barber Jan 18 '12 at 21:59

"Title Says It All", while definitely annoying is merely bad posting style. You can't take it at face value and say "questions that can fit in the title should be closed" (although this may frequently be true). These should be edited, if for no other reason, to set a better example to other users, even if they do get closed.

It doesn't take much effort to:

  1. Copy the title
  2. Put it in the question body
  3. Do what you can to make both items more substantial or clearer

If after this, the question is still unfit, then yes - vote to close.

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I did a search on "title says it all" stackoverflow.com/search?q=%22Title+says+it+all%22 and like the "how to find answers that are not answers" search terms, this sure takes you to the rude part of SO (which I do not normally see.) It's like a "leading indicator" or something, there's a good chance the OP and askers alike don't really "get" the SO paradigm. I edit where I can, but "… the title says it all... now answer!" is probably not salvagable. –  Kate Gregory Jan 18 '12 at 19:22
    
This is perhaps how I should have worded my answer at first. I am just a tiny bit more pessimistic about the usefulness of editing such questions. –  Andrew Barber Jan 18 '12 at 19:32
    
Wow @kate it's much much worse than I thought! –  Wesley Murch Jan 18 '12 at 19:46
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I guess the older posts are worse, the new versions usually have a little extra to bypass the min char/quality filters. Something like "The title says it all. Is there anyway this can be done? Thanks in advance.". Actually those seem equally bad. –  Wesley Murch Jan 18 '12 at 20:27
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@AndrewBarber I share your pessimism. I think most of them are useless. –  ThinkingStiff Jan 18 '12 at 21:30

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