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Seems strange (and not in a good way) to me that when I click "Questions" and very few (about 1 in 8) of the titles end in question marks. So I'm curious to get some opinions:

Is there some simple change to the site that would encourage actually asking a question in the title?

Is this a worthwhile aim?

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I don't think it's a big deal and from your research, possibly a difficult goal to achieve –  Michael Haren Sep 13 '09 at 18:10
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4 Answers 4

up vote 11 down vote accepted

Most people appear to ask questions without having a solid idea of what their question really is until they've finished writing the body. Some don't even figure it out then.

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.

It might also help if SO changed the label on that first entry field from "Title" to "Question" or "Question summary": right now, some people appear to be trying to actually "title" their question the way one might title an essay - which questions are not.

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Think we should put the Title/Summary/Question field at the end? Just thinking that what you said of not knowing the title until you're finished reading is also true of writing. –  JasonWoof Sep 13 '09 at 18:22
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@jasonwoof: that sounds like it might help... My only concern would be that the current entry form uses Title to perform a quick search for existing questions before the user enters the full question - that might suffer if users spend time writing a full question first, as they might well be more reluctant to discard their full question. –  Shog9 Sep 13 '09 at 18:30
    
Any progress on changing the label? –  Tom Wijsman Aug 13 '12 at 13:39

I don't see any reason why the title should be a question. What it should be is a summary or a lead-in to the body, so that when members are scanning down a list of questions, they can quickly tell what posts they might like to either try to answer or read for help with their problem. I think that question-form titles are in fact usually unhelpful -- there's no need for "How to" at the beginning of each and every title in the SO database.

Here's a few examples of original and edited titles. The new ones are succinct and deliver information without needing to have an interrogative word and a question mark, which would really just be noise. (Obviously some of these had other problems besides just being question-form.)

Then: how can we show Tab Widget on each and every Activity ? Event hat Activity is subActivity of FirstActivity.java
Now: Show Tab Widget on each and every Activity


Then: how to increase the width of a sprite through an animation??
Now: Increase the width of a sprite through an animation


Then: How to convert View to bitmap in android
Now: Convert view to bitmap on Android


Then: how to make a service in android which implements broadcast reciever?
Now: Make a service in android on Android which implements broadcast reciever


Then: hi frds, could you plz help me how to remove html tags from parsing data in blackberry application
Now: Remove HTML tags data in Blackberry application


Then: How to upload a picture/ friends list for an event using the Facebook Graph API in iphone ?

Now: Upload a picture/friends list for an event using the Facebook Graph API


I think that last one is the best example; the title is already quite long, and the "How to" adds nothing of value.

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While I try to have my questions (at least on SO) have a title that is also a question, I'm not sure that it should be required. I consider the entire post to be the question, not merely the title. In some respects it's actually better to have the title NOT be a question. I've seen many times when a person answers the "question" in the title, seemingly without actually reading the full post wince if they had, they would have realized that the "question" was only one aspect of the actual problem/question the OP was describing.

The thing that I think is critical is having the title be representative of the post. Getting the title to accurately reflect the real question is much more important that having it in the form of a question. After all, this isn't Jeopardy™.

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Maybe we need to look for a happy medium. It's really frustrating browsing questions when the title are like:

  • Fix My Code
  • What is Wrong with this
  • Can Someone help Me
  • Java Bug

I understand every topic can't be distilled to a question, but on the other end of the spectrum, the titles become meaningless, and are just noise.

The best solution I can think of is to provide a mandatory tutorial for new users. This will explain the correct way to propose questions. Before they user can ask a question, they complete the tutorial with a short quiz at the end. Secondly, there should be a remedial process if a persons gets too many down votes on a question, or it gets closed. For example, if you have 3 questions in a row closed or with more than N down votes, you need to re-take the tutorial before you can create new questions.

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we already do this; see blog.stackoverflow.com/2010/10/asking-better-questions for more details. Also, after three strikes on our site, "you're out". Forever at the IP level. There is no redo. Just FYI –  Jeff Atwood Jan 14 '11 at 4:53

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