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This morning I posted a question on some relatively advanced aspects of C++. Its title was: "c ++ is like a femme fatale that burns through lovers but I still want to get to know it - 1." (Later changed to "Basic questions about RAII, STL pop, and PIMPL"). This was closed in about 70 minutes as "not a real question." Part of the reason may have been the vague formulation of the first question, which I edited soon after posting.

OK, so maybe I was trying too hard (it's Friday). But what about some of the comments I got:

  • Neil says "Perhaps you would be happier staying on reddit? The rule here is one question at a time." I don't know where this comes from, there are many postings on SO that contain multiple, related questions.
  • Toji says "I'm sure you'll get some attention for the clever title, but it doesn't help much when someone is searching for the subjects you mention." So does this imply that the SO search engine searches only the title text and not the body, I highly doubt that.

Does an irreverent title immediately make your question worthless to the Stack Overflow community?

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Please don't sign your posts –  jmfsg Mar 5 '10 at 19:42
    
I didn't knew you can vote to reopen your own question ! Interesting. –  OscarRyz Mar 5 '10 at 20:07
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Funny titles are allowed. I don't see what that has to do with that question. –  mmyers Mar 5 '10 at 20:12
    
The comments reveal that the main reason it was closed was the title. –  recipriversexclusion Mar 5 '10 at 20:13
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I'm always for fun and screw the rules, and if you need an unorthodox question reopened, you've usually got my vote. But a title like that makes a question really hard to understand, gives no hint as to its content, and is impossible to search for by others. All good reasons to close. For weirdness, come to Meta. –  Pëkka Mar 5 '10 at 20:41
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@107: I know that, I just don't see where the "funny" comes in. ...Oh, never mind. It was nothing but an ill-fated attempt at snark. Not worth the trouble. –  mmyers Mar 5 '10 at 21:10
    
@mmyers Oh, I get it, LOL. I'm denser than my usual self on Fridays :-) –  recipriversexclusion Mar 5 '10 at 21:13
    
Any given attempt at a joke title could be considered hilarious by one person, a lame attempt at humor by another person, and frustratingly bamboozling by a third person (who doesn't realize it's a joke in the first place). So, while we don't hate fun, know that it's really hard to get a majority of users to agree that a joke title/post is actually funny (and therefore worth keeping), especially because our users come from all sorts of cultural backgrounds and have wildly varying levels of English proficiency. –  Pops May 2 '12 at 13:38

6 Answers 6

up vote 13 down vote accepted

Does an irreverent title immediately make your question worthless to the SO community?

No, but it's likely to attract the wrong sort of attention if you're actually trying to ask a serious question.

If you want a real answer, then summarize your question (singular...) in your title, and expand upon it in the question body.

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@Shog9 I don't quite understand what you mean by "the wrong sort of attention"? Are there a "SO policing editors" similar to Wikipedia deletionists? I fully agree with what you're saying but should the price of going against that wisdom be the closing of a question? Now, even the title has been changed but still the question is closed, how does that benefit anyone? –  recipriversexclusion Mar 5 '10 at 19:47
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@10769 Yes, there are users who try to keep good content on the site, and bad content off. That's a good thing. That's what makes Wikipedia so great, and that's what makes SO so great. –  Jonathan Sampson Mar 5 '10 at 19:50
    
@Jonathan How come you can tell it's bad content just from the title? I think going into discussion about what is "good" or "bad" content is not beneficial. Anyway, why not just edit the title then? –  recipriversexclusion Mar 5 '10 at 19:57
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@107692874: Eh? It's open now. And by "wrong sort of attention", I meant "folks killing time on a Friday afternoon, who just might be more interested in messing with you than answering your questions". –  Shog9 Mar 5 '10 at 19:58
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@Shog I think you're right :-) –  recipriversexclusion Mar 5 '10 at 20:02
    
On a different note, it's interesting how emergent policing sometimes gets out of hand in collective sites like Wikipedia, SO, etc. Jonathan is right, this is what makes Wikipedia so good, but inevitably there are a lot of false alarms, too. Rather than giving the benefit of a doubt, people adopt a shoot first and ask questions later attitude. But this is a topic for a different site. Well, I've learned my lesson (no sarcasm intended), will keep the funny titles for other sites. –  recipriversexclusion Mar 5 '10 at 20:08
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@10769 Some people will edit the title, some won't. Either way, it's ultimately your responsibility to provide a proper question. If a question gets closed, just clean it up and encourage others to reconsider - that isn't uncommon :) –  Jonathan Sampson Mar 5 '10 at 20:09
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"..and encourage others to reconsider - that isn't uncommon" Indeed, one of my regular janitorial chores is going to my activity tab and checking back on all the questions I left a "voting to close because..." comment on (most of those I vote to close) to see if they've been "fixed" and are eligible for reopening. –  dmckee Mar 5 '10 at 23:06

A bad title is a utter pain. A title should as accurately as possible describe the issue as it is what people use to gauge if they should take a look at the question.

If I bother to click on a topic that has a "funny" title and find it holds nothing of interest, you have got me in a bad mood before I even read your question which increases the chance of me voting to close rather than fixing the question.

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@Yacoby I agree. But why not just edit the title then rather than closing the question? I wasn't just trying to be funny in the title, it was about the point in the question, albeit in an irreverent way. –  recipriversexclusion Mar 5 '10 at 19:58
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@107: because you can't expect people to take the time to edit. It might be their right to do so, but it is not their obligation. –  perbert Mar 5 '10 at 20:39
    
@voyager Of course it isn't. Let me give an analogy: When witnessing a crime a police office has many options available to her. A good officer should choose the option that fits the crime, e.g. if she shoots down an unarmed shoplifter, we wouldn't call her a good officer, right? I think same principles apply here. I don't think it's a time issue, editing takes perhaps 30secs more than closing. I think it's a certain attitude. –  recipriversexclusion Mar 5 '10 at 20:49
    
@107 On a question that isn't very clear it takes time and hard work as if I am editing I have to be 100% sure that I have got the intention of the question asker correct and then think up a good title. If the question isn't clear I tend to just write a comment and move on. If the question isn't at all clear or there is something else wrong with it I vote to close and move on. –  HAL 9000 Mar 5 '10 at 21:07
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@107: we are not being paid to protect the inhabitants from criminals. The attitude is that if I perceive that a minimum of effort isn't being taken by the original poster, why should I? (Talking in general, not about this question.) –  perbert Mar 5 '10 at 21:18
    
+1 My one attempt at a clever title inhibited the flow of good answers. I won't do it again. –  dmckee Mar 5 '10 at 21:53

This morning I posted a question on some relatively advanced aspects of C++. Its title was: "c ++ is like a femme fatale that burns through lovers but I still want to get to know it - 1".

What? There is fan fiction here now?

This was closed in about 70mins as "not a real question". Part of the reason may have been the vague formulation of the first question, which I edited soon after posting.

What took it so long?

OK, so maybe I was trying to hard (it's Friday). But what about some of the comments I got:

Neil says

"Perhaps you would be happier staying on reddit? The rule here is one question at a time."

I don't know where this comes from, there are many postings on SO that contain multiple, related questions.

We prefer shorter, easily answerable questions. Multiple unrelated questions in a single post is bad because somebody else is looking for a solution to just one of your questions he will have to filter out the content not relevant to him. Try and keep the questions as simple and relevant as possible.

Toji says

"I'm sure you'll get some attention for the clever title, but it doesn't help much when someone is searching for the subjects you mention."

So does this imply that the SO search engine searches only the title text and not the body, I highly doubt that.

The problem is that the title does have higher weight than the body. Also, someone going through the search results/any list of questions would have a hard time knowing what the question is about.

Does an irreverent title immediately make your question worthless to the SO community?

Irrelevant content == wasted time using braincells for us. That is bad if you want people relevant to the topic answer.

A bit of fun is great, but don't go overboard.

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I don't understand why you're so riled up with the title, "fan fiction", "What took it so long?" etc. As you say, the title format is a preference, it's not inherently wrong to do it otherwise. But the real issue is that the title has been modified now, most of what you're saying does not apply, but the question is not automatically reopened. I don't see how this is beneficial to the SO community. Would it be more useful to just editing the title rather than closing. –  recipriversexclusion Mar 5 '10 at 19:53
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@107: it could have been closed a lot faster. It's just that it's Friday. Of course it's not automatically reopened, the community has to vote for that to happen. If you had chosen an appropriate title, it would have not been closed to begin with. The SO community is doing great, thank you very much for your concern. It would be more useful to properly prepare a question rather than expecting the community to edit it. –  perbert Mar 5 '10 at 20:05
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This sort of condescending remark is not useful to relatively newer users, like me, who may not know the SO culture as well as yourself. Obviously every board has a different community, a title that would be OK in HN or proggit is frowned upon here. My take away from this skirmish was this. –  recipriversexclusion Mar 5 '10 at 20:58

I'd like to add to the other answers, that the title is primarily used for SEO, so I don't see how that original title would help someone searching Google for your same problem.

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I didn't think about that one, you're right. –  recipriversexclusion Mar 5 '10 at 21:15

So, no “funny” titles allowed here?

I think you got it!

How “useful” should a title be?

I think it should be a summary of your question, good enough to attract people and post answers.

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Does an irreverent title immediately make your question worthless to the Stack Overflow community?

Not "worthless" of course, but it has a huge impact. "Funny" titles should be edited if they do not accurately describe the problem.

Besides Google, the words in titles are used to populate the "Related" sidebar and the suggestion prompt that appears when asking new questions.

For instance, if you use the word "foobar" in your title, you will be suggested other posts with "foobar" in the title. This is important to the "Ask Question" suggestion list because at that point you haven't even entered your tags yet.

If the words chosen for the title match the actual programming problem, the visibility, and therefore usefulness of the post is much greater.

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