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I opened my Stack Overflow "Newest questions" page today, and it really pissed me off this time...

Questionable questions

What's gone wrong? Where are the question marks? Where are the damned Capital Letters in the beginning of the sentences? Why question titles aren't... questions? (And sound more like whining). Such titles are just disgusting, let alone they make Stack Overflow look worse and thus lose popularity.

Even people with relatively high reputation, who asked about 100 questions (the user is marked with a crazy smiley) don't do it in the correct way! I used to be rewording a lot of questions, to make their titles better. But now I think that it only makes it worse, because people don't even try to do it themselves!

So, what should be done here? Or is it only my problem?

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4  
You forgot to circle the horrible spacing around colon at the last question. –  Daniel Daranas May 28 '10 at 6:54
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Eight out of my thirteen SO question titles do not have a question mark, because they're not questions. Sorry for making your life miserable. –  balpha May 28 '10 at 6:57
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Must. Resist. Editing. Title. –  Alconja May 28 '10 at 7:02
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@Daniel, I thought it was an evil smiley in a question about elves... –  Pavel Shved May 28 '10 at 7:04
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As I think @Alconja is implying, it is somewhat ironic that the title is not "Why are people so bad at creating titles for their questions?". –  Rich Seller May 28 '10 at 10:26
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This is odd, your title isn't a question, it's a statement. Does bad English count as an issue also, DOWN VOTED BECAUSE YOU HAPPENED TO BE AN OFFENDER OF YOUR OWN PET PEEVE. –  Chris May 29 '10 at 5:17
    
@Chris and all, yes my title is incorrect, but noone cared to edit it. Seems that just noone really cares about titles. That's all I wanted to know. –  Pavel Shved May 29 '10 at 6:23
    
@Pavel: This is not Wikipedia. Hundreds of questions are asked every day and, as long as a question is easily read and understood, people will not typically edit it to perfection. However I've edited some selected titles, especially their capitalization - for example from questions which had good answers from me, just because I didn't want ugly entries in my user stats. But even that effort is not complete. "Enough is enough". –  Daniel Daranas May 31 '10 at 15:13

3 Answers 3

up vote 15 down vote accepted

Ok, honestly, reading your title, I thought it was going to be a rant against unclear titles, like "need help" or in general any title which doesn't tell you what the question is about.

But no, all what you complain about is a lack of punctuation and capital letters at the beginning? As long as the title describes the problem correctly, and is not a "PLZ HELMP URGEENT!!!!!!!", I think it is a win. All the titles you gave as example tell what the question is actually about.

After, if you can't stand the lack of question mark, sure, feel free to edit them. But no reason to complain like that.

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+1 Very True... –  hgulyan May 28 '10 at 8:31
    
Thank you for your edit. –  devinb May 28 '10 at 10:32
    
Alright, so that's just me. –  Pavel Shved May 28 '10 at 19:42
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Titles that fail to describe the question are all too common, too. The number of otherwise competent programers who never bother to master technical communication is depressing. –  dmckee May 29 '10 at 18:39

This is a perfect opportunity for to write one of my treatises about the erosion of education and sophistication in the young of today. Due to the proliferation of txting, instant messaging, tv-parents and L33tness.

But, although I agree that many question titles are rife with spelling, grammar, and punctuation mistakes, we have to consider what exactly we want to do about it.

StackOverflow is an open community. Anyone (and everyone) can and should join. This means we are going to have users who are University professors with a few PhDs and years of training, and we will also have some high schools students from France who understand very little English. StackOverflow must be able to handle and deal with each of these appropriately.

There are three categories of actions possible (not exclusive):

  1. Complain/Downvote
  2. Edit
  3. Explain/Improve

Complain/Downvote

This is the quickest and least productive response. (I've left out "ignore" because it isn't an "action" that you take). In downvoting, or even downvoting with a semi-explanatory complaint ("-1 Your title sux") does not actually help the user, because they do not necessarily understand:

A. What in particular is problematic about the title

B. Why poor spelling or grammer is somthign we car about?

But you have successfully indicted that they have failed in some way, so this would act simply as a reminder that you (anonymously) consider them deficient in some way.

Edit

This is the preferable solution for titles which have simple spelling or grammar mistakes. The user will receive a notification that their question had been edited, and if they check the history, they will see what you did. You can even add an edit comment "Cleaned up spelling, punctuation and grammar." This way, you have subtly, but not preachily, explained to them that grammar is something that is preferable on the site.

Explain/Improve

This one is quite difficult to pull off without being obnoxious. We do want to encourage people to modify their behaviour to correctly use the English language, but this is a technical question and answer site, so the only case where it is unacceptably problematic is when the question cannot be understood, otherwise it is merely annoying.

Ultimately, the best solution is to edit to improve the grammar or spelling, and leaving an edit note that explains your edits. Users who are inclined to improve will take note and hopefully do better next time, users who are not inclined to improve, well, there's really ain't nothing you can do about them.

For a further comment about how to improve entire questions, see: We need to help non-english speakers somehow

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I so want to replace Poland / France with America.... sigh –  squillman May 28 '10 at 11:27
    
+1: Nicely done, @devinb. But, umm...you mispelled something and grammar in option B. It is unfortunate that editing questions cannot be done at a lower rep. Some of us get left with no other option than to leave a comment that usually ends up sounding terse or somewhat snarky. –  IAbstract May 28 '10 at 11:42
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@dbo - I'm pretty sure it was intended. –  Gnoupi May 28 '10 at 13:34
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@Gnoupi I've said it before, but I'll say it again, your avatar is the greatest thing ever. –  devinb May 28 '10 at 14:11
    
@Gnoupi: I realized that it was intentional - but it lent meaning to my comment that some of us have no other option than to leave a comment. :) –  IAbstract May 28 '10 at 21:25
    
Trying to improve the quality of the question's title or content does no good when there are people who insist on using poorly phrased non-question titles with title case or no-case. The site management leaves it open to the users to determine what is right so the status-quo will determine the overall tone and quality. As the literacy rate declines so will the quality of the content without official guidelines because "well, everyone else does it that way", or "that's how I want to write" or "I asked it that way because I knows better 'n you!". –  Greg Dec 10 '10 at 18:01
    
LOL I am avoiding correcting the 13 spelling and grammar errors in this post, I really am. –  Mark Schultheiss Jan 16 '13 at 16:02

Almost none of the questions you list actually needs a question mark IMO.

  • XUL: create menu items dynamically and set "selectred" attr
  • Want to have...
  • Fluent interface program in Ruby

You are right regarding the capitalization, but if that's the biggest of worries, the question quality is really, really good.

There are really bad question titles around but there is none on your list!

share|improve this answer
    
Really bad question titles don't even deserve any discussion. –  Pavel Shved May 28 '10 at 9:09

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