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We have had quite a few discussions here in the past of whether titles should be phrased as complete questions. For example:

  1. Should question titles be phrased as questions? (A straw poll)
  2. What's in a Title (line)?
  3. How can we get more people to make their title a question?

Our guidance is a little bit confused (for example, this HOWTO contradicts many of the others). And most people seem to treat question titles the same way they treat subject lines in email: as an irritating obstacle.

Currently, though, our titles are terrible. There are at least four reasons I can think of that titles are important:

  1. On the home page and questions page, they give the visitor information as to whether they should be interested in a given question;
  2. In Google search results, they announce to the world that we have a particular question on our site;
  3. They encourage the asker to think about what they really want to know;
  4. They give a general impression of the quality of our site to a new visitor.

As we spread out into lots of civilian topics on Stack Exchange, this becomes even more important. Today, as an experiment, I went through the Apple Stack Exchange and rewrote all the titles on the front page to be actual, grammatical English questions. Although this created a bit of redundancy (an awful lot of them had to be worded as "How can I..."), the overall effect was very pleasing and, I think, would go far to meeting those four goals:

  1. Complete questions on the home page made it much clearer what each question was, so it's easier to decide whether to click on it;
  2. Complete questions in Google will convey to the searcher that we actually have a question that matches their problem, rather than just a web page that shares some keywords with their problem;
  3. On the question page, if the title contains the crux of the question, it's easier to answer someone's question when they have rambled on providing a three page irrelevant narrative summary of their life;
  4. The overall effect on the site was to make it look like a literate, calm place where smart people are speaking in complete sentences, not an old-school phpBB site with a bunch of random and often-meaningless thread titles. It just looks better.

The main disadvantage was the redundancy of having a large number of questions that begin with "How can I..." (although of course it's not all of them).

So, yeah, this is rambling, but I followed my own rule and put the question in the title. "Would the Stack Exchange network be better if titles contained complete, grammatical questions?"

For the moment, please ignore the question of how we obtain compliance here. I am actually more concerned about the Stack Exchange network, which has much less volume, where it may still be possible to make a dent in the question quality. I just want to know if the consensus is that titles should be complete grammatical questions, because if it is, I've got this team here of eight college graduates standing by and they're going to go in to a couple of Stack Exchange sites, edit the heck out of a lot of titles, so we can see if we like it before we start to worry about how to get people to do it.

Update Take a look at the homepage on a good Stack Exchange site, where complete questions are often used, for example, Photography, to get a feel for what a site feels like when the norm is to use full sentences.

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So, I see this is now official policy and being enforced on other network sites. –  Powerlord Jul 27 '11 at 18:52
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"Enforced" is a strong word. Paid goons are going through editing the top 1000 most viewed questions on six different stack exchanges. If they get some edits wrong, revert 'em, we're not religious fanatics. –  Joel Spolsky Jul 27 '11 at 19:16
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Technically every question is prefixed with EEEK! and postfixed with !? - but since it's the same for all questions, then we just assume they're in place and don't actually display them. –  Adam Davis Jan 24 '12 at 20:15

13 Answers 13

up vote 20 down vote accepted

It's much more difficult to phrase a carefully worded, grammatically correct title ending in a question mark that succinctly captures the essence of the OP's question, than it is to just toss some words into a title.

But isn't that the whole point?

It's also difficult to craft a carefully worded question in the body, in such a way that

  1. It is on-topic.
  2. It is not overly broad or narrow.
  3. It contains all of the information needed to determine what the OP is asking.
  4. It contains enough information to make the question answerable.
  5. And yes, it is grammatically correct.

Requiring a complete, grammatically correct question in the title forces the OP to think about these things when they post their question. Ergo, I believe that crafting a good question title not only improves the title of the question for all those reasons you set forth, but also improve the body of the question as well.

It is certainly possible to write a carefully-crafted, well-written title that doesn't end in a question mark; I've done it many times. But it's too easy to write bad titles this way; it's much harder to write bad titles that end in a question mark, because the suckiness of the title becomes obvious.

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Proof by counterexample: Could someone please help me with my misbehaving regular expression that I've been working on for the last four hours?. It's polite, formal adult-speak but isn't otherwise hard to write, and it's suckiness isn't any more obvious that if it was called "regex problem". The one point that is key is that it "succinctly captures the essence of the OP's question"; that's what we need to focus on. –  Brad Mace Jul 21 '11 at 5:26
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@bemace: No argument there. It's certainly easy enough to craft a useless, grammatically-correct title if you try hard enough. I'm just old-school; I figure that if you care enough to make your grammar correct, you might also care enough to write a good title. –  Robert Harvey Jul 21 '11 at 5:28
    
As soon as I saw "But isn't that the whole point?" I decided this was getting my upvote. –  Pops Jul 21 '11 at 14:16
    
The OP mentioned that he wasn't interested in discussing how to obtain compliance. But I'll comment that "requiring" the question's title (as you said in your answer) to do anything doesn't match how SE is run, unless the "requirement" is enforced by polite comments and/or community edits, with pointers to a FAQ or this page when the poster demands satisfaction on why their title was edited. –  Merlyn Morgan-Graham Nov 19 '11 at 4:15

Good titles are obviously important. I agree with one caveat: I don't think the "How do I..." part is strictly necessary. I would object to this being formally required.

For example:

  • How can I resize a partition with Disk Utility?
  • How do I add a new route to the PATH variable?
  • How can I fix an Install Failed error while installing Lion?
  • How can I stop OS X from automatically connecting to a server on startup?
  • How can I make special characters work in Windows Remote Desktop Client for Mac with a French keyboard?

I think these actually read a heck of a lot better if you "Omit needless words!"

  • Resizing a partition with Disk Utility?
  • Adding a new route to the PATH variable?
  • Fixing an Install Failed error while installing Lion?
  • Stop OS X from automatically connecting to a server on startup?
  • Using special characters in Windows Remote Desktop Client for Mac with a French keyboard?

These titles now start with useful action words instead of a bunch of repetitive noise words at the front of every question that have to be read past.

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I would agree with that, but you end up with non-grammatical questions which just don't look as literate as proper questions. I don't think we really need to be optimizing for title density... density can be at odds with clarity. –  Joel Spolsky Jul 21 '11 at 3:37
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Also, most of the time, our titles are seen in the context of Google, not our own home page. In that context if we have a refreshingly literate, well-paced title, it will be more attractive than a dense string of keywords. –  Joel Spolsky Jul 21 '11 at 3:39
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That was my feeling as well. The 'meat' of the question seems to belong to the left. However, I'm a programmer and I honor brevity, so I think I'd be a bit too biased to judge if that was appropriate for the rest of the sites. –  Tim Post Jul 21 '11 at 3:39
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I completely agree with you, but I think if you remove the question marks on your second batch, those are the type of titles that I would strive for currently when asking or editing questions. –  jonsca Jul 21 '11 at 3:40
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Leaving out the question mark eliminates the signal to the casual Google-visitor that we've got a QUESTION, not an article on the subject. It misses an opportunity for the internet searchers who make up 90% of our page views to see that someone else had the exact same question as they did, and encourage them to come see the answer. –  Joel Spolsky Jul 21 '11 at 3:44
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I think Tim's comment is right-on here. This appears to me to be the classic debate over what truly begets elegance: brevity or expressiveness. Programmers tend to feel passionately that brevity is more important, leading to languages like C with its characteristically terse syntax. The rest of our SE 2.0 audience might not feel the same way. "Normal" people do tend to think in terms of questions, redundant verbiage and all. –  Cody Gray Jul 21 '11 at 3:50
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@Joel - I doubt many people care if their problem is solved Jeopardy-style, as long as it's solved. I also think people are fully capable of understanding good titles that aren't sentences-- even those that aren't very good at writing them. –  Brad Mace Jul 21 '11 at 3:52
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@joel I don't have strong feelings about the question mark; I could go either way on that. But I do feel strongly that starting with a useful action word is much better than a bunch of repeated, noisy "How do I.." boilerplate at the front of every question title. Stuff at the beginning has disproportionate power, which is for example why we strip salutations... –  Jeff Atwood Jul 21 '11 at 3:55
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Not that I care either way, but I have found that the lack of a question mark often makes it easier to spot a low quality question. –  M. Tibbits Jul 21 '11 at 6:14
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@Jeff Take a look at photo.se. Does the use of full sentence questions really take away anything from the page there? –  Joel Spolsky Jul 21 '11 at 13:41
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I agree with @Jeff that in terms of googling questions, the question words are just extra weight. I also think the real question needs to be in the body, only after enough context is given to ask an answerable question, and that the title should narrow the scope just enough to make me think my answer might be in there. –  Nick Larsen Jul 21 '11 at 13:57
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@joel I don't object to it in any way if it happens naturally, but some sort of artifical requirement would be a serious distraction per bemace's answer. A question title can still suck even if it's a complete sentence. Bottom line: is the title good or bad? If it is bad, fix it, but don't rely on a magic bullet crutch of "oh, all titles can be fixed by adding "How do I.." to the front and "?" to the end. –  Jeff Atwood Jul 21 '11 at 22:22
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I agree that it looks better if you omit the needless words. And you should omit the needless punctuation too. The titles look a lot better without the ?. –  Gilles Jul 22 '11 at 19:08
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@joel Take a look at math.se. Does the lack of full sentence questions really take away anything from the page there? –  Jeff Atwood Aug 2 '11 at 8:02
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@joel you can also see where this sort of rote, ritual "how do I.." causes problems with search as well: meta.music.stackexchange.com/questions/289/… basically, Omit Needless Words. (and did I mention that Google only supports a fixed # of words in the title of a page? Do you really want those eaten up by boilerplate?) –  Jeff Atwood Jan 21 '12 at 10:58

The titles need improvement, but that sort of requirement would be pretty pedantic, and I think it's a bit of a red herring. Complete sentences in no way ensure useful question titles.

Complete questions on the home page made it much clearer what each question was, so it's easier to decide whether to click on it;

It's really the detail in the title that matters, not the completeness. For example, let's take a look at the awful title that launched my crusade: regular expression.

You can change this to "Can someone help me with my regular expression?", but that hasn't actually made it the slightest bit more useful. Whereas "Regular expression to parse adjoining key-value pairs" is not a sentence but is far more useful.

Complete questions in Google will convey to the searcher that we actually have a question that matches their problem, rather than just a web page that shares some keywords with their problem;

With more specific questions, a title like "Regular Expression to match 6-15 alphanumeric characters plus symbols above 1-8 keys on keyboard" is far more useful that "Regular Expression", but adding "I need a ..." doesn't add anything to people's understanding of the question, and just eats into the space available for a useful description. And not just here on SO--Google also only shows a small piece of text in the results (looks like about 60 chars of title). We want to get as much useful description into that snippet as we can.

On the question page, if the title contains the crux of the question, it's easier to answer someone's question when they have rambled on providing a three page irrelevant narrative summary of their life;

I agree but I don't see how requiring complete sentences helps to address this.

The overall effect on the site was to make it look like a literate, calm place where smart people are speaking in complete sentences, not an old-school PHPBB site with a bunch of random and often-meaningless thread titles. It just looks better.

Descriptive titles make a world of difference, but I think making them all start with a few stock phrases would create the "wall of text" feeling and make things look worse than merely making them descriptive. Given the hard line taken on unnecessary alerts and the general "Get to the point" philosophy I don't see how adding "How do I" or "What's wrong with" to every single question could be anything other than clutter. These phrases should be left out for the same reasons greetings and signatures are removed.

What we really want is for the title to be the well-described subject (in the grammatical sense) of that question, with the tense/conjugation changed (help me out here English majors). Or another way to say it is to write each title so that it completes the sentence "I need help to ..." and then just leave out the "I need help to" part.

If I were to set one criteria that question titles should meet, it would be that you can actually tell if a question is related to your problem when it comes up in the "Related Questions" sidebar or the Ask a Question page. If that condition is met, I think the other title criteria mentioned in the question will usually fall into place. As a corollary, if you saw an interesting question on a certain subject you should be able to find that particular question again by searching for the approximate title without looking at more than a handful of questions.

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as a person who recently went through and attempted to fix a bunch of awful, horrible regex question titles on SO (think "Regex problem!" x200), I think bemace's advice should be heeded... –  Jeff Atwood Jul 21 '11 at 4:09
    
"What we really want is for the title to be the well-described subject" - Touche!! –  Lawrence Dol Jul 21 '11 at 7:15
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What you say is true, but it's a straw man. Joel isn't claiming that better grammar in titles will magically fix anything or that we should always use "stock phrases." But he's right that "How does the foo keyword in language X affect algorithm Y?" is non-trivially different than "foos w/ x adn y CONFUSED" So, there are two points here: first, you don't have to choose between good grammar and good content, you can and should have both; and second, grammar is useful in its own right, for making language more effective and for giving the site a more professional/trustworthy/legitimate "feel." –  Pops Jul 21 '11 at 14:14
    
@Pop - there's no straw man here, that's exactly what he's saying. He specifically asked if complete sentences and better grammar in titles would make the site better and offered four reasons why he thinks it would, each of which I responded to. Stock phrases aren't something he explicitly suggested, I'm asserting that they're the inevitable result of such a policy. For your sample question, I'd title it "Affect of language X's foo keyword on algorithm Y". It's perfectly readable, has all the important info, and leaves out the boilerplate. –  Brad Mace Jul 21 '11 at 16:28
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@popular the boilerplate, particularly if it comes at the start of every title, is at best a wash. I worry that with the misguided focus on adding "How do I" people will forget it is the rest of the title words that actually matter! –  Jeff Atwood Jul 22 '11 at 7:07

So the edits go ahead and the pages start looking like:

  • How do I circumvent the mohel?
  • Why does breathing in David Blaine not make me feel like a David Copperfield?
  • When does the narwhal begin its mating season?
  • How do I set my camera up to snap a shot two seconds after running away from it?
  • How can I attain a cheeseburger?

That doesn't seem calm. Rather, it presents an air of cluelessness, everybody running around trying to get a handle on something, anything. It feels like a forum all over again. Or better yet, tweets to followers.

You've lost the assertiveness. You've lost the direct approach.

You've now added in noise having to read over the words that begin the slug of the title. Now it looks like you're playing Mad Libs.

Striving for high grammar is a noble thing. Reading right into the nugget of the problem would be better.

If you can boil down and present the essence without having to frame it around a conversation, that would make scanning titles easier and less cluttered.

Converting the examples, we have a nice cupping:

  • Circumventing the mohel at a brisk pace
  • Understanding why breathing in David Blaine does not make me feel like a David Copperfield
  • Charting the mating season of the narwhal
  • Setting up a camera to snap a shot two seconds after running away from it
  • Hunting down a source for cheeseburgers

Same message as the first lot, but now we're really into the meat of the problem and don't waste it with small talk you force yourself into when you meet a colleague in the hallway on the way to the kitchen.

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How would you rewrite those 5 questions as non-questions? –  Joel Spolsky Jul 21 '11 at 3:29
    
So how would you otherwise write those same titles? A compare-and-contrast scenario would make it easier for me to follow your thought process here. –  Cody Gray Jul 21 '11 at 3:30
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Your five non-question answers are great titles for blog posts, but there's nothing about them to indicate that they refer to questions. It looks like when I click I'm going to get a treatise on circumventing the mohel, not a question about it (hopefully with answers). –  Joel Spolsky Jul 21 '11 at 3:56
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Verbs, when done right, are much more direct and informative than nouns, or starting with one of the four Ws and the H. @cod –  random Jul 21 '11 at 3:58
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@JoelSpolsky That's exactly why I don't like titles worded as questions. When I search, I'm not looking for questions, I'm looking for answers. –  Gilles Jul 22 '11 at 20:35
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@Joel: How many people come to SE from Google looking specifically for a question? The point of a search is finding information, whether it's in an essay or the answer to a question. Why would a visitor care about the format as long as they learn the thing they need? –  Josh Caswell Jul 22 '11 at 23:54

I think many questions would be vastly improved by a concise single complete grammatical sentence that summarized the problem in the form of a question.

Some questions however, are still very tantalizing even without a question mark. Take this recent question by Jon Skeet:

The title is not a question but a introduction to the question that will be asked in the body. Should the question instead be:

I guess I like it the way he wrote it.

A bad title would be:

Suspicious operator behavior

and changing it into:

Is this operator behavior suspicious?

doesn't really improve it.

But of course, the worst is the mish-mash we usually see:

C# - Operator not working (compiler problem, conversion). Is this right?

The point being that the badness of the titles isn't usually related to their structure as sentences so much as the inability of the question author to compose an effective informative title that draws you in while staying within the bounds of convention.

At the moment that convention (in the field) does not require that the title end with a question mark nor be a complete sentence. While changing that convention would really improve a lot of basic questions, it would also limit the expressiveness of the title for others.

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This is quite subjective, but to my mind the title you cite ("Curious null-coalescing operator custom implicit conversion behaviour") is extremely difficult to read. I had to read it at least twice to understand what it says. Trying to pack too much information into the title can be problematic, especially on the SE 2.0 sites that appeal to a different audience than SO. The human brain just reads natural language questions much more easily. (Or at least, mine seems to.) –  Cody Gray Jul 21 '11 at 4:26
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I have to agree that's not a great example. While I don't think it needs to be a complete sentence, it seems to be missing some words (maybe a "with"?). At least as someone not familiar with "non-coalescing operators" I'm not at all sure what to make of it. Maybe it should be "Curious implicit conversion behavior when using non-coalescing operators"? –  Brad Mace Jul 21 '11 at 5:55

No, Stack Exchange would be worse off.

First, question words are often fluff (I'm with Jeff on this); I like bemace's example that changing “Regular expression” to “Can someone help me with my regular expression?” is not an improvement. Sometimes a question formulation is the best way (especially for “why” questions, I think), sometimes it's noise (the very common “how do I” questions).

Second, the question title is a bit of a misnomer, because it is in fact the title of the whole page. “How can I resize a partition with Disk Utility?” may be an adequate title for the question, but it's not appropriate for the answers.

An important practical consequence of this point is how pages look in Google search results. Note that search engines don't index questions, they index pages which here happen to contain a question and a list of answers. Compare:

  • “Resizing a partition with Disk Utility” → this looks like an article on how to do exactly what I wanted to do, sweet! <click>
  • “How can I resize a partition with Disk Utility?” → this looks like one of those forums that will either have no answer or a long thread with no actual solution. I'll only click on it if I don't find something more promising.

People are usually searching for answers, they don't care about questions! To give off this answer vibe, it's better not to have a grammatical question as the title. This is especially important for how-to questions, where the ideal search result is a series of instructions. It's not very important for why questions, where the searcher wants explanations, is ok with reading more than one and won't mind exploring a bit.

Wisdom of the Ancients

Responding to your arguments:

  1. This has nothing to do with whether the title is a grammatical question. What's important is to have the right key words.
  2. It's the opposite, as I've just explained.
  3. This has nothing to do with whether the title is a grammatical question. What's important is to have the right key words.
  4. This is an argument for having grammatical titles, not titles that are grammatical questions.

Insisting that titles must be grammatical does make sense (although newspaper headlines get away with omitting a lot of link words, but they're often unclear as a result). Insisting that they are questions would be counter-productive. The most important thing is that the title should contain all the relevant key words, in a comprehensible arrangement.

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+1 for distinction between questions and pages. –  Benjol Jul 22 '11 at 4:59
    
Very well argued. Who on earth does a web search looking specifically for questions? A search is a pursuit of information, the answer to a question that the searcher has -- it doesn't matter if it's in the form of a blog post, question and answer, or a freaking banner ad, as long as it can be found and used. –  Josh Caswell Jul 23 '11 at 0:00

I think that omitting unnecessary words, as Jeff suggests, is essential for the following reasons:

  • If you want to encourage a greater volume of mobile users, then a cogent, succinct question is incredibly important to conserve screen real-estate -- remember, these users tend to have a much shorter ui attention span (cf. xkcd).

  • When distilled, a cogent question title is ripe for searching: From a search engine designer standpoint, omitting/including 'non-essential' words may mean everything to finding the correct results. (e.g. If you drop The from The Who, you may not find what you're looking for).

  • If you require a grammatically correct form, this may introduce noise into the search engine algorithm. In one case, The is semantically essential, whereas another uses it only for grammatical 'eloquence'.

Further: I believe the heart of your question is for the next viewer. I envision the typical Stack Overflow / Stack Exchange user experience as:

  1. A user posts a question (?using a concise wording?)
  2. The user receives an accepted answer. <- success for the OP
  3. Another user comes along searching on the same question. Success, after finding the previous answer.

Should step 1 require grammatical complete phrasing? Should a step 2.5 be inserted where a moderator edits the post to improve quality? From this, I believe what you're asking Mr. Spolsky, can be broken into two parts:

  1. If requiring a grammatically correct question will facilitate faster and more accurate responses which address the OP's intent.

  2. If requiring a grammatically correct question (or editing after the fact) will increase the likelihood of a second, third, fourth, etc. viewer to successfully locate the pre-existing answer to their question.

As to the first, I think it would best to work in an efficient manner. Let the user post the question and receive answers with minimal barriers -- clearly roadblocks must be enforced to minimize incredibly low quality questions, but the moderators, flags, and server-side filters appear to adequately address this.

As to the second, I believe (but have little real-world experience -- I'm fairly new here), that if you introduce grammatically correct titles, this may cloud the semantic importance of certain words as I noted above.

Lastly, I'm concerned that if you push too far toward grammatically correct titles, you create a knowledge-base / wiki-style website -- something which I believe you want to avoid. If @random and I ask the same question in very different ways -- one closed as a duplicate:

Q1: Hunting down a source for cheeseburgers? Q2: Hungry for cheeseburgers in the land of falafel?

But they're both edited to match Cody's admittedly more elegant style; then if, God forbid, another user comes along who thinks like I do, they would no longer find the question worded in a way which adheres to their cognitive approach as you've lost an important question synonym.

Possible Compromise: If another user were to come along, posting the same question using a more elegant style and you close both Q1 and Q2 as a duplicate of a nicer Q3, then I think all would be happy if the wording of others remains unchanged. Everyone got an efficient answer and similar future users can more quickly identify a pre-existing solution.

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I've edited thousands of titles myself, and always try to get them closer to complete grammatical sentences, but it's not always possible and still get the main points of the question across. Some questions just have more complicated ideas and space is limited.

Here's a title that I forced into a grammatical sentence, but if you see it in the questions view, it goes to the second line, which I just think makes the questions page look worse.

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The title doesn't necessarily have to capture the essence of the entire post. But I don't think it's too much to ask for folks to put some effort into the title, and encouraging complete sentences is one way to do that. –  Robert Harvey Jul 21 '11 at 3:21
    
@Robert, I'm all about putting effort into the title, just not sure we can always reach the ideal. I'm hunting for a good example now. –  Lance Roberts Jul 21 '11 at 3:23
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Absolutely true, especially on Stack Overflow. Sometimes the title has to refer to the body, for example, "Why doesn't this code do X?" –  Joel Spolsky Jul 21 '11 at 3:24

I sort of agree.

To quote myself:

Make your title talk: potential answerers won't even click through to read your question if the title is too vague

So I think that having a title that actually tells you what the question is about is far more important than making a complete grammatical sentence. And it's in the questioner's own interest (worrying about what Google is going to think about SE may a priority for you, but from a user's point of view, it's pretty screwy to put that above readability).

And SO is very different to the other sites, partly because of our cultural inclination to brevity, but also because of sheer volume. We are scanning hundreds of questions a day (if not more), so every word counts: whether it is a word that's missing, or a word too many. I totally agree with Jeff that the first words are ultra-important, so I think the title should get to the point right now, just like the body should.

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I very much agree with this. Whenever I edit question titles, I usually try to phrase them in the form of a question, using sentence casing, and end them with a question mark.

I think it improves comprehensibility, makes it easier to scan the list of questions at a glance, and makes us look like a sophisticated and literate community.

The only reservation I've ever had is the same one you share: it has the potential to produce a lot of redundancy with the majority of questions beginning with the same phrases. I don't think that's a horrible thing, though. On a Q&A site, one would expect to see a lot of "question"-y words.

We already have tags to categorize questions, so titles don't necessarily need to repeat this information.

And as an added bonus, this might be a good way to recognize or highlight the more problematic questions. In the course of editing, I've found that when it's difficult to craft such a title for a particular question, that question probably isn't a particularly good one and is in need of a bit of attention.

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If you'll permit me to use a loose analogy, in comparing the titles to the subject lines of emails, I would much rather see "Products meeting tomorrow: 2pm" in a subject line than "Let's get together in Bob's office around 2pm to discuss the new product line". I think the latter can potentially clutter things, and cause me to want to regrout my bathroom rather than attend to my inbox.

It's nice to be able to get an "executive summary" of a question without having to have the entire context out in the open. This is not to say that anyone should be hesitant to put the entire question in the subject line, I'm just not confident that mandating it will improve anything other than the search presence. In actuality, I think I'd be more likely to click on something that said "Problem with [X concept]" versus "How do I use X with library Y's feature Z?" if I'm not working with library Y, even though the second question may have been general enough to help me through my difficulty.

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I fully agree with your email example, but in the second example I think the more detailed version is significantly better ("Using X with library Y's Z feature" would also be good). There may be hundreds of questions about problems with X. We want people to generally be able to distinguish one question from another based on the title. –  Brad Mace Jul 21 '11 at 5:34
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@bernace More details are always better,except when the titles/questions become too localized.If the title becomes too much of the outline of the specific question and less about the "subject" of the question, I think that people will shun those even though they may contain exactly the right information... –  jonsca Jul 21 '11 at 7:26
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...I think what you're getting at is it's bad to have 80 questions that are titled "matrix multiplication". I agree. However, I think that there has to be a happy medium between that and "How do I manipulate the output of function X in MyGraphicsLibrary to determine a specific rotation in my simulation of particles?" I'm saying that rather than helping with the search engine issue, it could be harmful if someone searches `Matrix multiplication using function X in MyGraphicsLibrary" –  jonsca Jul 21 '11 at 7:26

We have many users for whom English is a second language. I see many of their questions quickly downvoted because of the questioners inability to formulate a sensible question. If any of you are patrolling the streets of StackOverflow looking for grammar offenders, please consider this before downvoting a ridiculously worded question. If someone is struggling to find an answer in a computing language with which they are unfamiliar, in a language that they speak/read marginally, on a site that may be new to them, they could use a little slack.

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Agreed, to a point. I tend to edit questions of that kind, and gently reword them whilst staying true to the OP's wording. That said, as soon as it starts descending into "txtspk", or the OP is lower-casing everything for stylistic reasons, my patience wears thin ;-). –  halfer May 4 '13 at 18:00
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I'm right with you on the txtspk! –  HalR May 4 '13 at 18:14

I'm all for improving the titles of questions and I upvoted this question, but by asking for complete grammatical sentences I think you're setting the bar too high.

Yes, we've always required grammatical questions - but we don't get them, and we won't get grammatical titles.

I can't suggest a solution for this, and there's no way it could be guaranteed -- unless we require each high-rep user to spend time editing question titles.

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...disagree? We ask for complete grammatical sentences in the body of the question, so why shouldn't we extend the same expectations to titles? –  Cody Gray Jul 21 '11 at 3:11
    
care to expound on why that would be setting the bar too high? –  Joel Spolsky Jul 21 '11 at 3:14
    
"It's hopeless" doesn't sound like a very good argument. –  Robert Harvey Jul 21 '11 at 3:37
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Lots of high-rep users already spend time editing question titles. But there's currently a lack of consensus regarding how they should edit those titles. If we agreed on a style, then each of those edits (when they are made) could be much more productive. –  Cody Gray Jul 21 '11 at 3:45
    
Yes, but my thought was that we could make it more compulsory. I've seen the cries for help, and done my bit, too, but I could do more. –  pavium Jul 21 '11 at 4:01

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