If my point has already been made in another post then consider that fact an illustration of my point (and the other poster's point).

My point

So search is a problem because of question titles are often either silly, or can be easily paraphrased. This means that duplicate questions are often asked.

I've seen questions on meta dealing with duplicates, and I've come across duplicate questions posted by users with enough reputation that it seems that they would have thought to search. So This definitely is a problem. Or at the very least an annoyance.

Some causes of this

Often questioners don't know the root name of their problem so don't use the correct technical term or description for their problem anywhere in the question or question title thus impairing searchability.

People who answer the questions are more likely to be able to use these terms correctly in their answer but often do not because searchability is not a primary concern for them.

Solution Criteria

  • The onus cannot be effectively put on questioners to include the correct keywords since dah. That leaves the answerers.
  • The answerers should not be distracted from their primary concern since dah thus the inclusion of any compulsory field for this purpose would be a bad idea

One Possible Solution

Disclaimer: I am not saying this is the only solution but I do believe a solution would be, you know, nice.

How about an optional Title field for answers? I know this can already be done by styling text but who does it? Who even thinks of doing it? Have you?

Putting in a box would make it explicit. A wise man once said 'explicit is better than implicit' and i tend to agree. I firmly believe that when confronted by a title field many users that would not intentionally aim for searchability would see it as an opportunity to show just how clever they are. This would mean the inclusion of technical terms and worthwhile descriptions in the titles.

Here are some pros:

  • since it is not compulsory it will not greatly distract the answerers from their primary aim
  • those that are filled in reasonably will definitely help in searchability. This applies to both SO's search mechanism and external ones like Google's
  • when people are searching around for a solution to some problem answer titles may be a time saving device. Given a bunch of answers that detail different aspects of one possible solution, or detail different possible solutions, the reader will be able to read full answers in order of relevancy by looking at their headings instead of having to read answers in full or in part before deciding their relevancy

Here are some cons:

  • unicorns are people too. To paraphrase: there is space to abuse/misuse this feature. But that can be said for mostly anything so I don't think its such a big deal
  • edit reputation hoarding will likely happen as people update old answers with new titles. This in itself might be seen as a good thing though from the perspective of searchability

In conclusion

So what do you think? I would be interested to hear some alternatives to my suggested solution if it is in any way inappropriate. My major point is that the search functionality is not as effective as I (or some others as evidenced by a search for 'duplicates' here on meta) would like it to be.

If you think the search functionality is just fine then, well, aim higher you bum.

  • 1
    if you downvote me that's totally fine. Please just say which part you are disagreeing with. My major assertions here are that A: the current search functionality works but could be better and B: One way to make it better would be to prompt people to enter keywords by the inclusion of a not compulsory 'title' field. – Sheena Nov 11 '12 at 7:55

Title: Unicorns are Awesome.

Did I miss something? You can already do this. So I somewhat fail to see the purpose of it.

  • If you're going for SEO (search engine optimization), putting a title on answers isn't gonna help much. It really needs to be in the question title.
  • If you want the answer to be more searchable via SE's searchbox, it already searches in answers.

To summarize:

  1. If you want to add a title, you can already do that - as I have done for this answer.
  2. If you want to make the question more searchable, a title on answers isn't going to help much.
  3. If you want an optional title box to encourage a change of behavior among answerers (such as including key words near the top of the answer). This could be a point of discussion. But I believe this still counts as a futile attempt at SEO.
  • 2
    SE's search functionality has been found to be lacking (not just by me). The techniques described in answers are not always described in search-friendly words, and often not mentioned at all in the associated questions. Often there are useful answers that read something like "have you tried this: code code code" or "blah blah... for a more complete reference check out this very ugly url". Answer titles might not work to improve searchability/usability in all cases but I hold that they would do so at least some of the time. Which is better than leaving things as they stand. – Sheena Nov 9 '12 at 1:41
  • I'm basically saying that you can already add "titles" to answers with the header formats. The only other reason to have "official" support for them would be to improve search - which I don't see how it will help. – Mysticial Nov 9 '12 at 2:07
  • When users post answers they are usually not thinking about how searchable they are. They are just answering questions. While this is all good and well an optional 'title' field would make life easier for a lot of potential questioners. That example I used about the matplotlib backends is a valid one. There is a question on stackoverflow with an answer that describes changing the default backend in a nice and simple way. The information is also in the matplotlib docs but it was represented better by SO. I cant for the life of me find that question again and I have looked hard – Sheena Nov 9 '12 at 2:20
  • 1
    What you've highlighted here is actually a bigger problem. Where the most important terms in a question are actually in the answer instead of the question. TBH, I don't think adding answer titles is going to help at all. Most well written answers will already have the most important (searchable) key words within the first sentence. What we really need are for search engines to put more weight on answer contents and not just question titles. – Mysticial Nov 9 '12 at 6:27
  • @Mystical: I agree with you in part. Increasing the weight of answers would help but there are a lot of badly written but otherwise useful answers out there – Sheena Dec 10 '12 at 12:40

In theory, a title field could be a good idea sometimes. I agree many answers would benefit from a heading like

use Noda Time


it's not possible, but xyz can do this with a tweak

however, looking at how most users fail even at creating a good basic question title, I absolutely don't see how this would work in practice. Also, it has the potential of adding considerable noise to the overall Q&A.

As Mysticial said, you also can have titles; the search problem you mention (that sometimes, the term you are searching for is in a question's answer) could be addressed otherwise, say for example by adding a search parameter that limits search to answers.

  • Answers are often concise. As such they often simply don't include words that would make such a search possible. Wouldn't prompting users to include such words be a good thing? Otherwise adding such a filter to the search will likely miss out on a few relevant result. How does one go about promoting the inclusion of search friendly keywords without including an extra field? – Sheena Nov 11 '12 at 7:53
  • Also, good question titles are often not possible due to obvious limitations in the knowledge of the questioners. If a title field on answers is not compulsory I dont think people would be likely to fill it in too often if they didn't care to formulate a semi-ok title. And bad titles wouldn't really hurt searchability, right? They would add a little noise but whatevers. I've updated my question with a better outline of my reasoning if you are interested – Sheena Dec 10 '12 at 12:43

You can add already add titles to answers

It is already possible to add strong emphasis to the first sentence in answers. And to new sections in long answers.

It aids readability, and breaks up the wall-of-text appearance in long answers.

So, we don't need it introducing as a new feature: we can already choose to do it ourselves, when it's appropriate.

Just add three "=" or three "-" consecutively, under the line you want to make into a title.

And if, at some point in the future, it turns out that identifying such user-set headings are a helpful way for users to navigate the site, then I would expect that the StackExchange web team will implement a search that deliberately picks out those headings, because it will be a relatively easy way to improve their offering.

So, you can add already add titles to answers; please do, when appropriate

  • I have updated my question to more clearly outline my reasoning. I understand where you are coming from but I think you fail to see my point... – Sheena Dec 10 '12 at 12:46

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