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I should first mention that I also meant "Is it OK to...?" and phrases with more or less similar meaning by mentioning the phrase "Is it possible to...?" in the title of this question.

Although this could be an opinion-based question, and the best choice for each title may differ and depend on each question, case by case, I really have a serious problem choosing the better one, and I happened to have a bad experience of negative reaction for each of those cases.


This is my opinion, and you can skip this part.

In my opinion (and maybe yours), as time goes by, asking a question which does not have a potential for downvotes and negative reactions becomes harder and harder.

There are many trivial questions without enough or even maybe without any search efforts with lots of positive feedback / votes. But the difference is, they have been asked a decade ago or close to that time. As if there was some type of golden age in the Stack Exchange network history when you could freely, and without any fear, ask any type of question you have.

But now, if you don't spend lots of time researching your questions using different sources including Google and the Stack Exchange network, your chances for getting negative feedback is very high. Or at least your question may end up with "possible duplicate of ..." comments, even if the question is different but happens to have some similarities.

So I think, now, it is also necessary to study or at least consider the psychological accepts of questions and their titles too!


Compared to "How to...?" style, "Is it possible to...?" questions seem to be safer and have lower risk of negative feedback, although I had advices on my "Is it possible to...?" questions, telling me to use "How to...?" style. And I had negative feedback on my "How to...?" questions as well.


To clear the situation more:

I personally prefer to use the "How to...?" style. It is clearer that you are asking for a method of accomplishing something. But many people (usually with high reputation and possibly with low patience) interpret the question as if the original poster believes / assumes / suggests that "It is possible to...", and now asks "How do I do it?". And, if the thing they are asking about is possible (and / or considered to be a good practice), it is OK. But if it is not possible (and / or not considered to be a good practice), the question will most likely receive negative feedback (maybe rightfully so).

Just take a look at the first comment of the question that I asked recently How to cast pointers to arrays in C++. Although I clearly mentioned that I am not sure if it is possible to do the thing by mentioning "So is it OK to cast pointers to arrays in C++?" in the question itself (not the title), the first comment was "... correct way is not to cast at all. Why do you need that?". I also got a downvote for that question.

This might be a personal experience for me, but I also have seen such negative reactions happen to others' questions as well.

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    Is there an still easy understandable phrasing possible without using any of those noisy openings? In other words: Can you get rid of both forms without compromising readability? This might be more of an ELU question ...
    – rene
    Commented Sep 17, 2022 at 6:45
  • "Is it possible to..." asks for a binary yes/no. I'd have thought in most cases that wouldn't be very useful. It depends a bit on the site's style I'd have thought - skeptics wouldn't take kindly to either. Worldbuilding loves the "how" questions. The programming sites? No ideas on that from me.
    – W.O.
    Commented Sep 17, 2022 at 7:10
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    @W.O. the problem is, some people (usually with a very high reputation), interpret the "How to...?" questions, as the OP's belief/assumption/suggestion that "it is possible to..., now how do I do it?" by default. And for people like me (beginners without enough knowledge and a lot to ask), that causes a lot of down-votes and eventually, loosing the ability to ask any more question!
    – AKL
    Commented Sep 17, 2022 at 7:23
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    The "How to...?" style is broken English. Questions don't work like that in English. The question mark should be dropped if starting with "How to". The title does not need to be a question and does not need to contain a question mark. Commented Sep 17, 2022 at 8:38
  • @This_is_NOT_a_forum I think you are right. Also under the influence of the Journeyman Geek's answer , I am starting to think that none of the "Is it possible to...?" and "How to...?" phrases are good for titles. And I should use better things for titles. This just adds up to the total amount of the time that I should spend on asking a question on stack network as a non-native English speaker! :(
    – AKL
    Commented Sep 17, 2022 at 8:51

4 Answers 4

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You don't need to use either.

How to cast pointers to arrays in C++

Is it possible to cast pointers to arrays in C++

can be reworded to

Casting pointers to arrays in C++

Casting C++ pointers to arrays

or maybe

Cast pointers to arrays in C++

Cast C++ pointers to arrys

From the perspective of titles "How to..." and "Is it possible to..." can be viewed as linguistically redundant. By eliminating them you put the 'words' you want people to read - "cast", "pointers", "arrays", "C++" - closer to where your potential answerers start reading, whilst keeping your title understandable.

cocomac has used SEDE to show you the differences. What hasn't been added is what the results look like without

Title Avg. Views1 Avg. Answers1 # Posts % Closed
"is it possible to" 2,134 1.45 106,279 4.3%
"how to" 3,616 1.52 3,058,950 4.7%
neither 2,699 1.47 19,806,783 4.5%

1) my numbers are different as I normalised the title casing in the query

As you can see the number of posts without adding these phrases at the beginning are large enough that I'm not sure (though I'm not doing the full analysis) that any meaningful decisions can be made from these numbers.

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  • Yes as I mentioned in my response to This_is_NOT_a_forum, I am starting to think that omitting those phrases from the question, might be a good idea. However this might still looks as "How to...?" style, unless you clearly mention in your question that you are also asking about the possibility, don't you agree?
    – AKL
    Commented Sep 17, 2022 at 10:06
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    Not really @AKL. The verb that matters in the example is "cast". You're looking to cast and personally I'd lead with that. Looking back at my past questions I've started with "how" twice, I've started with what I'm attempting to achive many more times: "validate", "get", "combine", "find", "maintain", "convert", "calculate" (these are not necessarily great words I'm using them as examples of starting with a verb) Commented Sep 17, 2022 at 10:13
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    I should note that the statistics for "is it possible to" are incorrect. There are multiple variations of the same phrase "would it be possible to...", "can I...", "can <technology>..." (e.g., "Can JavaScript be used to hide some elements within a form?"). The "how to" might also have a few variations. I doubt this changes the ratios that results bring but concrete numbers might differ.
    – VLAZ
    Commented Sep 19, 2022 at 7:31
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"Is it possible to" asks if something can be done. "How do I" basically asks for instructions on how to do a thing. To me, an ideal question talks about a problem, its constraints and the expected outcome. It's about a process to achieve an outcome rather than the feasibility of an outcome

"How do I" makes for a better title because it reflects what you're looking for, a solution.

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  • You are 100% right about the first paragraph, How ever titles are expected to be concise and right to the point. It is hard to come up by a title that is short enough and yet can explain and reflect the process of achieving an outcome.
    – AKL
    Commented Sep 17, 2022 at 8:39
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    How do I <get outcome> (optionally) <with tool> :D Commented Sep 17, 2022 at 8:42
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Tl;dr: use "how do I"


Long answer: It's already been established on MSO that "is it possible" can (should?) be treated as "how do I ...", and even that editing it to "how do I" is generally fine (although read the linked MSO answer (and the other answer there) for more info. But... let's see what the actual data says, not just what people suggest.

I'm using SO for my SEDE queries as querying multiple sites at once isn't trivial

Let's look at the number of answers, views, and the score for each title type. I'll use these two queries (in SEDE)

The query for views and answers is this:

SELECT ROUND(AVG(CAST(ViewCount AS FLOAT)), 2), ROUND(AVG(CAST(AnswerCount AS FLOAT)), 2) FROM Posts WHERE PostTypeId = 1 AND (Title LIKE '%how to%' )

SQL for averaging with decimals is based on this by @Guffa on SO

The one for score is from @rene, in the comments

Title Views Answers Total Score
"it is possible to" 2087.38 1.44 112461
"how to" 2463.86 1.47 3058957

Credit for using total score instead of averages goes to @rene

A few notes on methodology:

  • I'm not sure if SEDE is case sensitive - this could mess with these numbers (bonus: if it is, leave a comment please!)
  • The "is it possible to" answer count is likely inflated due to some of them likely being "yes" (or "no") without much more info - that said, I haven't looked through them, so I could be wrong
  • There are many more ways to phrase these that I didn't check/account for - therefore, those phrasings almost certainly will change these numbers

I advise using "how do I" - it is generally preferred, and it decreases the likelyhood of answers that say "yes" (or "no") and little more, and data indicates that is better as well

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    The phrase mentioned in the provided comparison table is " "it is possible to" ", not "Is it possible to". Was that a typing mistake in the answer or the actual term used in the search?
    – AKL
    Commented Sep 17, 2022 at 7:32
  • Also I appreciate it, if it was possible to have the factor of "time of asking the questions" in the search too. I mentioned that aspect in my question too.
    – AKL
    Commented Sep 17, 2022 at 9:31
  • It is case sensitive. You should use lower(title) to compare against a lowercase string.
    – Laurel
    Commented Sep 17, 2022 at 13:02
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Well, this is my own answer to my question, mainly completing the suggestions and borrowing the ideas from the first comment for the question from @rene and the answer posted by @ben is uǝq backwards ,while also keeping in mind other answers and comments.

In order to avoid negative reactions to the question and only considering the perspective of the questioner(not the answer-er) I think, the best safe practice is:

  • Not to use any of the phrases, "Is it possible to...?" or "How to...?" in the title and simply mention the rest of the original title's sentence for the safe title, with the main verb mentioned not in its base form ("-ing" used in infinitive and past participle formats like "casting") but in its original form (present tense, singular, first person like "cast")

  • Then the first thing that should be mentioned in the body of the question, should be: "This is a hypothetical situation and the question has been asked only for educational reason."

  • Then the first question that should be asked in the body of the question, should be "Is it possible to...?"

  • Then the second question that should be asked in the body of the question, should be "Is it a good practice to...?"

  • Then the third question that should be asked in the body of the question, should be "If it is possible, how do I...?"

  • Then the rest of the questions should be mentioned, like resources that have been studied, the methods that have been tried and ...

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  • Please only consider the perspective of questioners and their reputations and continuity of their ability to ask further questions, while voting for this answer. If it gets enough votes, I will accept it as the answer for the question.
    – AKL
    Commented Sep 17, 2022 at 11:34

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