I just answered this question:

Should title of question be a question?

A few days back I discovered this HOWTO:

HOWTO: Writing Good Titles

This article discourages the use of "How do I...?" and "Can I...?" at the start of a question title. I have to agree but I seemed to have been brainwashed into using this style from the beta days (until recently) when I seem to remember this was ok and even preferred. In fact the PodCasts from back in the day extensively discussed "Asking Great Questions".

The preferred approach according to Jeff's guidance is to do something like:

  • Raise an existing X11 window via command line?
  • Inserting BLOBs at a high-rate in PostgreSQL?
  • Constructing images using HTML markup?

..and so on.

However the examples given don't really make sense because they don't make any sense grammatically as questions even though they have a question mark tacked on the end. I see these as question topics rather than questions.

All over Stack Overflow you are encouraged to "Ask Question" or click lists of "Questions".

Whilst there is a label "Title" next to the new question textbox, all over the site we see "Question" phrasing all the time. I think folks are subliminally brainwashed or feel obliged to ask their question in the title (albeit in abreviated form) rather than stating the "topic" of their question and what they're trying to do.

Perhaps this needs a re-visit and maybe use of phrasing such as "Please tell us the topic of your question" and somehow with some clever design and better phrasing program users to think this way?

  • 3
    I think I'd rather see things grammatically correct than change the terminology of a question... on a Q&A site...
    – Jon Seigel
    Jan 10, 2011 at 2:10
  • I see your point, but I think the resulting problem is a relatively minor one. Question titles are edited into a better form very often.
    – Pekka
    Jan 10, 2011 at 2:38
  • @pekka - but if the terminology and guidance were clearer then we wouldn't have to edit and people (such as myself embarrassingly) won't try and stuff a whole question in the title with unnecessary clutter.
    – Kev
    Jan 10, 2011 at 3:09
  • 1
    I really don't like Mark's answer to that question at all, and Jeff's answer is more of a reply to Mark's than its own set of advice or guidelines. Aside from some vague reference to people "scanning web pages", there's no rationale whatsoever given for his anal-retentive advice; most of it is somewhere between arbitrary and just plain bad (like tags as prefixes).
    – Aarobot
    Jan 10, 2011 at 4:29

1 Answer 1


Uh... They're questions. They must be questions. If they're not questions, then they don't belong...

Even if you opt to use some terse phrasing style in the title, you're still asking a question. As much as it bugs me, in conversation I hear questions asked in that form reasonably often (with inflection rather than punctuation used to indicate that the person is asking rather than stating).

Does that...

...make sense?

Regarding your edit...

I think folks are subliminally brainwashed or feel obliged to ask their question in the title (albeit in abreviated form) rather than stating the "topic" of their question.

...Where did you get the idea that question titles were supposed to state the "topic" of the question? Indeed, there has in the past been some concern that users weren't concerned enough with putting questions in their titles... The topic of the question should be indicated by the tags, as those are available to the system for more interesting purposes (filtering, searching, SEO...)

  • Which encourages the discouraged behaviour of "Can I", "How do I" in the question title. i.e. I think people feel obliged to ask their question in the title (albeit in abreviated form) rather than stating the "topic" of their question.
    – Kev
    Jan 10, 2011 at 2:28
  • @Kev: I think you're getting too hung up on these prefixes. The important part is what follows - and it better be a question. If folks omit the first part, fine, whatever... But omitting the second part is already a bigger problem.
    – Shog9
    Jan 10, 2011 at 2:42
  • @shog9 - I'm not getting hung up on prefixes, I'm just highlighting something that I observe as slightly confusing because of the terminology used on the site. i.e. users should be made to feel they don't need to try pack a question into the title but be more succinct and treat title as a title or topic.
    – Kev
    Jan 10, 2011 at 2:53
  • @Kev: and I'm saying, they absolutely should not be treating it as a topic title. That's what tags are for... The question title should absolutely state the question! It can be abbreviated, trimmed of words that aren't strictly necessary, but it should still, first and foremost, communicate what is being asked - not just the categories it happens to fall into.
    – Shog9
    Jan 10, 2011 at 2:57
  • Well according to Jeff's preferences many of his example question titles aren't abbreviated questions (even though they incorrectly have a question mark after then). It's sometimes just not possible to abbreviate a question to a sensible amount of words (as a question) and it's better to state the topic and what you're trying to do (that last bit I should have been clearer about).
    – Kev
    Jan 10, 2011 at 3:02
  • @Kev: that does clear things up a bit... I'm still leery of "what I want to achieve" titles, but that may be simply a personal desire to avoid code-requests; they're certainly a step up from "VB.NET COM problem with interfaces" (which clearly states the topic, and nothing else).
    – Shog9
    Jan 10, 2011 at 3:12

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