15

I am genuinely curious, but this is my second beta and one thing I have noticed is the first edit that people make to questions is make the title into a question.

For example, the title of my 2nd question on this site was

Video Player with Accurate Frame Count or Precise Timestamp

And within a minute of posting, someone suggested an edit

What video player has an accurate frame count or precise timestamp?

In my mind, the say exactly the same thing except 1 is a question and the other is not. Is there any specific recommendations that actually recommend titles be actual questions?

I'm not against titles being questions, but I'm really just interested in getting feedback on this. If it really something that everyone feels makes a big difference, I will reconsider my approach to titles.

  • 1
    For the record, I'm the one that's been doing this (in suggested edits). I'm sure I saw a reference on mSO suggesting it somewhere, but I can't find it now. – Undo Feb 5 '14 at 2:01
  • @Undo it's not just you, I saw it on the other beta I was involved in. – psubsee2003 Feb 5 '14 at 2:02
  • Ah, ok. That makes me feel better about myself :P – Undo Feb 5 '14 at 2:03
  • Two points, neither in the form of an Answer. All else being equal, the shorter title is to be preferred. Also, having the Question in the title does not substitute for asking a clear question in the body of the post. – hardmath Feb 6 '14 at 12:28
  • Some of even think that things that sound like an interrogative (like the title to this question) even require a question mark. (I'd edit one in, but doesn't seem to be an option available to me). – Ira Baxter Feb 14 '14 at 14:40
11

TL,DR: no, there's no compelling reason for the title to be a question (rather the opposite in fact).

I recommend reading the FAQ How do I write a good title?, especially its accepted, highest-scoring answer which is based on scientific research. The salient points are:

  • Make the topic stand out.
  • Keep it short.
  • Lead with the most important words.

    attention map

  • Don't start with “How do I…” (corollary of the above)

  • Don't sweat replicating a tag keyword.
  • “What is a …” is fine

There's no point to add a question mark at the end just for the sake of it. And as we've seen, question words at the beginning of the title are often a mere waste of space. Your example is a good one — the non-question title is better because the one that insists on being a question wastes precious attention at the beginning.

Keep in mind that the title isn't just a title for the question, it's a title for the whole thread, including the answers.

Some good titles are questions. Many of the best titles are not questions. Use whatever feels most natural.

  • Why was this downvoted? Unlike the other answer, it actually pulls from the faq on writing good titles. – DanteTheEgregore Feb 5 '14 at 13:50
  • There are reasons for question titles to be questions. – Kenny Evitt Feb 11 '14 at 18:02
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    @KennyEvitt That's fascinating. Would you mind sharing more? Are they actually good reasons? Can you point to usability studies? – Gilles 'SO- stop being evil' Feb 11 '14 at 18:17
  • @Gilles, I was commenting on the first sentence in your answer "TL,DR: no, there's no reason for the title to be a question.". – Kenny Evitt Feb 11 '14 at 19:46
  • @KennyEvitt In idiomatic English — and the same kinds of formulations arise in most natural languages — “there is no reason for …” means “there is no compelling reason for …” or “the arguments against outweigh the arguments for …”. – Gilles 'SO- stop being evil' Feb 11 '14 at 20:15
  • @Gilles, as a native English speaker, you're wrong. – Kenny Evitt Feb 11 '14 at 21:25
5

I finally found the mSO post regarding it. Yay! (and thanks Shog!).

From this answer by Robert Harvey (an SO mod):

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.

This post also seems to imply that questions as titles are good, as it's a call to arms to make people use them.

This highly voted answer also suggests so, it's a response to a straw poll asking the community's opinion:

Advantages:

  1. They're explicitly called questions so non-question phrasing is grammatically jarring. Overall consistency of style across the site.
  2. Someone finding the question via a Google search may have a better sense of what they're clicking on if the title is phrased as a question. I.e., they're reaching a question-and-answer site as opposed to a tutorial or essay on the given topic.
  3. Although it's possible to clearly convey the point of the question with either format, enforcing the question phrasing is more likely to yield a self-explanatory title. Otherwise people might start using titles like "Styles for Question Titles", which is insufficiently specific. In other words, it helps avoid a slippery slope.

Exceptions may occasionally exist, but the default should be to put an explicit question in the title.

That's why I (and others, it sounds like) tend to make edits changing these. It's still mostly personal preference, though.

  • 2
    It's not just personal preference: there are scientific reasons not to insist on titles being questions. – Gilles 'SO- stop being evil' Feb 5 '14 at 2:48
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    I've always had the belief that if the SE network is going to follow the question and answer format, forcing a user to think about how they would formulate their issue into a single, succinct question would help others help them faster, and would help the poster better understand their problem. I feel that the reason why the SO has so many off-topic questions is because of the freedom we allow for the title, which ultimately leads to a poorly formed post. – Anil Natha Feb 10 '14 at 6:35
3

I would argue against question titles.

They make all questions look the same, and force readers to loose time on insignificant words before getting to the point of the title. While it might not sound like a huge problem, it waste a lot of time when browsing long lists of questions (for instance when scrolling the home page or search results). They are also less catchy on Google/etc results, which is a hindrance to our site's popularity (and thus we get less experts than we could).

Examples:

Bad: Is there a Chrome extension that I can use to note why I have opened a tab?
Good: Chrome extension that I can use to note why I have opened a tab

Bad: What is a newbie-friendly graphical Git client for Windows?
Good: Newbie-friendly graphical Git client for Windows

Bad: What software solution can I use (on Windows 10) to keep all my non-Microsoft software up to date?
Good: Software solution to keep all my non-Microsoft software up to date on Windows 10

Bad: Free newsletter software for a small business?
Good: Free newsletter software for a small business

Bad: What PDF viewer will allow me to quickly view which elements are vector?
Good: PDF viewer that allows to quickly view which elements are vector

By the way, I would also recommend against imperatives and polite words:

Bad: Please recommend an Android game which encourages me to move around while I play
Good: Android game which encourages me to move around while I play

And against using the first person if possible (ex: I, my, we, our):

Bad: How can I share my clipboard across my devices?
Good: Share clipboard across devices

I would say that editing questions to fix titles in that way is OK, as it is quite important for our site. Newcomers learn mostly by reproducing what they see, so it is important to fix at least our most viewed questions.

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