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I've seen several titles that are so vague that you only know what's being asked by reading the question body. Recent examples:

Should we be asking the authors to capture what specifically they're asking about in titles? I would consider that an obvious "yes" except that I never see anybody else doing it, so before I start leaving comments along that line I wanted to find out if I'm the only one who thinks it's a problem.

  • I was particularly irked by Is Python a snake or a programming language? If the latter, why is it choking my dog?, which my Use of EL&U as a lazy programmers resource was closed as a duplicate of. How on earth was I supposed to know what the original question was about, so as to save me the trouble of asking it again? But it still has that same title, so I think you're baying at the moon here, Monica! – FumbleFingers Feb 16 '12 at 21:27
  • @FumbleFingers I think this is what you meant to link Python question (although I'm assuming you linked it properly and something somewhere went wrong in the link) – yoozer8 Feb 17 '12 at 1:39
  • @Jim: That's certainly what I meant, thanks. But knowing me it's more likely I messed up rather than ELU or my browser software! – FumbleFingers Feb 17 '12 at 2:33
  • 1
    Hmm ... peeving in the form of a question? – Robusto Feb 17 '12 at 13:01
  • @Robusto, not peeving -- I asked because I didn't know whether it was ok to edit such questions (since I wasn't seeing a lot of that). I assume anybody who edited the title of that python question would cause a lot of outcry, but what about less-prominent bad titles? – Monica Cellio Feb 17 '12 at 13:53
  • @Monica: I was joking with you. But I rather object to your characterization of my Python title as one of the "bad titles," more prominent thought it may be. (N.B. No hyphen needed with adverbs, as they are not to be confused with compound adjectives: "less prominent bad titles" does nicely.) – Robusto Feb 17 '12 at 14:39
  • @Robusto: Don't get on Monica's case about that one! It was me who brought it up in the comment. Your appallingly-misleading title will presumably stand, since no-one was on my side when I carped about it in the first place, but Monica is simply raising the same issue again - not necessarily with any prior knowledge of the antecedent. It remains the case that I wasted time and effort asking a duplicate of your question because it was impossible for me to know what yours was about from the title. – FumbleFingers Feb 18 '12 at 2:36
  • @FumbleFingers: Please don't presume to tell me what to do or how to behave. I know you have a problem with humor, and you still haven't gotten over the Python issue, and all the rest of it — but that doesn't give you license to issue orders in here. – Robusto Feb 18 '12 at 4:14
  • @Robusto: I'm not trying to start an argument, or tell you how to behave. You are effectively the "elder" of this site, after all. I simply pointed out that you apparently objected to Monica's characterisation of your choice of title, when she hadn't in fact mentioned it.And reminded any readers here why I had objected to it in the first place. – FumbleFingers Feb 18 '12 at 12:35
  • @Fumble: FWIW, Monica's statement ("I assume anybody who edited the title of that python question...") is, in fact, a mention. – Robusto Feb 18 '12 at 12:38
  • @Robusto: Okay, well, to repeat, I'm not trying to start an argument. I realise I may have seemed somewhat humourless in my original comments concerning "opaque" question titles, and it's obvious from the votes and comments there that my position was a minority one. Also, in retrospect (though not at the time) I accept that different standards can apply in meta. But we get so many duplicates these days it really would help if the originals had titles that made it easy to find them (i.e. - more informative and more standardised in format than they often are at the moment). – FumbleFingers Feb 18 '12 at 13:23
  • @Monica: Arguably you should have copied the existing question titles of your links into your question here! As you say, no-one is likely to mess with Robusto's title, but I might have been tempted to edit your two myself if it weren't for the fact that this would kinda mess up your links here! – FumbleFingers Feb 18 '12 at 15:00
  • @Robusto, I didn't bring up the Python question but responded to a comment about it. I don't think that's a good precedent for (non-)editing because once a question takes on a life of its own it's harder to make such changes. I was asking about "normal" questions. (And I'll edit the titles into my question per FumbleFingers's suggestion.) – Monica Cellio Feb 19 '12 at 1:27
  • @Monica: haha - it wasn't easy figuring out even a "reasonable" title for the first of those two questions, and I certainly don't claim what I came up with is actually "good". I didn't bother with the second - having looked at it I think it should be closed anyway - or we should have a standard question title "Please correct my (non-)English sentence" – FumbleFingers Feb 19 '12 at 2:54
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Yes, we should discourage vague titles. But sometimes it's hard to come up with a good title, so I'd recommend just editing it, or, downvote and comment, then remove your downvote after the edit.

6

Generally, it is preferable to use a title that makes clear what the question is; imagine what would happen if the question title would be "What is the correct word?" which would apply to all the cases the OP has a doubt about the word to use, or "I have a question," which would apply to all the questions.
Writing a clearer title is not always possible. What should be the question title when the OP cannot decide between two or more phrases to use, and those phrases are quite different?

If you are able to think of a better title, then you could rewrite the title yourself; if you are not able to think of a tittle that better suits the question, there are chances that even the question being asked is not clear, and the OP should be prompted to make clear what is being asked.

  • A doubt is not a question. "I have a doubt" is not idiomatic in most types of English. – Marthaª Dec 21 '11 at 16:55
  • No, my point is that using the word "doubt" to mean "question" is not idiomatic; it's used in Indian English, but not in America or Commonwealth countries. To doubt something is to be uncertain about its truth, which is not at all the same thing as simply having a question about it. – Marthaª Dec 21 '11 at 21:35
  • @kiamlaluno: I understand and accept your point, but what Martha is saying is that (Indian English excepted), native speakers don't actually say "I have a doubt". They either say "I have a question" or "I have doubts" (both in different contexts). – FumbleFingers Feb 17 '12 at 2:36
4

Just to add on:

  • Yes, I think it is a problem.
  • We should explicitly discourage vague titles in comments to a question, if warranted.
  • And edit, too, if the OP doesn't
4

Besides discouraging vague titles, we should encourage good titles. The FAQ should be modified (in its "How do I ask questions here?" section) to say "When you post a new question with a good title, other users will almost immediately see it". The FAQ should suggest how to write a good title; or possibly should link to a page about good titles, good questions, etc.

The FAQ should also say to include one's question in the question statement itself, instead of just in the title.

Perhaps title voting could be added. Setting aside the little questions of how much work it would take to add such a feature, and whether such voting is desirable in the first place, two important major issues arise: 1, Should title-vote points affect reputation, or merely be indicative, as for comments? 2, Should title-vote points be 1 point (up or down) per vote, or 2 points? Or, people could be allowed to title-vote a few times (2? 3?), each vote counting for a point, allowing finer gradations of approval or disapproval.

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I would say beware, though. The title may be trying to convey the essence of the question, however vaguely. It is not always that we get the correct import of the OP -- there are instances where the title and/or body of a post have been edited under a misimpression/ misinterpretation by a well-meaning editor.

Furthermore, new members do not deserve to be discouraged even though their posts may be wanting in some respects.

That said, I agree with @Mitch: 'And edit, too, if the OP doesn't' (emphasis mine). We could always post a comment first (a small extra effort) and see what the OP would like to say.

2

I say that if a title is literate and witty, if perhaps a bit oblique to some, it should escape the wrath of the censorious and the humorless. Especially in Meta.

1

Yes, you're right. I asked something similar recently, and only now saw this question of yours.

Can we nudge the OP's to tighten up the question in the title?

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