Mike Schinkel made an excellent point on a question of mine recently regarding its wording. It didn't accurately describe the exact nature of the question, and rewording it has increased its value.

I've noticed this becoming more and more of a problem on stackoverflow recently, and it's something I'd like the WA community to be aware of. So, can we come up with some guidelines on the following:

  1. Questions vs. statements - IMO, wherever possible, titles should actually be questions including a question mark at the end!
  2. Moderation - are we generally agreed that moderators should be regularly cleaning up question titles? It would be nice if we weren't too precious about this and accepted, as a community, title edits from anyone with the permission to do so.
  3. Anything else?

There are several examples of poorly worded questions that I can currently see, including:

  • Permalink Problems
  • 5 blogs on one Wordpress site
  • Cleanup uploads folder, Media Library db structure
  • Wordpress stats API key
  • ...

IMO, if WA is to succeed as a wiki, this is a vital consideration.

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Great point. Whatever we decide on probably needs to be included in the FAQ. Perhaps we can have a section in there specifically about how to write a question title. –  tnorthcutt Aug 18 '10 at 12:45
    
Bobby, would you consider editing this question title (the irony!) to something like "what should our question title guidelines be?" That way everyone can post answers (containing one answer per post!), and we can all upvote the most important guidelines, which can then be added to the FAQ. –  tnorthcutt Aug 18 '10 at 12:49
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:) Done (and CW'd at the same time). –  Bobby Jack Aug 18 '10 at 12:59
    
Similar questions have been asked on Meta Stack Overflow, perhaps we can use some of their answers? –  Jan Fabry Aug 18 '10 at 15:02
    
@Jan We could definitely use that for reference, but I'd like this particular question to deal more with what the community can do to assist rather than just what the guidelines are. SO has failed dismally at promoting good question titles, IMO. –  Bobby Jack Aug 18 '10 at 15:17
    
@Bobby: Ah, ok, then maybe we should keep this question about the guidelines, and you can open a new question about how to encourage/enforce them? Because the discussion now is leaning to guidelines (certainly with the "answer" I added - I'm sorry if that sends your question in the wrong direction!). –  Jan Fabry Aug 18 '10 at 15:27
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6 Answers

I propose that moderators (and others with the ability) should be encouraged to clean up question titles when possible.

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Moderators, but also others with this ability (+2000 rep). Editing other questions to clarify them should always be encouraged. But of course, it is always nice to notify the original author with a comment. –  Jan Fabry Aug 18 '10 at 14:57
    
Yup, as soon as someone has 2,000 rep, I'm hoping they'll get on with this! :) –  Bobby Jack Aug 18 '10 at 15:16
    
Jan, excellent point, and edited to reflect. –  tnorthcutt Aug 18 '10 at 16:34
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Wherever possible, question titles should actually be questions, including a trailing question mark.

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However, having had a look at the link referenced in Jan's comment on the question itself, I'm starting to wonder. The advice there is "Don't start your question with 'How do I'" which would imply that question titles shouldn't actually be questions after all. –  Bobby Jack Aug 18 '10 at 15:22
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I think we can best encourage good titles by actively moderating poor titles, leaving a comment when a title is modified to encourage better titles in the future, and exercising our downvotes on questions that are so poor they cannot be fixed by anyone but the asker. It's not optimal when a question's only response is meta (ie. about the title rather than the topic) but the worst questions can never be answered due to lack of clarity or background.

A "poor" title would be one that does not accurately summarize the question, and I think all your examples fit this description.

Related: ESR's How To Ask Questions The Smart Way.

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+1 on all of that. –  MikeSchinkel Aug 19 '10 at 22:38
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Maybe we should just experiment with it? Here are the questions currently on the front page. If you can think of a better title, add it after the original one (double space at the end of the line inserts a line break). Multiple suggestions can be discussed in the comments.

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Great idea - I've had a go at a couple. –  Bobby Jack Aug 18 '10 at 21:52
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I've been editing some titles with the plan to come here to ask this same question so glad so many beat me to it!

Preface:

My current understanding is we are collaboratively curating great answers to the list of all the relevant questions related WordPress. The idea being that if someone has a reasonably question about WordPress that ideally we should a somewhat authoritative and complete answer here. Is everyone in agreement with this?

With that in mind here are my current evolving thoughts about titles. I think:

  1. We should edit the (typically vague) titles after we've identified what the actual question really is.

  2. We should edit titles to be what thing we think someone will most likely search via Google or other search engines when they have the same or a similar problem.

  3. We should definitely end with a question mark except in the infrequent cases where it should obviously not be the case.

  4. Questions should include the word "WordPress" because that is how they will be naturally asked and thus will be more recognized by users scanning the site and will more likely match when someone searches for same via Google, etc.

  5. We should proper case most words in the title except for words like "to", "the", "and", "with", "if", etc. This will make them stand out as titles and this is a grammar best practice anyway. Of course we should probably come up with our own rules for this.

Now I'm on the fence with "How do I.." as a prefix. Cons are that it makes the titles longer and make it harder to differentiate a list of questions on the page simply by scanning them. Pros to include "How do I..." are that it would more likely match a Google search where someone searches "How do I xxx." Not sure where to go with this...

As a side I think this site will be more successful with less questions that are better managed and maintained than a bunch of one-of obscure questions with two or three answers each a couple lines long.

Agreed?

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Hi Mike. Great comments, generally agree with everything you say. I think the "How do I" and "Wordpress" issues are closely linked; the pros and cons of each are pretty similar. On one hand, I think it will look very strange if every question includes the word "Wordpress", but I see your point about searching. However, surely a search will still end up here whether the question title includes Wordpress or not. This site will pretty quickly gain good google juice for that word. "How do I" will suffer from the differentiation problem far less since questions will be broadly spread amongst ... –  Bobby Jack Aug 20 '10 at 11:14
    
... "How do I ...", "Why does this ...", "What is ...", "When should ..." etc. Sure, "How do I" is likely to be the most common, but there will still be a spread. What I'd really like is a parser to markup question titles such that "How do I" (and maybe even "wordpress") are less prominent than the rest of the title - this would make the most interesting parts of the question title stand out. –  Bobby Jack Aug 20 '10 at 11:17
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Question titles should never need to include the word "Wordpress"

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I think that's potentially short-sighted, especially this early in the life of the site. I can't come up with a good example right now, but I would not be surprised if there are cases where a question would be best worded with "wordpress" included in the title. –  tnorthcutt Aug 18 '10 at 13:16
    
How about "should rarely include ..."? I'm just wondering if we want to get away from questions like "How to Link External jQuery/Javascript files with WordPress". Maybe this is just one to leave as a case-by-case –  Bobby Jack Aug 18 '10 at 13:29
    
I certainly agree that more often than not, it would be overly verbose to include 'wordpress' in the title. I suggest we shelve it for now, however, to see what kinds of questions are asked, and re-consider the issue later (maybe in a few months...?). –  tnorthcutt Aug 18 '10 at 14:15
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