It kind of rubs me the wrong way when I see a question posted with a title that's not actually a (properly formatted) question.

Mild example: Pack Flanking on non Hunter Character?

Worse: Reversing AC rolls?

*cringe*: Magic Jar without a receptacle

But, as much as it tickles me, are these titles bad? Maybe it bothers me because I'm a fan of the Q&A format, but I get triggered because I don't see a question.

Taking the Magic Jar without a receptacle title, it doesn't tell me what the question is without clicking through to the Q page, other than it's probably about a Magic Jar that has no receptacle. So what about it? What is the question?

Should the question title reflect the core question of the question's post? Should that title be formatted as a question, or is it okay if it's a statement, or even just a bunch of keywords?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Non-question titles with a question mark are edit magnets for me. I either make them not a question at all, or a proper question. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener May 12 '15 at 8:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ Is there supposed to be something wrong with "Magic Jar without a receptacle" beside not being a complete interrogative sentence? I guess I would capitalize 'receptacle'. \$\endgroup\$ – DCShannon May 15 '15 at 1:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ @DCShannon Well that is what I'm asking. It tickles me when it's written like that but should I change the title into a 'complete interrogative sentence'? \$\endgroup\$ – Marc Dingena May 15 '15 at 6:03

Titles should clearly represent the content of the post, yes. We need to be able to find them later, and they should be good front-page advertisements for their question. But they need not be phrased as a question so long as they are clear.

Titles are just that: titles. A title's first job is to succinctly inform the reader about the contents of the post, and being a full sentence is way down the list in a title's job description.

Especially for questions, making a title into a full question-sentence can add a lot of extra baggage (in the form of "question words" and auxiliary verbs) that actually impairs its clarity in the list of questions.

So, the ruling consideration is that we should always make sure titles are as clear and informative as possible. That means that:

  • If it is currently unclear what the post is actually about, then edit the title to be clearer. This may (or may not) mean turning it into a question and/or full sentence.

    Odd as it might seem, the best test I've found for this is “is there a verb?” Uninformative titles often lack a verb describing how the other words relate, and editing to accommodate a verb of some sort (discovered by studying the actual question) usually makes the title significantly more descriptive and informative, (sometimes even without making them full sentences or questions).

    Here's an example of an edit where a bit more information significantly improves the understandability of the title:

    Druid and Ancient Guardian Archetype
    Does a 2nd level Ancient Guardian druid have Woodland Stride?

  • If the title is already plenty clear and informative, and turning it into a question would not make it more clear, then the change is superfluous and it's best to leave the title alone. The only purpose for the edit then would be to satisfy a personal aesthetic, which is a poor reason to edit.

    (The possible exception is when you're already editing other parts of the post: then a title that works equally well as a sentence or non-sentence can be edited as part of the deal. It's already going to be bumped anyway. Just make sure it's not purely a personal aesthetic change.)

  • If the title is already plenty clear and informative, and turning it into a question would make it less clear, definitely leave it be. The title is already doing its job and we want it to keep doing its job as best it can.

These are my personal guidelines, which have been developed by trial and error (plenty of error) over the years as the most active editor on RPG.se. At first I too wanted to make every title a proper sentence in the form of a question, but I quickly found that this did not actually help the site! A front page full of posts that begin with the same few question words ("How do I…", "What is the…") actually makes it harder to scan and find posts of interest. I realised that clarity and informativity were much more important goals, and that led to this three-step evaluation.

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    \$\begingroup\$ On your second bullet, I think bumping is not the only consideration. Many users, particularly new ones, react somewhat negatively to having their things edited. While a lot of that is just unfamiliarity with the system, and it’s just something they’ll have to get used to, we also recognize that changing someone else’s words to match your own preferences (e.g. switching between American and British spellings) is rude. I feel that one could make a similar argument about changing a perfectly-fine-but-“improper” title, though it does seem far more minor. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan May 14 '15 at 14:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan agreed on the similar argument thing, early on I made a lot of edits I'd call superfluous that on later reflection were just me choosing my way of saying things over someone else's, where neither was particularly better. But also! Speaking as our site's second most prolific editors, out of all the responses I get for my edits, they're near universally positive. The ones that aren't have pretty much all been exactly what you called out: new users not adjusted to our system upset with the very idea of anyone editing their stuff at all. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener May 14 '15 at 15:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ (So overall I'd suggest people are usually pretty fine with having their stuff edited, except those who just ideologically object to the whole idea. I'm aware there may be some not fine with edits and just not saying anything, but since they aren't saying anything, I only have the data I have to go off.) \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener May 14 '15 at 15:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ @doppelgreener Fair enough; I do not have that experience. But it would... I dunno, irk me if my title was changed solely to make it a “proper question,” but not enough to say anything. Impossible to guess if that’s just me or not, though. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan May 14 '15 at 15:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan I am suspecting more and more that you and I may be talking about two different things that, if separated and identified, we might agree on completely. I'm gonna wait until the question's clarified. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener May 15 '15 at 0:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ OK, so given a (hypothetical) title like "How to know a barbarian's AC?", is it preferable to make it a grammatical question ("How can I determine a barbarian's AC"), or a grammatical statement ("Determining barbarian AC" or just 'Barbarian AC"), or leave it as a malformed question? \$\endgroup\$ – Marq Jun 18 '17 at 18:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Marq Since the title's meaning is clear in your first example, there's no need to change it by itself. When there are other useful changed to be made though, minor improvements that qualify as polish are okay to add to the more major edit. I'd count adding or removing a question mark or switching "to" to "can I" as polish rather than major improvements. The latter examples are all less than clear so they benefit from editing even if no other edits are needed. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Jun 18 '17 at 19:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Marq Here's an example of a title-only edit that I think counts as a major improvement, so it's worth making by itself. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Jun 18 '17 at 21:05

We encourage people to edit questions to improve them. Making titles more clear is an improvement that can always be reverted by the querent.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Should users be encouraged to ask their questions with a comprehensible question title as a question from the start though? So that there's less tidying up the community has to do. \$\endgroup\$ – Purple Monkey May 12 '15 at 8:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ Meh. Be a good member of the community and improve their question. They'll learn by editing. We have plenty for them to do other than be nitpicky over title style for style's sake. \$\endgroup\$ – Brian Ballsun-Stanton May 12 '15 at 8:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ @PurpleMonkey People are generally already doing the best they can. Coming up with concise titles is something some people find hard. Sometimes the best we can get is a set of keywords that closely resemble but don't quite make up a sentence, or a class name and ability name, or something like that. If we edit to keep up a high baseline quality on the site, they'll get the signal from that at least. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener May 12 '15 at 13:31

If the only “problem” with a question is that its title is not phrased in the form of a question, then there is no problem with the question. Please do not clutter the top of the site with idiosyncratic edits that do not improve anything. A title in the form of a question is not inherently better than a title that is not.

Of course, if there is anything wrong with the question, an edit is always appropriate. Improvements are always welcome. Many titles are unclear, or imply something other than what the body of the question actually asks. Editing these to make them clearer is a very good thing. And if the form of a question allows the title to be more clear and accurate, then it should be used.

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    \$\begingroup\$ @doppelgreener I really disagree that there is any inherent problem with that. It’s a common speaking pattern, and I cannot see any conceivable way it automatically injects vagueness. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan May 14 '15 at 1:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ Sure, it might be common, and it's not a good speaking pattern, and we can edit it. I like titles that make sense. For me, they're a category of unclear title - often titles like this are a jumble of words or not really expressing the relationship between the things mentioned that the question is asking about. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener May 14 '15 at 1:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ @doppelgreener It's not a good speaking pattern? Since when? \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan May 14 '15 at 11:05
  • \$\begingroup\$ @HeyICanChan It's not terrible, but it's sure as heck pretty far from effective communication. "Reversing AC rolls?" does not give me, the person digging through the archives or search for a question on something, a good idea of what that question's about, and I'm liable to miss it if it's the kind of thing I'm looking for because it makes no sense and I don't latch onto it. "What are the implications of using AC rolls for defense?" is magnitudes more effective at communicating what's actually going on in this question. They're not good titles, they're tolerable, improving them is beneficial. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener May 14 '15 at 11:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ @HeyICanChan It is dawning on me that the question may be pretty unclear or I've gotten confused. I'm not sure whether it's about non-question titles, or low quality titles. I've left a comment on the question and voted to close as unclear. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener May 14 '15 at 11:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ @doppelgreener I agree that "Reversing AC rolls?" is not a good title, but because "reversing" doesn't mean anything in this context. "Rolling AC?" though, is fine, and "Rolling AC instead of attack?" is better than your suggestion. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan May 14 '15 at 12:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan It wasn't a suggestion, it's what the question got edited to. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener May 14 '15 at 14:14
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    \$\begingroup\$ @doppelgreener And my point is that the original title’s failure to be a proper question was not the problem with it, and changing it to a proper question did not entirely fix all of the potential problems with it: my latter suggestion of a improper question makes a better title than that which was actually used. An unclear title is a problem. A title that’s an improper question, but still clear, is not. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan May 14 '15 at 14:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan I completely agree with you on the original problem. I agree yours is a distinct improvement. Past that though we have different perspectives on what should motivate an edit: sure, we both agree we should improve stuff that's pretty bad. I'd still edit stuff that could just be a whole lot better. (Like I'd take the opportunity to turn "Rolling AC instead of attack?" into a proper sentence if it irked me enough in the question list.) I'm not sure we'll move each other and I'm not trying to move you, I kinda mostly just want what this question's about to get clarified first. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener May 14 '15 at 14:25
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan I think we should clean up here. The question got clarified \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener May 16 '15 at 8:17

(Thanks for clarifying.)

No, titles do not need to be formatted as questions. They just need to communicate well what the question is about. They're titles! If you want to know what the question is, read the question body. That's the place where all the important context is, too, and you should be reading that.

(If you're not, you're answering the title alone, and that is bad practice and a fast way to create an unhelpful answer. Either it will be obvious you didn't read, or you'll just miss all the important details and create an answer vastly inferior to what you could have created.)

But, as much as it tickles me, are these titles bad? Maybe it bothers me because I'm a fan of the Q&A format, but I get triggered because I don't see a question.

They're not great, but not because they're not full questions.

"Reversing AC rolls?" is a confusing title: what's an AC roll, what's this concept of 'reversing' it? Really, this question is about going from a model of attack rolls vs AC to attacks vs an AC roll, to be in line with saving throws, so the new title What are the implications of using AC rolls for defense? is clearer. If I were looking for that kind of thing in search results, I'd be grabbed by the new title, but not the original.

The other two titles are, also, each just a couple of words away from something more thoroughly communicative. That turns that into an easy improvement. "Pack Flanking on non Hunter Character?" - what about it? It's an easy shot to edit that into the exact nature of what's being engaged in: How can I get Pack Flanking on a non-Hunter character?. I also like seeing titles that makes sense on their own and use decent grammar.

The improvements here are not because we're turning those into questions. We could turn them into statements if we wanted to. The improvement will be that we're making them more communicative. If putting a brief question in the title helps communication, so be it, but titles that are statements are not incorrect.

So in summation:

Should the question title reflect the core question of the question's post? Should that title be formatted as a question, or is it okay if it's a statement, or even just a bunch of keywords?

It should reflect the core of the question. It is okay whether it is a question or a statement.

If a title communicates poorly it should be improved. Titles that are just a bunch of keywords usually communicate poorly.

Edit to improve communication of what the question's about.

Don't expect a title to contain the entirety of the question. If you want to know what the question is truly, you should read the question body. The title just needs to communicate what the inquiry is about, and statements do that just fine.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Maybe it's because I'm still a young member of this community, but I feel if you can't compress the body into a single sentence, the question is either too broad or you're actually asking more than one question. Having to write a concise title is often for me an eye opener when composing the body of the post. \$\endgroup\$ – Marc Dingena May 16 '15 at 8:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ Probably, but that sentence doesn't have to be a question. Also, doing that compression is sometimes entirely possible but just hard beyond someone's skill to do it. It is a skill, after all, and we can help them out by editing when we can improve the title. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener May 16 '15 at 8:41

I largely agree with SevenSidedDie. However, I wrote a long comment about the magic jar question and decided it made more sense as an answer:

I read the magic jar question, and there's nothing wrong with the title, but instead something wrong with the question. The question doesn't contain one specific question. It's just asking for general information about how magic jar effects work without a receptacle and asks several questions to elucidate the confusion, in which case the title perfectly captures the content. If you wanted to edit the question so that it focused more on the question that was answered: "Is it possible to instantly kill an enemy or yourself with this ability, as the life force has no where to go?", then it would make sense to edit the title to match.

So, if you see a title that is not a question and you want to fix it, perhaps you should read the question itself and see if it actually matches, as there may be other more substantive issues that need resolved.


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