Am I right to understand that the title of a question does not actually have to be a question? It seems that I often search for a question similar to mine but do not find one, but later, after I post, I find a "question" where their title isn't a question at all, but a statement.

For example, this question I asked has a title phrased as a question; this question has a title that is only a statement.

  • Should I take the time to phrase my title as a real question or not?
  • Does it even matter how the title is phrased, so long as it is descriptive of the topic?
  • If phrasing the title as a question is not important, shouldn't we call it topic instead of question?

Consider this question you are reading. Is it better to call it,

Real Question as Title -vs- Statement as Title

or

Does it matter if the Title of a Question is phrased as a question?

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"Where is the train station?" vs "Pathfinding: train station" –  Oliver Salzburg Feb 12 '13 at 12:06
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Hmmm... In this case, I prefer the question. Off the top of my head, I have no idea what the poster could mean by "pathfinding"... –  BGM Feb 12 '13 at 20:00
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Mac Address to IP makes me think; the to first wrongly suggests me that this would be a conversion, which puts you can't convert them! into my mind, thinking about how that thought is non-sense I would then try to find a less strict relation in which you would obtain one from the other. So, I don't like that. Don't make me think: Given a PC's MAC address, can I find its IP? –  Tom Wijsman Feb 14 '13 at 0:41
    
@TomWijsman - Ah! What do you think about, "How to get an IP address from a MAC address?" –  BGM Feb 14 '13 at 1:15
    
The first one really doesn't tell me anything, the second one has the habitual "add 'how to' or 'how do I' in front and we'll be alright" behavior which adds exactly nothing. This is focusing on the topic / task / goal, but is not about the problem. - meta.superuser.com/questions/4689/… –  Tom Wijsman Feb 14 '13 at 1:42
    
"...focusing on the topic...but is not about the problem" - Aren't folks here to try to answer the question you ASK? If you have a complex problem, sometimes it is too convoluted or complex to make it so that a single answer can be accepted. If you think like this, then we should, in Stack Exchange, never refer to the topic as a "question" but as a "problem". However, this is a Question and Answer site, not a Problem and Solution site, I think. –  BGM Feb 14 '13 at 2:00
    
What if I have a precise problem, and all I need is the answer to some part of it - I ask a question to get a precise answer to just that part - even though that isn't the underlying problem I am trying to solve. Shouldn't folks just answer the question asked? - or at least help the person ask the question they need? –  BGM Feb 14 '13 at 2:02
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In order to create a topic, a user has to push the "ASK QUESTION" button. What should he do next? Ask a question? –  BGM Feb 14 '13 at 2:04
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3 Answers

up vote 8 down vote accepted

Write the title that you think delivers your question or problem in the most succinct and clear way possible.

The difference between whether it's phrased as a question or a statement comes largely as a matter of preference.

Some people just don't care for wasting screen real estate with a fluffy, "How do I ..." (♪ breathe without you ♪). That style also adds extra words you have to scan through a list of others.

Others think the direct approach makes things sound too much like an article or blog post, but they'd be wrong and that's the only correct way to do things.

However you go, make sure it's a summary of the body post that gives a clear, or tipping clear, indication of what someone should expect the question and its answers to be about.

Most of the time, if you can make it a tl;dr then you're winning.

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So, why refer to the title of a topic, then, as a "question"? And why have a button saying, "Ask Question" when you are starting a resolveable topic rather than asking a question? –  BGM Feb 12 '13 at 2:24
    
That's the title of your question. You don't always have to have a question about your question. The body is the question at least. –  random Feb 12 '13 at 2:39
    
I suppose that someone with 6000 points knows what they are talking about (smile). –  BGM Feb 12 '13 at 2:54
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I have a strong preference towards the title being an actual question.

Take for example this question, which began with the title Ampliyfing Wireless Signal. From here it looks like a mundane question about boosting your wireless signal. It's entirely valid and fits the question well. After changing the title to How can I get a wireless signal inside a walk-in freezer?, which is what the question was really about, it drew interest and gathered around 20 upvotes for both the question and top answer.

Super User, being a Q&A site, is interested in two things: questions and answers. Mere titles are markedly less interesting, in my opinion. Most potential answer providers understand a broad array of subject matter, and seeing yet another WiFi question is boring. Getting a wireless signal inside a freezer though? That's interesting.

Putting your question in the title also forces you to clearly state and understand your question. If you can't sum up your entire question in the title, do you really know what you're asking yet? I'm sure there's some edge cases where it's difficult to state your question in a single sentence, but for the majority of questions I'd be willing to bet there's a good single sentence question, and the rest is just about filling in details.

Regardless of whether you "should" put your question in the title, doing so always makes sense.

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"Amplifying wireless signal inside a walk-in freezer" would work as well, wouldn't it? –  Daniel Beck Feb 12 '13 at 5:08
    
That's a good point. :) –  Tanner Feb 12 '13 at 5:23
    
Our most upvoted question isn't even a question (in the title) :) –  slhck Feb 12 '13 at 6:18
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I agree, the question-title is much more interesting than the original statement-title, although it is true they could have phrased their statement-title to better reflect their true issue. However I completely agree that phrasing the title as a question forces the user to clarify just what he wants. In fact, I would go so far as to say it makes the question precisely resolveable. –  BGM Feb 12 '13 at 14:34
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There have been questions that I have asked, and found that I can scramble a statement-title very quickly. But when I sit down to turn that same title into a question, ah! Now I have to think about how to ask the question in such a way to get the exact answer I am looking for. A statement-title is not nearly as precise, and I say it even provokes discussion, seeing how it is open-ended. –  BGM Feb 12 '13 at 14:36
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Please read this post on meta-stackoverflow.com.

The key message is: You have only 16 characters in your title, so don't waste them.
Read the good/bad examples and look if you agree with them.

2. Keep it short.

You don't have to put all the details in the title. There's plenty of space to expand your question in the body of the text.

Likewise, don't insist that your title be expressed as a perfectly formed English sentence.

3. Lead with the most important words.

These articles discuss how people read web pages, based on using an eye tracking system to monitor users. For Stack Overflow-like pages people read most of the first and second entries (the bars of the "F"), and then scan down the rest of the list, reading on average the first 16 characters of each line.

4. Don't start with "How do I..."

Writing in that style ensures that you title will fail criteria 1-3, and get less attention than it deserves.

This is a question site, and people will understand your titles are questions.

To be fair: There is a certain amount of people who disagree with this.

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I don't think this FAQ is a good example. Look at the question revision –  slhck Feb 12 '13 at 12:10
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