Recently, I've noticed very long, non-focused question titles. Should we encourage limiting question titles, and if yes, is there a way to enforce this?

Personally, I am in favour of this as it focuses the attention of the poster to stating the nub of the problem, thereby reducing the time others have to spend on figuring out what the poster's question is really about.

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Maybe it is enough to focus on editing titles and encouraging better formulations of titles? –  N.N. Dec 28 '12 at 18:49
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Do you have some specific examples? –  tohecz Dec 28 '12 at 21:20
    
@tohecz I do but why list them here. –  Marc van Dongen Dec 28 '12 at 21:25
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@N.N. Editing titles it an option but it lets the original poster (OP) get away with ``poor preparation'' on their side. In my opinion, the OP should be able to describe their problem/question/topic in a few words. –  Marc van Dongen Dec 28 '12 at 21:29
    
Because without it, it is quite difficult to present one's opinion on it. –  tohecz Dec 28 '12 at 21:41
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@tohecz & MarcvanDongen: I would agree with tohecz, it would be good to list a few examples to make it clearer what kind of titles you have in mind. I'm not sure I really understand what you mean by "long, non-focused question titles": Personally, I find question titles that are too short and generic problematic ("problem with plot", "hyphenation problem"), but I can't really find any examples of excessively long but unfocused titles in the recent question list. –  Jake Dec 28 '12 at 22:20
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@MarcvanDongen Note that "a few words" would present a real upper limit on the total number of acceptable questions, with the implication of a raising number of duplicates and eventual staling of this site. Personally, I'm more annoyed by short imprecise question titles like "Problem with longtable", but this may be a matter of taste. Anyway, such questions often collect a couple of closing votes before it turns out they're not duplicates after all and deserve a much longer, more precise title. Maybe I'm not the typical terse writer, but every time I edited a title it became longer ;-) –  Stephan Lehmke Dec 29 '12 at 7:13
    
@tohecz & Jake If you don't understand what I mean it must mean you haven't noticed it yourself. In that case it's probably not a problem (for you). –  Marc van Dongen Dec 29 '12 at 7:55
    
@tohecz & Jake Here is one example. Yesterday there was a title that read Change only the color of Table of content, but not cite color of Figures and Tables, etc. by Hyperrefpackage. This is so long you have to read it a few times before you can understand it and it definitely isn't focused. When I suggested the title could be shortened, the OP changed it to Hyperref: Changing the linkcolor locally in the TOC, which is short, easy to parse, and much more focused. –  Marc van Dongen Dec 29 '12 at 8:00
    
The title in my question seems to be short enough to convey my intent. –  In PSTricks we trust Dec 29 '12 at 12:11
    
@AdorableCreature This is another title that I'd qualify as excessively long and not to the point. Wouldn't Making \const{\length{\list}} work while keeping \const works as the original intent be a much better title? You suggested the title yourself (I made a small change to the text in bold face at the start of your question). –  Marc van Dongen Dec 29 '12 at 15:47
    
@StephanLehmke I agree that the title should describe the problem, so problem with longtable is not very descriptive. –  Marc van Dongen Dec 30 '12 at 7:24
    
"When I suggested the title could be shortened, the OP changed it" Well, it wasn't the OP but me taking the freedom to edit it, because I fully concurred with you. –  Stephen Jan 2 '13 at 19:50
    
@Stephen I haven't a clue what you're on about. –  Marc van Dongen Jan 2 '13 at 21:46
    
@Marc: Well, probably this is time-barred, but Stephen was just pointing out that your formulation "When I suggested the title could be shortened, the OP changed it" doesn't tell what really happened. It was Stephen and not the OP who changed the title. –  Hendrik Vogt May 25 '13 at 10:13

2 Answers 2

The length of question titles is already limited. Earlier there was a limit of 250 characters, in May 2010 it was changed to a maximum of 150 characters.

You can test it: if you type a long title, you would get a message:

That title is too long to be useful. Can you make it shorter?

150 characters may still be much, but sometimes it's good to have some more space for the best summary of a question for the title. Technical limits should prevent abuse and low quality, while still allowing normal usage.

If long question titles would appear, I trust our community that we would edit them to make the titles shorter and clearer. Similarly for unclear questions which have a "good length". By the way, there's also a minimum requirement of 15 characters in a question title.

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Thanks for your explanation. I wasn't aware of the history. –  Marc van Dongen Dec 30 '12 at 13:59

I don't like answering my own questions, but here it goes.

  • The maximum length for questions is currently 150, which is too long in my opinion, but since it's been reduced recently I suppose it's better not to change it (now).
  • I propose we should encourage the OPs to changes their titles. Of course we can suggest possible improvements.

The remained is a proposal for improving titles (not just titles that are too long). I decided to use a format where I list a typical title, a reason why I think the title is poor, and a proposal to improve the title. In the list I've tried to use recent titles, hoping this shows relevance.

The proposal is by no means complete. Please add to the list if you have more ideas. Hopefully, this exercise will result in a list of "error patterns" that we can use to improve subject titles. Also the reasons in the list may help to convince the OP they should change their titles.

When adding items to a list, always add them to the end of the list. Otherwise, you may src*w up the numbers.

  1. How do I colour <X> in red? This title is too specific. If we don't change this title we end up with all possible variations for different colours. A better title would be How do I change the colour of <X>?
  2. How do I draw a circle? In this case it turns out the OP want to draw the circle with a certain package (tikz or pstricks). Here the question isn' specific enough. I propose we add the name of the package to the start of the title: tikz: How do I draw a circle? Even better: tikz: Drawing a circle. (See the next item.) If there are several packages/classes, I propose to list them in alphabetic order, using forward slashes as a separator: pstricks/tikz: Drawing a circle. I also propose to use similar titles for engine-specific questions. For example, pdflatex: creating hyperlinks. An alternative solution would be to rely on the tag and omit the reference to the engine.
  3. Is there a way to configure pdflatex to make all but the .tex and .pdf files hidden files? This question is too long. I propose to make a change along the following lines: pdflatex: Hiding all files, except for the .tex and .pdf files. Note that I decided to get rid of the question mark because the title is now the topic of the post.
  4. How can I make a set of latex flashcards that I can print to write my answers on one side? This question is redundant because it's clear the flashcards should be printed. Proposed solution: Flashcards with answers on one side. If the OP intended the flash card to be single-sided a better solution would be Single-sided flashcards.
  5. How to X?_ Another example of redundancy. Just write X or equivalent. For example, How to implement the Russian typographical traditions? -> Implementing Russian typograpical traditions.
  6. Problem with Minion Pro. This title isn't specific enough. In my opinion reading the tile should give some idea about the nature of the problem. As it turns out the OP had a problem with Th ligatures after a period. I propose: Minion Pro: Problem with Th ligature after period.

I know some may find this list a bit OTT. Personally, I think that a good title is just as important as a MWE because it helps the reader save time.

No doubt the list is incomplete (and indeed redundant). I decided to start writing the list because I needed a break from marking assignments.:-)

As stated before, feel free to add to the list.

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I agree that items 1, 3, 4, and 6 are (somewhat) poor titles. For item 2, specifying the engine using tags only is acceptable IMO. With regard to item 5, I don't regard "How to ..." as too verbose. –  lockstep Jan 3 '13 at 17:40
    
@lockstep I agree that Item 5 is only marginally verbose. Personally I prefer omitting the "how do I", "how to", and-so-ons. –  Marc van Dongen Jan 3 '13 at 18:02
    
Nice list. However, I don't agree with the suggestion in item 2 of putting keywords into the title: That's one of the things tags are for. Especially with questions about graphics, putting PSTricks / TikZ / Metapost at the start of each question title just adds noise. –  Jake Jan 3 '13 at 19:27
    
@Jake Point taken. I did mention relying on the tags at an option. Personally, I find the tags aren't as prominent. –  Marc van Dongen Jan 3 '13 at 20:42

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