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I find that many technical (or at least, problem-oriented) questions are in fact best presented using a noun phrase (or present participle phrase) as a title, rather than something which is grammatically a question.

There are thousands of examples, but here is a random selection from questions relating to arrows:

Two-way arrow as when defining adjoint pairs

Circles at the ends of arrows

Gaps between arrows and labels

I think it's easy to see why: preamble such as "Is there are a way to..." or "How do I..." is usually fluff that distracts from the task of identifying the problem.

Do other people find this a useful rule of thumb? If so, should it be in the guidelines?

  • I agree. I got to the conclusion that the title of the question is just that a title. The main point is that there must be a well stated question in the body of text. There is no need for the title to be a question in itself. – alfC May 29 '14 at 5:30
  • Yes, the title often states a goal or problem area, and the question is implicit: how do I achieve this goal, or go about understanding this problem? – Roly May 29 '14 at 9:11
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    That's not always the case here are few counter examples; my favorite TikZ externalize → pdf → eps → Word import = ☠, Why is [ … ] preferable to $$ … $$?, tikz: Can we set the corner coordinates of a rectangle?. In my opinion these are pretty self-explanatory. – percusse May 29 '14 at 19:54
  • @percusse Certainly there are exceptions. I like your first example :) With your other examples, I would probably have phrased them as [...] vs. $$...$$ and Setting corner coordinates of a rectangle. – Roly May 30 '14 at 6:00
  • Note that, the dollar sign question has the extra effect of drawing people in. I know many people read it and went Really? What's the problem with $$?. You don't get it in your case, because many think they are equivalent on all fronts and ignore it. Some publicity is always makes here more exciting :) – percusse May 31 '14 at 13:10
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My answer is probably endangered, because it is just opinion based ;-)

I agree with the OP's suggestion that many questions are titled confusingly, and I do not even claim, that I have not done so in the past. A clear, precise shorter statement would be more helpful than a long title of the kind stated in the OP.

What 'annoys' me more often are confusing question body, contradicting inside or written paradoxes compared to the title such that is hardly possible to answer the question or review/editing it without changing the whole content of it.

I would also suggest to make some additions to the guidelines, about the title line of a question, but I do not recommend strict grammar rules.

  • We don't have guidelines :P You can always edit if you feel like it. Or ask for an edit. Or comment about the fact. We rarely object to our native speakers and even better, they really have a good balance between nitpicking and let them live attitude. – percusse May 29 '14 at 19:50
  • @percusse: I did not write that disregarding the guidelines (if there would be some :P) should to immediate closure/editing/(fill in yourself ;-)) of the question. A 'guideline' (or policy?) can help users, even with 1000+ reputation to clearify what is actually asked. – user31729 May 29 '14 at 21:24

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