The question is pretty self explanatory, but to give a little background: I see a lot of questions (specially new users) that are, in fact, statements like: "I want to load my .txt file from another Directory", "Set width of a single colummn according to Content", "Need to add for loop to add a lot of .csv files in the tikzpicture" or "When i right-click i Texmaker the box that usually appears is almost at the top of the page" and so on.

Should those sort of "questions" be edited to turn into proper questions?

I belive this is relevant to improve Performances of Google searches but if it's not relevant please explain why.

  • A question posted by a user consists of a title, a descriptive question and tags (and of course the user pictue and time). The title should give a clue on what is going on.
    – Johannes_B
    Sep 24 '16 at 21:17

This is a syntax question. :)

The problem with most of the questions you refer to is a different one, I think. I don't think the problem is that they aren't questions, but the fact that they include first person subjects or verbs that express needs and desires of the speaker, such as want or need.

So a question like:

  • I want to stop a macro from gobbling spaces

if you turned it into a question without changing anything else would be:

  • How do I stop a macro from gobbling spaces?

Another way to phrase it would be:

  • How to stop a macro from gobbling spaces?

The change here is to remove the first person subject and instead use a "generic" subject (in this case an understood one).

Furthermore, I think that the titles of questions are always interpreted implicitly as questions, so editing them just to turn them into questions isn't particularly helpful, and may even be detrimental. So personally I much prefer a syntax more like:

  • Stopping macros from gobbling spaces

Although I like this syntax, I don't think there's much to be gained from changing questions like the one above into a how-to version of the question, nor am I proposing the elimination of all questions with first person subjects. So if that's the only change you make, I don't think it's at all appropriate. It's much more important to make the question contentful. In this respect I agree entirely with Sam's answer too.

But question phrased like:

  • My macro keeps gobbling spaces

could likely stand to be rephrase without using my.

One final point. Sometimes rephrasing a statement into a question simply adds useless information. If the statement states a clear problem like:

  • Memoir inserts a blank page before chapter

then rephrasing it as a question would simply make it much more wordy, and really doesn't add anything of value at all.

  • How do I stop memoir from inserting a blank page before a chapter

The same kind of logic applies to most questions that concern unexpected behaviour or errors. These questions should almost certainly not be restated in the form of an actual question.


I'm not proposing that all questions should be turned into this syntax. Questions like How do I stop a macro from gobbling spaces are just as concise as How to stop a macro from gobbling spaces.

I am also absolutely opposed to any idea that this proposal (were it to become very popular) be instituted as a "site rule", since I think having rule-enforcing posses is just as bad as the behaviour that those self-appointed posses are trying to stomp out.

The Bottom Line

Changing the wording of otherwise clear questions just to meet the criteria I've suggested here is a bad idea. And searching out particular wordings in old questions to edit is also a bad idea. Changing unclear or very vague questions to something clearer or less vague is usually helpful, although as with all minor edits, it's better to do this with recent questions than with old questions. As Sam says, searchability should be the key factor.

  • @AlanMunn, That first part is exactly what bothers me, the desire of the speaker. I think it's because I would never search for something like that, I would either search How to or the Stopping X way. But that's me right... And though I agree with samcarter as well I think your answer is more complete, but bottomline, is it useful or not to change questions from I desire to do this to Doing this? Sep 25 '16 at 10:45
  • How to stop a macro from gobbling spaces? I would edit this, either changing to to do I or simply removing the question mark. How to is a fragment, not a sentence, which is fine as a title, but shouldn't be followed with a question mark (and hence works better as the title of an answer (a "how to" guide) than as the title of a question).
    – TRiG
    Sep 26 '16 at 12:04

My personal opinion: If it is clear what the the problem is, I would not edit them. This often makes the question title shorter and easier to understand.

As for the google argument: I don't think this has a big influence. Search terms like "why", "how" etc. usually are not important for the search. Of course I don't know googles algorithms, but searching for "How to load .txt files from other directory?" will probably find the question from you example, as the important words like "load", "another", "directory" and "txt" are all present.

To summarise: mentioning the right keywords is more important for the search then grammar.

The great search function from TeX.Stackexchange is another subject ...

  • Even those such as the first one, where the user says something like "I want to do this"? I said the thing about Google beacuse sometimes I put "how to" (or other key word) in quotes so that I get only results with the sentence "how to", that's good when you want to filter to only 'how to's. BTW your answer is very good but I'll leave this open for a couple of days to see if anyone has more inputs on the matter! Sep 22 '16 at 20:19
  • 2
    @GuilhermeZ.Santos As I said, for me, there is not so much difference between "I want" and "How to ..." (as long as both are clear), both could be worded shorter. Maybe it is worse for native speakers who will more notice different intonation of the phrases . So I personally don't think such a minor detail is worth an edit (unless you are editing anyway). I never searched with the literate string of "how to", so I can't comment how useful this is, restricting to site:http://tex.stackexchange.com is usually good enough to find what I am looking for :) Sep 22 '16 at 20:45
  • @GuilhermeZ.Santos Please give an example of a grammatically correct question starting How to. There may be good reasons to include how to in subjects of questions although I have very rarely used this to search the web and never for technical information. (I've maybe used it when so short of keywords I'm stuck.) But if subjects should be questions, it is hard to imagine many of them will include this phrase unless they are grammatically incorrect. How to X is the title of a document explaining how to X. It isn't a question asking how to X. There's no way to get a subject into it.
    – cfr
    Sep 24 '16 at 22:10
  • @cfr Ok, I understand your point. Alan Munn gave an example of a gramatically correct question with How to on it, but that's not the main point I was trying to make. The questions where the user expresses his/hers desire of doing something I don't see fit, even though good keywords are present, that's just my opinion. I wanted to see here if it was a good deed to edit such questions. Alan gave a very good input on the matter. Sep 26 '16 at 8:32

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