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Dear people who like to answer "just do it for me question" (especially of the TikZ sort, but possibly others.) Many such questions have titles that are fundamentally useless for searching purposes. I won't link to specific questions, but generally they look like these:

  • How can I draw this graphic?
  • How can I draw this in TikZ
  • Help drawing diagram

You can use the following linguistic heuristic to decide if a question title definitely needs editing:

  • If the title contains the word "this", it (the title, not the question) is useless to others.

Of course this doesn't cover all the cases (like the third example above) but it is pretty exceptionless with respect to identifying a whole class of useless titles.

If you want to answer such questions, that is certainly your prerogative, but could you also edit the titles of the questions you answer to make them more descriptive and useful to others?

I intended this question title to be just A plea to those who answer "just do it for me" questions but then I thought it might be too ironic. :)

Some clarifications

Perhaps because of my somewhat click-baity title, some of the points I'm making seem to have been lost, simply because I mentioned "just do it for me" questions. To be clear, here is what I'm NOT saying:

  1. I'm not making any claims whatsoever about the value or lack thereof of "just do it for me questions" however you want to define them.

  2. I'm not claiming that a question with a useless title is a useless question. It's simply a question with a useless title.

  3. I'm not claiming that only "just do it for me" questions can have such useless titles, so my plea applies to anyone who answers a question containing the word "this" and other variants of the same sort. Although I suggest that the "just do it for me" type (as generally understood by the various meta posts about them) are particularly vulnerable to such non-contentful titles.

  4. I'm not trying to make policy. This is exactly why I chose the word "plea". If you've been around the site especially on meta for any length of time, you will know that I'm generally opposed to legislating behaviour, and I'm NOT trying to do that here.

Could I have phrased the question in a less click-baity way? Yes, probably. In fact I could have used a title like "Avoiding deictic pronouns in question titles", but that probably wouldn't have attracted the same readership.

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    @Werner Yes, but I didn't want to pick on particular people, which is why I made examples rather than concrete links. – Alan Munn May 4 at 17:30
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    Please define "just do it for me" question. BTW, while I do think that in principle it would be nice to have meaningful titles (apart from well-defined question, fair referencing of earlier posts one is copying from and so on), I am not sure if this will make the questions more searchable by a considerable amount. Rather, according to my experience one has to do a visual search anyway. What would make the search IMHO more efficient would be appropriate linking to earlier, related posts. – user194703 May 4 at 19:18
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    @Schrödinger'scat We have plenty of questions in meta about that. Basically questions which usually post an image of something with a request of how to draw it. But even if they aren't exactly that, questions with "this" in the title are effectively uninformative. But I think that the "just do it for me" type especially promotes such useless question formats. – Alan Munn May 4 at 19:34
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    While I am aware of these posts, I never understood the terminology. Every question asks others to do something for them, namely answering the question. So there must be something else that defines them like lack of efforts by the OP, lack of abstraction, lack of use for others, whatever. As I said, I totally agree that having better titles would be great. But one has to weigh this against the risk of someone who may misinterpret the question rewriting it, and should ask whether the increase in value justifies the action. I personally think that there are other things which have higher impact. – user194703 May 4 at 19:42
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    @CarLaTeX Personally I ignore such questions. But if someone feels inclined to answer such questions, I'm sure they could also help to make the question more useful to others. – Alan Munn May 4 at 19:46
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    As I said, I do see that changing the question title can be helpful. Yet IMHO there should be a discussion on which action/edit is most beneficial, and I feel that editing the title may not be the top entry of the priority list. The more so since some subset of the users does not really seem to perform a careful search before asking their questions. That is, I would be surprised if changing the title had a major impact on the repetition of questions. But of course it is hard to tell. – user194703 May 4 at 19:49
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    I do agree with @CarLaTeX. I think as long as one puts the key words in the answer, the post is searchable with the standard tools, and then it is clear that the description refers to the interpretation of the answerer. That is, a meta question on a plea to the authors of answers to add key words to their posts may have more impact. – user194703 May 4 at 19:56
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    And sorry for spamming, but: according to this comment this question is a "just do it for me" question? And deserves to be associated with the description "such useless question formats"? I am honestly struggling to understand what a "just do it for me" question is. – user194703 May 4 at 20:18
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    Well, fair enough, but then your question is not really defined. To me it basically reads A plea to those who answer <undefined> questions: please edit question titles to be usefully descriptive as well. Could you please make an effort in defining the terms used in the question title or replace them by well-defined terms? (To be honest, this is ironic. ;-) – user194703 May 4 at 20:23
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    I would define a "just do it for me" question as one showing no effort at all: someone has heard TeX can do the thing they want done. It may well be that the asker doesn't fit into that category, but they've not shown us anything and are making us create everything. This is especially frustrating with images because it may or may not be clear what aspect of the image the asker wants (I'm always tempted to reply \includegraphics{whatYouPosted.png}). One approach to these questions would be to downvote, but that's less welcoming to new askers. – Teepeemm May 5 at 18:57
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    @Teepeemm By that definition, this is a "just do it for me" question. There are many similar ones. I am fine with tagging them "just do it for me" because indeed practically all the work is left to the ones who answer them. However, I would like to argue that such questions can still be very useful, which is something that IMHO does not get mentioned often in these discussions. – user194703 May 5 at 19:04
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    You could just disentangle (i.e. remove from the question) the "do it for me" topic altogether if the aim is to make question titles more meaningful. In particular, the title of this question would become shorter and more general and less controversial. – user194703 May 5 at 20:19
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    There seems to be a club of users who all seem to know what a a "do it for me question" is, and no one wants to define it for me. That's a bit unfortunate. – user194703 May 6 at 17:51
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    @Marijn Item 3 is probably true for the linked post, at least the answer is nontrivial. Point 4 is a fair point but this just means that the question is very narrow, and for some time one could close too narrow questions, so all of this discussion would just go away if we would just allow too narrow questions to be closed (again)? (However, sometimes, even though the question seems to be narrow, the answerer writes an answer in which they develop something that can be applied more broadly. So the main disagreement seems to be whether a badly phrased question causes harm to the site.) – user194703 May 6 at 18:16
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    @Teepeemm There is now a separate question on this. I agree that the title is OK, but this is not how I found the post when I was searching for this solution, i.e. if I was to choose a title I would have chosen a different one. Which is precisely my problem with this in principle well meant suggestion: it is easier to ask others to fix the titles than to actually really do it in a way that makes everyone happy. – user194703 May 9 at 17:50
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There seems to be some who are not willing to change the meaning of the original question (or title), because they feel they may impede on the requirements originally posted, even if it's obvious that its useless, like "How do I draw this?"

I am in favour of changing the title purely because many of us answering have been here longer than those who post the question(s). And, the system allows for it through editing. If the change seems do deviate too far from the original I am confident the OP will suggest something to the contrary. At the very least post a comment suggesting that they change the title into something more meaningful, more representative, more... betterer (because that's a word). This provides a means for the OP to give some feedback.

A second option in such instances is to cast a downvote since the question most likely "doesn't show any research effort" as it is close to a "just do this for me" request. You feel this is not the case? Well surely you can't upvote as that would go against what the the voting button suggests: "it is useful"? Don't just leave it sitting there, titled useless begging for a one-time answer so that can fade away with time...

Finally, if all else fails and there's really nothing that can be suggested to change the title (or request within the post) into something meaningful, I'd suggest to cast a vote to close the question since it "requires more detail/focus"; this will not harm the site, since it can be re-opened and it will send a message to the OP that their post needs more detail/focus.

The last two options can (and should) be done without feel emotional about it. This is a site meant to store ideas and solutions not just for the OP, but for the larger community. It's not easy asking a question, but it shouldn't be difficult to describe a question better than "How do I draw this?", surely!

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    Once I was insulted because I asked for an MWE... imagine if I had edited the title... – CarLaTeX May 5 at 16:32
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    To be honest, I do not see how this is an answer of the question. It seems more like a description of actions which you want to be carried out by others. – user194703 May 5 at 17:29
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    @CarLaTeX: That's unfortunate. People should have the right to request a MWE. – Werner May 5 at 17:32
  • @Schrödinger'scat: Yes, this deviates slightly from the proposal to change the title, although I reference support for the proposal to change it. – Werner May 5 at 17:33
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    Yes, as usual in such meta posts it is all a bit mixed up since this does not really fit into a question and answer scheme. There is a mix-up of "Would more meaningful titles be better?", which probably most users will answer with "yes", and "Should we impose on others to edit titles?", which is probably more controversial. IMHO the edits should be done by those who find them most useful, but everyone who shares the experience with @CarLaTeX should have the right to abstain from such edits. – user194703 May 5 at 17:39
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    @Schrödinger'scat: By all means. There's no way or reason to force people (answerers) to change a useless title... that's why the original question here was a plea to do that, for the betterment of the (future) community. You have the right to do whatever you see fit, even answering such questions. Go ahead! – Werner May 5 at 17:45
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    I guess the problem is that "these questions" are not well-defined and each of us has a different picture of them in mind when discussing these things. According to the discussions on meta, e.g. this question seems to be a "do-it-for-me" question. I do not think it is useless, and think that the answer is great. – user194703 May 5 at 17:49
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    @Schrödinger'scat: Indeed. It's an elementary question, but more importantly, it has a purposeful title that describes the problem. If it had a title like "How can I do this in TikZ?" it would need some reworking, because "this" doesn't say anything. – Werner May 5 at 18:08
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    Well, the title got changed several times. However, I am responding to "You have the right to do whatever you see fit, even answering such questions. Go ahead! " and only want to point out that "such questions" are not even defined.The usefulness of a question is IMHO not determined only by the title and whether or not the OP only posts a screen shot and no code. That's all. The problem is that when users read these posts each of them have a different picture of "these questions" in mind, which makes it practically impossible to find an agreement. – user194703 May 5 at 18:13
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    @Schrödinger'scat: Titles are very important. It's what is presented in searches (here and in Google) and most likely the trigger for many to decide whether the question is of interest to them or not. Fewer people would read the snippets than they would the titles. Even just an image in the post you linked to will not show up in a Google search, so without a meaningful title that question would just fall off the search radar. – Werner May 5 at 22:31
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    @Werner Wow. So when Till Tantau called TikZ "TikZ" or beamer "beamer" he screwed up? The post you are referring to I found because I knew how one would do that, i.e. by punching in the right key words, and then doing a visual search. It has nothing to do with the title. But to be clear: I am not at all pushing for meaningless titles. All I am saying is that editing titles of posts by others is not at the very top of my priority list, the more so since I have seen interesting reactions (which I seem not to be alone with). – user194703 May 5 at 22:39
  • @Schrödinger'scat: It's obvious you're not interested in title edits. What do you mean by visual search? Please explain. – Werner May 5 at 22:43
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    @Werner Visual search has gotten some attention and two answers, one of which you might be familiar with. The conclusion of your answer differs a bit from mine, but this might have to do with the fact that the tags we are concerned with are very different. (Yet this very thread seems to be very TikZy, so I can assure you that for this tag a visual search works great.) – user194703 May 5 at 22:46
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Editing titles of posts by others does not always get taken well, especially since one may simply misinterpret the question.

It is also not clear if this is most useful use of time, even if one was able to guarantee that the interpretation is correct. IMHO it would be much more useful to:

  1. Use the key words that reflect your interpretation in the answer. Given that, at least according to my experience, the search mechanisms on this site cannot really compete with Google at this point, this makes the post as searchable as it is after changing the title, but avoids the above-mentioned misinterpretation issue. (I personally find a visual search in most cases the most efficient tool.)
  2. Add tags to the post if you are absolutely convinced that your interpretation applies.
  3. Link to earlier related posts. For instance, if you recycle, say, the suspend join key, link to the original post which proposed it. Apart from being fair to the author of the earlier post, this has the advantage that now these related posts are linked by the mechanisms of the site. That is, no external help by Google is required to identify them.1

Overall I think that before asking users to edit posts by others one might want to remind them that everyone is responsible for their own post. That is, the priority should be making your own post clear, not misleading, and properly linked to earlier posts rather than changing the title of a post the interpretation of which you may not perfectly capture. Note also that many users answering questions are not native speakers. Asking them to edit a text in a language in which they may make grammatical errors more easily than in their mother tongue is also a bit delicate.

So the bottom-line is that if it is important to you to have "usefully descriptive" titles, you can edit the titles, and hope that you do not get strong reactions. If you know what the ideal title should look like, even better. It is not clear to me why the ones who answer questions should be asked to do that, though. It is also not clear what a "usefully descriptive" title is,2 personally I do not think that the title of this very thread is "usefully descriptive", which is a bit ironic. However, one should keep in mind that users add forest trees and tikz pictures and so on to their document precisely because it is hard to represent the information just using words. It seems to me ironic, too, that in this thread those questions are targeted. If you need a complex diagram to explain something it isn't that easy to describe it in a title. Sure, if it contains a tree, say, we could add tree to the title, but this is what tags are for, isn't it?

Your plea is extremely well packaged, i.e. the wording is great. However, content-wise it suggests that others, i.e. not you, should edit the titles of posts of yet other users over their heads. I am not as good at packaging messages as you, but if the aim is to go for better titles then maybe the content of the plea could be that all users, not just a subset, should suggest alternative titles to authors of questions with "this" in the title. At least I don't consider myself a superior user who can edit titles of posts by others without their consent.

1 As discussed in the comments, one cannot link every post that does something somewhat similar, and this statement was never meant like that. For instance, one version of the suspend join key can be found here. I never found out who originally proposed it but think it would be fair to give the real creator credit if I use it, and also link to the post so that, if there are problems, users have immediate links to solutions that are already on the market. Similarly for several other tricks of that sort.

2 IMHO it is just a catchy expression without too much content. This is not the place to have another iteration of the discussion whether or not it is necessary to explain the expressions one is using. Of course, I do think that one has to explain what is meant by such phrases, but we can agree that we disagree.

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    Thanks for your answer. These are good points for sure. The only reason I appeal to answerers is that they tend to have more experience with the site generally, (certainly so if they have edit privileges) and the questions with the vaguest titles tend to be also ones by relatively inexperienced users. But this answer is very helpful. – Alan Munn May 4 at 21:26
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    @AlanMunn Ironically the experience with the site may well be "I once edited the question of a user, did not quite understand the question and that did not go well.". As I said, in a perfect world all questions have perfect titles (and no duplicates are asked and proper credit is always given and so on) but we do not live in a perfect world and those who have burned their fingers/claws/paws just hesitate doing what you are suggesting because of their experience. – user194703 May 4 at 21:31
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    Yes, I understand. I've probably edited dozens of question titles without ever encountering a problem, but some of you inhabit more contentious areas site activity. :) – Alan Munn May 4 at 21:34
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    @Schrödinger'scat: You should add to your list of "useful" things that prospective answerers should search for duplicates to avoid unnecessary replication of content. Also, I'm trying to generalise your use of linkage when someone uses a term/key that was used previously... that doesn't seem sustainable... when I use (say) \rule, should I link to the first use of that on the site? Or, when I set fancyhdr headers, do I also reference the first post that used that? – Werner May 4 at 21:44
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    @AlanMunn It might also be a language problem. If someone with perfect English writes a question with less than perfect title and then gets an edit which has perhaps a better description but broken English, then users may not like it. A native English speaker linguist may be less at risk of getting this reaction. ;-) – user194703 May 4 at 22:03
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    @Werner Sure, it goes without saying that if someone plots a sine function, then it does not make much sense dig out everybody who ever used a sine function in LaTeX. (I had an interesting experience when using a Jacobian, but let's not go there. ;-) However, if there is a question how to plot the erf function, user A digs out an expansion that is accurate and can be plotted in pgfplots, I feel it would help the community a lot if user B, who copies the code of user A, could link to the original post, also because then the potential pitfalls are already discussed. – user194703 May 4 at 22:12
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    @Werner BTW, "prospective answerers should search for duplicates" is precisely what is meant by "Link to earlier related posts". My usual strategy is to point at the related posts (not sure if "duplicate" is always a fair description), and ask the user if that helps in a comment. Then usually one of the following happens: 1. the user says yes, and one may close the question, 2. the user says no and in the best case explains why, in which case someone can write an answer, hopefully referring to more original posts, or 3. someone sees this and just copies the linked answer. – user194703 May 4 at 22:23
  • I agree that adding useful keywords in the answer would also help to improve search results. However, one advantage of editing the title is that when the post is found and displayed in search results (either with SE search or with Google) that the title is prominently displayed on the search result page, which allows the person searching to determine quickly and accurately if the question is useful for his own problem, while some matching keywords in the answer probably needs extra effort to verify that the search result is useful. – Marijn May 5 at 10:59
  • @Marijn Well, I am not sure how useful your suggested title is. The technical ingredient of that answer is the cycle list, not a Taylor expansion. But I take that you find my answer not very useful. Since there is the idea not to link any explicit posts, I'd like to ask you to remove this comment. And you are absolutely free to edit titles as much as you want, I just explain why I am not doing it. – user194703 May 5 at 14:11
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    @Marijn I also do not think that your statement on the usefulness of the title applies. It certainly does not for me. Rather, I usually end up doing a visual search when I am searching something. And you can add a meta post in which you can explain how you came up with the suggestion of the title. I am sure this will lead to interesting discussions, but I cannot really follow you here. – user194703 May 5 at 14:19
  • @Schrödinger'scat That particular question is not problematic, it has a descriptive title, it has an MWE, it has a good answer (by you), so I thought it would be a good illustration of the difference between a technical title and an application-oriented title. I'm sorry if you feel you are called out for this, that was not my intention, the only reason that I picked a question where you are involved was to continue the discussion from your example of the spy nodes (which was not linked but nevertheless very easy to find). – Marijn May 5 at 14:38
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    @Marijn I really think that it would be better if everyone who has an opinion that is at odds with my answer should write their own answer. I try to make clear why I think that other things are more important than editing titles, and what the pitfalls of editing titles are. If you disagree with these arguments (which is perfectly fine) then please write an answer in which you explain this, and please also explain how one can come up with a title that serves everyone since this is something that I am struggling with (regardless of the other pitfalls). – user194703 May 5 at 14:44
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    @Werner Did you read this part? It just illustrates that it is hard to come up with a meaningful title. That is, the term "useful" title is not well defined. Useful for whom? For the OP who asks the question? For the one who answers it? For you? For me? I think that if you and Alan had just invested 50% of the time that goes in this discussion in actually changing the titles, that would have been much more efficient. Perhaps you would have seen then that (a) you get interesting reactions and (b) useful depends on for whom this is to be useful. – user194703 May 6 at 3:36
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    @Werner OK, then you read it in the way you want to. All this is saying is that it is not trivial to come up with a meaningful title for posts by others. If you want to read something else into it, this is your choice. I certainly did not say that this is a "do it for me" question. – user194703 May 6 at 5:01
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    @Werner Since everything I am trying to say gets interpreted in a way that is least favorable for me, I just removed that part. My points have been made, and if you think you can bless our site with more meaningful titles, please go ahead and change them. For me this was an interesting exchange of ideas and thoughts. The whole discussion is very vague, and I think everyone involved seems to have different ideas of what a do it for me questions and useful titles are. If this means that there is no agreement, so be it, it could be worse. – user194703 May 6 at 5:37

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