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I am starting to get discouraged about the quality of question titles on Aviation.SE.

For those who don't want to click things, that's a link to my user page, which has a list of my recent edits. Pretty much it's me editing the titles of questions to reflect the actual question, as best as I can determine.

Why am I doing this? Because I feel that there ought to be no surprises - I believe that by the time you've clicked on a question from the front page, you should already have a good idea what the question is about.

Examples:

  • A320 FAC computer problems -> What would happen to the rudder on an A320 if both FAC systems failed?
  • Impending changes re IFR equipment? -> What coming changes might render current IFR equipment worthless in the foreseeable future?
  • Rotor chord or length? -> Would it be more effective to increase the length or chord of a rotor blade for better performance?

It seems like I'm the only one doing this, and I'm wondering if I should continue. How strict do we need to be about making sure that question titles reflect the actual question?

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  • $\begingroup$ You have some great answers below, but I would only add that if you take the time to edit the title, please edit the body of the question and the tags as well! (You may be doing this, but there are those that don't.) Improving a question in multiple ways helps everyone out. $\endgroup$ – Lnafziger Feb 7 '15 at 2:09
  • $\begingroup$ @steve cheers on your attempt!! Keep the quality of the site high. I agree we need clear title for every question $\endgroup$ – vasin1987 Feb 21 '15 at 15:01
  • $\begingroup$ You recently changed my title to a question I didn't ask. If you see the body of the question, it is simply "did anything go wrong". I suppose I could have used the title "During the evacuation of this MD-88 with regard to the tail slide, did anything go wrong?" but that's no better. Dogmatic insistence that every title should itself by a question makes no sense to me. $\endgroup$ – Simon Feb 28 '16 at 20:12
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I agree with your approach and have changed question titles myself in the past. The closer the subject/title is to the actual question in the descriptive body, the better, as you will be able to use the search efficiently and either find the answer if you have the same question or reference other questions which might give more detail to your own answer.

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You're not the only one doing this, but you're certainly one of (if not the) most active :-)

Question titles serve two purposes:

  1. They are what attract our local experts to a particular question so it gets answered.
    Put simply, some days I'm just not going to click on a question with a crappy title because I don't feel like reading the whole thing and fixing it just to see if I might be able to offer an answer.

  2. They are Google Candy to bring in people searching for related topics.
    The best example of this is rotor chord length? which is the equivalent of telling Google to go suck on a lemon, versus your modification Would it be more effective to increase the length or chord of a rotor blade for better performance? which is like letting Google loose in Willy Wonka's factory.

Sadly people are pretty terrible at writing question titles (and often not much better at writing the actual question) - when they get it wrong we should absolutely be helping them out by fixing it.

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    $\begingroup$ Rofl @ the Willy Wonka reference! $\endgroup$ – Danny Beckett Feb 7 '15 at 16:58
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    $\begingroup$ @DannyBeckett I should clarify that this is of course Gene Wilder's Wonka, not Johnny Depp's version (which may frighten and/or traumatize search engines). :-) $\endgroup$ – voretaq7 Feb 7 '15 at 17:19
  • $\begingroup$ That's good to know! I hated the American version. The English one was much better :P $\endgroup$ – Danny Beckett Feb 7 '15 at 17:22
  • $\begingroup$ Oh I dunno, I think they are both insane (Wilder's and Depp's) $\endgroup$ – CGCampbell Feb 13 '15 at 14:12
  • $\begingroup$ Do you have any data to back up your assertion about Google candy? $\endgroup$ – David Richerby Feb 25 '15 at 9:24
  • $\begingroup$ @DavidRicherby No hard numbers, but I submit as evidence the entire field of "search engine optimization", and the anecdotal observation that questions with better titles seem to come up higher in Google results unless you specifically search for the "bad" title or hang query modifiers on the end. (If you want hard numbers you can do a semi-controlled experiment: pick a question that's badly written/titled and figure out its views-per-day, then improve it and see if that number goes up.) $\endgroup$ – voretaq7 Feb 25 '15 at 16:39
  • $\begingroup$ @voretaq7 No need for hard numbers, all we're asking for is hard candy. $\endgroup$ – a CVn Jun 30 '16 at 11:37
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Better titles are definitely a good thing to have. They help when looking through questions, either in a search or in the "hot questions". I think a click for "that sounds interesting" is better than a click for "what does that even mean". If I see "Question about Airbus cockpits" that tells me pretty much nothing about whether it's what I'm looking for. It makes it much easier to get duplicate questions if they are hidden under vague or imprecise titles.

I try to fix titles, but generally only if I am fixing other parts of the post. It can be easy to think that no one else has fixed it, so it must be fine. It's good to have a reminder to pay attention to this sort of thing. Once you try to think of a title, you may find yourself asking, "wait, what is their question anyway?" And that helps build better content as well.

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    $\begingroup$ That's exactly it. Good titles tend to force clear questions. $\endgroup$ – Steve V. Feb 6 '15 at 15:54
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    $\begingroup$ @SteveV. Correlation is not causation. Changing the title without changing the question certainly doesn't force anything. $\endgroup$ – David Richerby Feb 25 '15 at 9:29
  • $\begingroup$ @DavidRicherby No, but looking at the title helps to make sure the question is clear. If the title is not repeated from the question, it helps to clarify it. And if there is no clear title in the question, then the question should be changed as well. $\endgroup$ – fooot Feb 25 '15 at 15:22
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    $\begingroup$ @david - Changing the title was not what I was talking about. Not being able to sum up a question with a clear, unambiguous title is a sign that you may have a poor question. (Like code smells.) $\endgroup$ – Steve V. Feb 25 '15 at 18:50
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People seem to be confusing the concept of "The question title relates to the question" with "The question title is a literal question with a question mark." Ironically, this very question is a perfect example:

Title: How strict do we need to be about making sure that question titles reflect the actual question?
Actual question: Should we edit question titles to make them literal questions?

Yes, we should make sure that question titles accurately reflect the actual question. No, we should not edit question titles to make them literal questions if there is nothing wrong with the existing title.

Bulk-editing is disruptive to the site because it means that the "active questions" list is full of questions that are only active because they've been edited. This makes it harder to find new questions and answers and carry out the core functions of the site: answering questions and voting on questions and answers. Trivial edits are discouraged for precisely this reason.

Because bulk-editing is disruptive, it should only be done where there are actual benefits to compensate for this disruption. Giving a bad question a better title doesn't make it a better question: please don't do it; start a close vote instead. Editing an accurately descriptive title to make it a literal question doesn't improve the question or make it easier to find: please don't do it. Please keep titles concise. The title doesn't have to contain every nuance of the question: it's just a headline summary.

Justification based on the "question titles not phrased as questions" query on data.stackexchange IMO doesn't fly. The text on the query page says, "This query MAY be useful for identifying titles that aren't phrased as a question or low quality questions." (emphasis in original) Note what it doesn't say. It doesn't say that the query identifies low-quality titles. It doesn't say that the query is useful for identifying low-quality titles. It says that the query MAY be useful for identifying low-quality titles. There is no rule or even, as far as I'm aware, recommended that question titles must be phrased as a question. There is a multiply-starred comment in chat pointing out that it is not necessary for question titles to be literal questions.

To take a recent example, "Maximum climb rate of an Airbus A320-200" has been edited to "What climb rates can the Airbus A320-200 achieve and which climb rates are commonly used for normal flight operations?" The original title was a perfectly accurate summary of the question. The new title is very long-winded (so takes up a lot of space in question lists, especially on mobile devices) and doesn't accurately reflect the contents of the question. The question actually asks what the maximum climb rate of the A320-200 is (surprise!) and if there's any commercial passenger aircraft whose climb rate can exceed 6000ft/min.

So, yes, by all means improve bad question titles. But "not a literal question" is not the same thing as "bad". Please spend your effort actually improving the site instead of just optimizing random metrics.

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    $\begingroup$ Fully agree with that we shouldn't blindly rephrase every title to a question. However, we had many low quality titles above good questions, so a short campaign to correct this does more good than harm. It is indeed disruptive but on the longer term the site benefits from clarity. I wish there was a 'minor edit, do not put it on the head of the question list-checkbox in the editing form. That would prevent the disruption. $\endgroup$ – DeltaLima Feb 25 '15 at 10:07
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    $\begingroup$ @DeltaLima Excellent points. Unfortunately, I'm seeing a lot of blindness. "Nose wheel lock on DR400" -> "How does the nose wheel lock on the Robin DR400 work?" "BAe 146 higher maintenance cost than other comparable jets" -> "Why does the BAe 146 have higher maintenance costs than other comparable jet aircraft?" "Looking for the most accurate planespotter book" -> "Are there any accurate books that help with identifying aircraft when planespotting?" etc. $\endgroup$ – David Richerby Feb 25 '15 at 10:13
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    $\begingroup$ The reason why I changed these titles is that while the title might have been concise, the visitor of the site would not really have known what to expect from the question at first glance of the title. My reasoning is that the title should tell you what is being asked as the primary question. If the community here on meta thinks differently, I will gladly accept a rollback or edit, adapting how I rephrase questions in the future. $\endgroup$ – SentryRaven Feb 25 '15 at 10:27
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    $\begingroup$ @SentryRaven Of the three I quoted, the first is clearly a question about nose-wheel locks on a particular plane. That's so specialized that 99% of people already know "I'm not interested in this." Re the BAe 146 question, when a question title is a statement of fact, it seems very likely that the question is going to be "Why is this?" or "Is this true?" The statement of fact seems precise enough. For the third one, I agree that improvement is needed but "Accurate identification books for plane-spotters" is concise and says everything the reader needs to know. $\endgroup$ – David Richerby Feb 25 '15 at 11:16
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    $\begingroup$ @DavidRicherby I see your point, however I have the impression that this is going to be very subjective, i.e. a matter of how you perceive these titles and how you interpret them. I didn't find the wheel lock title to be very clear and I didn't know what to expect (although we have a DR400 in our club, so I know there is a wheel lock) from the question. I'll wait for more feedback from others to draw a conclusion on how to proceed. It might also make a difference if you are a native-speaker or not, but that's for the linguists to analyze. ;) $\endgroup$ – SentryRaven Feb 25 '15 at 11:22
  • $\begingroup$ @SentryRaven BTW, the only reason that all my examples have been your edits is that you made the most recent block of them. Thanks for your reasoned responses. $\endgroup$ – David Richerby Feb 25 '15 at 11:23
  • $\begingroup$ @DavidRicherby No offense taken, you just caught a day where I have been at it. Could have been any of the other suspects, too. After all, this is what META is for and if the community comes to the conclusion that I overshot the target with the edits, we can edit/rollback and I'll know what the expectations are. $\endgroup$ – SentryRaven Feb 25 '15 at 11:26
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    $\begingroup$ I fully agree with your points about bulk-editing and literal questions. But there is no question in something like "Nose wheel lock on DR400". They could be asking "how does it work", but also "how do I fix it," "is it required," "why does it behave this way," etc. If it's not clear to someone I think it's fair for them to make it more clear. $\endgroup$ – fooot Feb 25 '15 at 16:33
  • $\begingroup$ @fooot the point about the DR400 nose wheel lock is that 99% of people are going to look at that and already be able to say "Whatever that question is, I'm not interested in it." The title already says almost everything almost everyone needs to know. $\endgroup$ – David Richerby Feb 25 '15 at 18:17
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    $\begingroup$ @DavidRicherby - "Whatever that question is, I'm not interested in it." The title already says almost everything almost everyone needs to know You're right. In fact, the only person who would benefit from having more information in the title is the expert on DR400 wheel locks who we're trying to attract to the site during the beta. $\endgroup$ – Steve V. Feb 25 '15 at 19:01
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I agree with others that we can and should improve the question titles.

As of May 2017 we have about 50 questions that are suspected of having problems with the title according to this updates query on data.stackexchange.com. The majority just lacks a question mark, which is not really a problem. (see edit history for earlier statistics)

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    $\begingroup$ You are my favorite person of the day, (except for me). $\endgroup$ – Steve V. Feb 19 '15 at 3:43
  • $\begingroup$ I did 10 now... I think. $\endgroup$ – SentryRaven Feb 19 '15 at 8:59
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    $\begingroup$ "This query MAY be useful for identifying titles that aren't phrased as a question or low quality questions." (emphasis in original)" != we must edit all question titles to make them literal questions $\endgroup$ – David Richerby Feb 25 '15 at 9:57
  • $\begingroup$ @DavidRicherby Although all the ones I've come across thus far are perfect candidates. $\endgroup$ – Danny Beckett Apr 22 '15 at 0:37
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    $\begingroup$ I've added the link to this SEDE query to Which URLs should be checked regularly to maintain the site? - feel free to add any more like it! $\endgroup$ – Danny Beckett May 3 '15 at 2:57
  • $\begingroup$ I think we need to add this metric: what percentage of our questions fit the query? $\endgroup$ – kevin Jun 25 '16 at 16:25

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