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I would like to propose that we tighten up our question titles where possible. I know I've written some long, rambling titles, and I'm trying to go back and shorten them. It's not easy for me, but I think it's worth the effort. Here's why:

Here's how a question with a short title looks on Twitter in the ordinary timeline:

Short Form of Tweet

Here's what it looks like after I click "View summary":

Expanded form with summary

When someone posts a cousin-bait title which has all of the details about the person being searched for -- name, place, date all crammed into the title -- and then the question begins with the exact same information, here's what happens.

In the SE summary, on Twitter, and probably most other places it is shared, it shows up with the exact same information in the title AND in the snippet which shows up in the preview.

For a comparison, here's what the example question looks like in a search result here:

stack exchange preview[4]

Redundant question titles are a waste of precious space. Can we avoid parroting the first line of the question in the question title?


Here's a more recent example with a long run-on title. I edited the title to shorten it and caught it before @StackGenealogy re-tweeted it.

My share, with the long question title:

Original title of question is long

And the auto-tweet, after the title was edited to be shorter:

Shorter title fits in tweet

With the new title, now people can see what the question is about.

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    In addition to the reasons you mention, I'm much more likely to read and answer a question if the author makes the effort to write a nice, short, and interesting title. It's not necessary to include all details in the title if you can get a potential answerer to click on it. – Harry Vervet Jul 26 '15 at 9:23
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    Excellent point! It's hard to remember that not every bit of text will look the same depending on where it shows up on the web, but it's a wise thing to be aware of when trying to appeal to new people off-site. – Ana Jul 27 '15 at 15:59
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It seems that I was incorrect when I said that SE's preview shows the very beginning of the message (the snippet that displays when you see the question in search results or on the front page). Here's one example:

SE-preview

This is how the question appears on Twitter. I don't know what the algorithm is to add "Can you answer this?" to the beginning of the Tweet -- many questions go out without it. (It's probably something obvious -- questions with no answers have "Can you answer this?" but questions which have been answered before the tweet is generated don't.)

Twitter-short form

After clicking "View summary" the question looks like this:

Twitter-long form

Another difficulty is that there is no marker on Twitter to distinguish questions from Meta from questions on the Main site. All the Meta questions also go out with a blue icon in the short form -- you can only tell the question is on Meta by looking at the link. Here's a recent Topic Challenge:

Meta-tweet-short form

Once the Tweet is expanded with "View summary" you can see the black icon which shows it is from Meta:

Meta-tweet-long form

(For this topic challenge, the text from the question body that appears in the Twitter summary worked out nicely.)

In any case, I'd like to see the question titles be concise, but also be something that makes sense when prefaced with "Can You Answer This?"

We have NO control over which question titles go out by themselves, and which have "Can You Answer This?" added.

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I often make titles more concise, and as my guide I use the Meta SE Q&A entitled How do I write a good title? (which I would prefer to see as Writing good titles?). On that question I think the answer by Jeff Atwood suggests two significant improvements over its most upvoted and accepted answer (using some current G&FH SE examples):

  1. Gramps: Plugin error (from 'ExportDjango'): No module named 'gramps.webapp' should I think be re-written as:

Debugging Plugin error (from 'ExportDjango'): No module named 'gramps.webapp' from Gramps?

  1. How do I find out how my grandfather died or disappeared in Berlin should I think be re-written as:

Determining how ancestor died or disappeared in Berlin?

The "rules" I use above are:

  1. Don't start title with a "tag:" - if the tag needs to be repeated put it on the end more readably. We do not have many of these tags here but they are the bane of SO and earlier, more IT-focussed Stack Exchanges
  2. Don't start with "How do I find" when simply "Finding" or "Determining" is more concise
  3. Don't use words like "my", "I', "a", "the" - they can almost always be dropped without losing any meaning
  4. Don't use words like grandfather, who would be your child's greatgrandparent and your parent's parent, when ancestor covers all cases
  5. I like to always end the title in a question mark to remind us that this is a Question and Answer site

I had not thought about the effect of repeating the title as the first line of the body, either identically, or in an uncondensed form, but I think you are definitely right that doing so should be avoided.

Overall, I like to encourage people to edit any titles that appear to be suboptimal for their intended purpose, which is to have them shortlisted in searches and to entice potential answerers and future finders to open them. Making sure that they and the first few following lines of the question look good for Twitter and any other previews makes sense too.

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  • I don't like the tag in the title either, but I understand why people use tag as a prefix. When shared, the information at the end of a long title is truncated. – Jan Murphy Jul 26 '15 at 16:38

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