12

A problem

Looking at titles on the Newest Questions page today, I'm not seeing many questions:

"I have two top panels in Ubuntu for some reason"
"Performance Test Software"
"Feedback for 11.10"
"Intel 3945ABG wifi sees only some networks"
"Cannot modify my USB Files/Folders"
"Kmail migration issues in 11.10"
"Broadcom 4313 (gn) wirelless card on HP Pavilion g6 weak signal but close to AP"
"Network Manager Failing to allow Ubuntu 11.10 to shut down."
"Queable packagemanagement"
"aptitude update as cronjob, customize the cron-mail-output"

People are not starting their titles with interrogatives and ending them with question marks. While this may seem like a trivial issue, in my view we are losing the battle to get people to ask coherent questions in AskUbuntu.

A question is a useful mental constraint. It forces people to pinpoint exactly what they want answered, and cut out side-issues. It's also a useful condensation: it makes it easy for question-answerers to scan for problems they might be able to solve. Finally, the presence of non-questions on AskUbuntu prevents visitors from realizing this is a Q&A site, not a forum.

A suggestion

Could we use Javascript to regex match the Title input against question syntax...

^(Who|What|When|Where|Which|Why|How|Is|Are|Will|Can|Could).+\?$

... and display a notification if there's no match?

Hey, that doesn't look like a question

AskUbuntu is a Q&A site, so we recommend you phrase your problem as a concrete and answerable question. For example, don't type:

Software installation

but instead:

How do I install software?
  • The technology is not that difficult. But making it solid enough to be non-invasive and correct in 99.9% of the different contexts I would check if there are any scripts that do this already. For instance your example would either say "My Ferrari IS blue" is a question. Or you require the IS to be at the start when "My Dell XPS 15 is not resuming with kernel version X." would be rejected. – Beanow Jan 3 '12 at 22:27
  • Actually, I just missed pasting the ^ mark for that. Thanks for pointing it out! In any case, I disagree that it would need to be 100% (or even 90%) accurate non-question filter. It's a suggestion, not a brick wall. As for advising against ""My Dell XPS 15 is not resuming with kernel version X." I absolutely believe that the system should It's Q&A site, not a P&A site. That's a bug report. – Jjed Jan 3 '12 at 22:34
  • True, that's a bug. But as a relatively new member of the community it seems that the Q&A is a lot more accessible then a bugtracker. So 1) I would rather not miss a bug about my kernel if the user didn't know how to file a bug report. And 2) I don't want to scare a less advanced user off that just so happened to formulate a legit question in a way that the script says it's not a question. – Beanow Jan 3 '12 at 22:43
  • So mostly my comments meant, is it desirable considering it might raise the bar and make the Q&A less accessible (mentally, 'cause yes it's not a brick wall) – Beanow Jan 3 '12 at 22:45
4

Re-labeling the "Title" box to "Question" might make it more clear that a question is to be entered there. I felt discouraged from entering my question into that part, instead interpreting it as a request to come up with a title for my question.

  • But that's exactly right: the “title” box is for a title for the question. The title itself does not have to be phrased as a question. In fact, the title is not only a title for the question, it's a title for the whole page that contains both the question and its answers. Go for whatever comes out best. – Gilles Jan 1 '13 at 15:14
  • I beg to disagree. With all due respect, I personally believe that a question and answer site, questions should be asked. The description is there to explain the question in more detail. Instead of asking the question in the description, I find it more fitting to describe the problem - because that is what a description does. Does it not? – Mochan Jan 2 '13 at 12:12
2

The SE system already checks incoming new questions for quality, so it does weed out the most worthless ones. (I have no insight how many of those it's catching though)

I don't think fixing the title will get what you want though, it's about the entire question. I find that if a question's title is horrible that the content of the question itself is poor, so really it's about improving the entire question itself, not just the title.

This takes time and effort that can't be so easily automated, and no matter how awesome of an editor we might become it's really up to the asker to take ownership of their question and make it better.

  1. My personal guideline is I usually give an incoming question (and whatever shows up in the review tool a once over edit to improve it as best as I can, and then hopefully the asker will keep improving it. They will either keep improving it, or abandon it.

  2. You have free question downvotes for a reason, if a question is bad enough that you can't fix it then downvote it and leave a comment. You'll be saving the next contributor time and frustration by not wasting their time looking at a question that can't be answered.

  • Thanks for the answer. Don't you think the lack of "user education" is problem? In early days, maybe the AskUbuntu core-userbase could "lead by example" by just by editing, flagging, and voting posts into coherent questions, but it increasingly seems that the core userbase is outgunned. – Jjed Jan 4 '12 at 18:52
2

No, question titles do not have to be worded as questions. In many cases, wording a title as a question is inferior because it adds unnecessary words in a very short space. Also note that the title ends up being the title of the whole question+answers page; in a search result, “how to do X” or plain “X” looks more promising that “how do I do X?”.

This topic often comes up on Meta Stack Overflow, with some strong pro-title-as-question advocates and some strong anti-title-as-questions advocates. I recommend reading Mark Harrison's post on writing a good title, which is backed by usability studies.

Looking at your example titles, I see some bad and some good, but not a single example that would be improved, specifically, by adding a question word at the beginning and a question mark at the end. Taking the only example where you give both wordings, “How do I install software?” is marred by leading with three useless words; “Software installation” is better, but none of these are specific enough for a good question.

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