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Today, I was looking over at the related questions module on a recent question, and it looked like this:

grammatically correct

It would be nice if we could tell questions apart simply by looking at their titles. But seven out of ten of the related questions above have non-descriptive titles:

  1. Is this grammatically correct?
  2. Is it grammatically correct?
  3. Is the sentence grammatically correct?
  4. Which of the sentences is grammatically correct?
  5. Which of these sentences is grammatically correct?
  6. Is this strange sentence grammatically correct?
  7. Is this quoted sentence grammatically correct?

I can't tell any of these apart. If I were searching for one in particular, I'd have to click one after another just to find the question I'm looking for.

So please, use specific titles. Don't just write "Is this grammatically correct?" If you're not sure what to add, put the relevant part of the sentence in the title. And if you can't figure out what's relevant, try putting the whole thing in—a specific title that's too long is better than a short, generic one.

Besides, if you can't figure out what you're specifically asking about, odds are you're asking an off-topic proofreading question. If you can identify a specific area of concern, you can make your title specific, too. So please, do so!

  • That seems a bit harsh. Very often people ask the question because that's the limit of specificity they can muster. Would it really be better to see a spate of "am I using 'had' correctly?" ("had" seems to attract a lot of confusion, probably because its use is so straightforward that people are suspicious) – MMacD Jan 1 '17 at 20:22
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I consider this a legitimate edit to make on a question, even though it seems like a big change to make.

If a title is no help in identifying the question or understanding its content, I make my best guess at what it should be. Unfortunately, this feels pretty sisyphean most of the time.

I think we could help people make better contributions if we had some pop-up messages built in. I know on other SEs, if you start writing a question with certain words a helpful message comes up and the question cannot be submitted until you write a better title. I think what snail[transport] has written above is exactly the sentiment we should express in these cases.

Exact matches to previous questions already get blocked, but I think we could do better with a little coding support. I don't know how beta works, but I think this would be a wonderful feature to have.

It could say something like “It looks like you’re asking the community to check something. Questions of this kind don’t fit well with the Q&A format here at ELL. The title and content of question posts should address an issue with learning English, and should not invite yes/no answers.”

That’s probably a little wordy, but you see what I’m getting at.

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    This is a great idea, and I'll poke the SE team to see what they think. I'd lean towards a wording more like what you said in the first half of your post, just about writing a better title (as snailplane notes, if you can't come up with a better title you probably have a problem). Maybe something like "The title you've used is very general. Please think about exactly what you're asking and edit your title." (Not exactly those words, either, but maybe something to that effect?) At any rate, I'll go try to ping someone now! We should at least turn on the duplicate title code, I think. – WendiKidd Apr 24 '14 at 16:40
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    (I should clarify that last statement: I say that because I'm pretty sure only SOFU and maybe a couple others actually block the duplicate titles right now, but that's the kind of thing that we should be able to opt-in to.) – WendiKidd Apr 24 '14 at 16:42
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    It might be valuable, too, to suggest that one of the Asker's jobs is to help other people with the same problem find answers -- encourage folks in a sense of participating in the community. – StoneyB Apr 24 '14 at 17:02
  • I'm wrong; I checked with a dev and that check is enabled everywhere. The similar-titles notice has been brought up before, but I'm being told that right now the dev team doesn't know if it's feasible or not. (On the bright side, eventually we'll run out of non-descriptive permutations of "is this grammatically correct".) – WendiKidd Apr 24 '14 at 17:15
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    @WendiKidd I have to admit, I was wondering when I saw Is this grammatically reasonable? – snailboat Apr 24 '14 at 20:07
  • @snailplane My mind was similarly blown when I saw How correct is this sentence?. – Tyler James Young Apr 24 '14 at 20:32
  • It gets worse. We have things like this showing up in hot network questions! The actual question isn't terrible, but we REALLY do not want stuff like that title on the network. (Yes, I fixed it as soon as it showed up, but it never should have got there in the first place.) – Jonathan Garber Apr 30 '14 at 13:57
  • What do you think of this: "This is a yes/no question, chat should be used instead" should be a close reason. I'm probably very guilty of answering some of these types of questions myself, but recently I downloaded the entire StackExchange database and as a result I reflected on what someone who looks at ELL 10 years from now would think. These type of questions seem like the "too local" type of answers on SuperUser and other sites. – LawrenceC Jan 27 '17 at 14:37
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When we edit out these titles, we free up space for new questions of the same name. What we want is a list of banned titles, which we can make by having the 'community' user post a bunch of questions with [this is a placeholder] as the question body and a relevant title and then hist. locking the question so it doesn't show up in regular browsing any more.

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