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A user recently asked a question about a sentence found in the Harry Potter series. The original title of the question was:

Meaning of "and yet" in the sentence "He'd just had the best birthday of his life -- and yet -- he chewed his hamburger, trying to find the words"?

and someone made an edit to change this title to:

Meaning of “and yet” in the middle of this sentence

This kicked off a civil discourse about the merits of informative titles vs. concise titles, where we politely debated:

  • How much information belongs in the title of a question, as opposed to the main body of a question?
  • When is there too little or too much information in the title of a question?
  • How much of a quote (or context) should you be able to see without actually opening the question?

And perhaps most importantly:

  • Are these questions just a matter of personal taste and opinion? Or does this community have some "best practices" that could serve as useful guidelines?

Eventually we agreed it would be constructive to let the community weigh in here on meta. So, let us know your thoughts, either by leaving an answer here, or by upvoting or downvoting answers you might agree or disagree with.

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So most of this is going to echo what J.R. has already said, but maybe from a slightly different perspective.

I think about titles primarily from the perspective of whether or not someone who was interested in the topic of the question in the body would be able to tell that from the title. I also think it's important that if someone has looked at your question before, they can find it again just by looking at the title. The title "Are these sentences correct?" doesn't help me find the question about the twin {brothers-in-law/brother-in-laws} that I want to answer now that I have thought about it.

In the example

Meaning of "and yet" in the sentence "He'd just had the best birthday of his life -- and yet -- he chewed his hamburger, trying to find the words"?

The part that might interest people is buried under a bunch of text that, while important context, isn't really part of the question. Writing a title is a lot like writing a headline. It's not exactly easy to find the balance between enough detail, not too long, and interesting (but not misleading). I think it's even more difficult for someone less fluent in English because they may not know which parts of the context are most relevant and interesting.

I don't mind a long title, so long as it is adding more description of the question and not just adding length.

For example, I changed

I do not like you, I like Monika.

to

Does 'I do not like you, I like Monika.' need a conjunction word or need to be broken into two sentences?.

I made that title a lot longer, but I think that it makes it more likely that someone who knows about conjunctions and sentence structure might click on it. It could probably be made shorter by saying "Does this sentence need a conjunction word or need to be split into two sentences?" but I think actually seeing the sentence in this case is important to understanding the question and knowing whether it's interesting to you.

How to ask if someone will contact A instead of requesting that they actually contact A?

is another example of a title I edited to make more descriptive. It started out as

meaning of Will you

which I didn't think really captured what was being asked.

If we look at another question about a Harry Potter novel:

Why has "strangely" been used instead of "strange" in the sentence "Harry felt strangely"?

That title tells us just enough so we can figure out if we're interested in the question. There's no need to put the entire sentence from the context in the title. That last part of the sentence is needed to answer the question, but it's probably not needed to get someone interested in the question.

Why has “strangely” been used instead of “strange” in the sentence "Harry felt strangely as though he had entered a very strict library"

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  • +1 This. This should be made faq, and also cross posted on ELU meta. – NVZ Jun 13 '17 at 16:36
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While I agree that titles should be both informative and interesting, I think they can be too long, particularly when they contain a rather long snippet of text.

In this particular case, I don't see any need for phrases like "chewed his hamburger" or "He'd just had the best birthday of his life" in the title of the question. (It's certainly appropriate to provide such context in the body of question – but not in the title.)

For one thing, putting this particular wording in the title of the question would make it show up in this query (show me all the ELL questions that mention "birthday" in the title), where it likely doesn't belong. For another, the context only represents one possible usage of many. For example, this particular question asks about the meaning of "and yet" in this passage:

He'd just had the best birthday of his life – and yet – he chewed his hamburger, trying to find the words. "Everyone thinks I'm special," he said at last.

and yet the question could also ask about the two-word phrase in this context:

She had just had the most disastrous wedding she could have ever imagined – and yet – she stared at her new husband, trying to find the words. "Everyone said I was crazy for marrying you," she said at last.

and it would be essentially the same question!

I've seen a lot of users make the mistake of giving too much information in a title and leaving a bare-bones question. If a title spills onto a second line, it's probably too long (not as a hard-and-fast rule, but as a fairly good general guideline).

I think the revised title could still be improved a little bit; something like this might work:

Meaning of “and yet” in the middle of a train of thought

but I still think the original title was a bit too long, and making it more concise was a definite improvement.


In general, I'd recommend against putting a long snippet of text in the title:

Meaning of 'quick' in the phrase "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog."

What does "quick" mean in that sentence?

Instead I'd favor making the title more concise, saving the main text for the body of the question:

Meaning of 'quick' in the phrase "quick brown fox"

What does "quick" mean in this sentence:

The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.

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