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This Meta discussion is based on some questions and suggestions about the title of one of my posts "The Lord of the Fields" on the main site.


As a general rule of SE sites it is recommended to add as much as possible information in the title of a post but as same as many other general rules there are some exceptions here. According to the special nature of some special posts which are special by their subject or writing style it is necessary to use an encrypted attractive title to show the difference of the post and hide its main subject for a while. Of course such titles should be meaningfully related to the body of the text but the important point is that one should discover this meaning during reading the post not before it. This journalistic approach in choosing titles of the articles increases the domain of audiences by exciting their sense of curiosity and make the post surprising and memorable.

Personally I believe adding or suggesting any edit on such special posts should be carefully designed because adding any too informative, long, formal or usual expression to the body or title of a special post can destroy the picture which questioner tries to describe entirely. Of course syntactical edits like correcting spelling and grammar are always fine but the edits which can change the nature, atmosphere and style of the post are potentially harmful for the general harmony of a special post.

As another example of special titling for special posts please look at the following cases:

How do I become a Scarer?

Once upon a time there was a mathematician...


Question. What are nice harmony preserving approaches to edit a special post?

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    $\begingroup$ I think "How do I bocome a Scarer" is intuitive and ok, the other two not. ou can have puns in your title, but then the should be clear for the majority on the first sight. $\endgroup$ – András Bátkai Apr 6 '14 at 18:09
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    $\begingroup$ I think, in general, the best way is to suggest a title in the comment and let you decide. In your question, however, I think, no one could guess what the question is about by only knowing. In order to get good answers, people who could answer should be aware of the content of the question. I first taught, the topic was about fields and I made associations with Lord of the rings. I must say that I liked the version with the pun and the explaination behind it. $\endgroup$ – Markus Klein Apr 6 '14 at 18:15
  • $\begingroup$ @MarkusKlein I am completely agree with you. Do you mean this version? "The lord of the fields, The fellowship of the mathematical fields" or Brian's too long suggestion? $\endgroup$ – user230 Apr 6 '14 at 18:21
  • $\begingroup$ @SaintGeorg I meant long version of Brain: "The lord of the fields, or ...". I was really very long, but like I said in the comments there I have no better suggestion for that question. $\endgroup$ – Markus Klein Apr 6 '14 at 18:24
  • $\begingroup$ @MarkusKlein Thank you for your opinion. I think you mentioned a nice point which leaded us to a useful Meta discussion about editing the posts. $\endgroup$ – user230 Apr 6 '14 at 18:28
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    $\begingroup$ @AndrásBátkai This is interesting. Since of all the three IMO the "Scarer" is by far the hardest to understand. Even after having read the post I do not understand the relation. // I think this shows precisley the problem with such titles. Understanding of such titles is highly individual. But they should be universally understood. $\endgroup$ – quid Apr 6 '14 at 21:42
  • $\begingroup$ @quid Did you see the "Monsters University" movie? $\ddot\smile$ $\endgroup$ – user230 Apr 6 '14 at 21:56
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    $\begingroup$ @SaintGeorg no, did not even know about it. Thanks for the pointer. I thought it might be Harry Potter related (which I do not know either but at least know about). $\endgroup$ – quid Apr 6 '14 at 22:22
  • $\begingroup$ @quid: you are right, and demostrated it nicely... $\endgroup$ – András Bátkai Apr 7 '14 at 6:53
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I agree with both Brendan Sullivan's and Benjamin Dickman's answers, and I think some of the following questions on Stack Overflow meta may be relevant:

as well as the following text from the Help Center:

In my opinion, Brian Rushton's edit to the title Lord of the Fields was appropriate, because it increased the clarity of the title.

Overall, I think brendansullivan07 made an excellent point when he wrote:

This site is not about coming up with interesting mathematical questions and sharing them in the most creative way. This site is about asking questions and getting answers.

although I would add:

This site is about building up a useful library of questions and answers that can be searched and indexed in a meaningful way.

See http://stackexchange.com/about for a statement of the philosophy and purpose of Stack Exchange sites.

Most Stack Exchange sites have about 90% of their traffic from Google, which means that we're not just trying to ask questions that are useful or interesting for other users of this site---we're trying to ask questions that will be useful for the internet at large. It matters whether or not a title clearly conveys what a question is going to be about.

Another way of saying this is that a Stack Exchange site is emphatically not a sort of social site, run for the benefit of its users. Instead, Stack Exchange is more like Wikipedia---an attempt to make a useful and canonical internet resource. There's not much room for personal creativity when writing Wikipedia articles, and in the same way there's not much room for personal creativity when asking and answering questions here.

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  • $\begingroup$ I think there is no problem about searching because search engines search amongst full texts not just titles. Furthermore the main body of a creative question in my special style is completely formal and each post contains a completely well-phrased main question part marked as Question.. In my style this part is very clear and one can understand the main questions without reading the background. About the nature of SE I think it is a combination of a free encyclopedia and a social network and so the nature of its posts should be a combination of the posts in these two forums. $\endgroup$ – user230 Apr 6 '14 at 19:28
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    $\begingroup$ @SaintGeorg The problem here isn't that a search engine won't index the question. The problem is that someone who searches Google (or even Stack Exchange itself) for help with this exact problem won't click on a link entitled "Lord of the Fields". The title prevents the question from being useful in the context of being part of a list of search results. $\endgroup$ – Jim Belk Apr 6 '14 at 19:37
  • $\begingroup$ Personally, when I am Googling, beside reading the title of the results I read a part of the body of search results too. Surely titles have an impact on the probability of clicking by users but I think body texts have at least a same role too. It seems a 50-50 situation. $\endgroup$ – user230 Apr 6 '14 at 19:47
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    $\begingroup$ @SaintGeorg I agree. The title doesn't kill the searchability of the post, it only decreases it. But since the primary purpose of the site is to build a library of high-quality questions and answers, anything that makes a question less searchable is problematic. The whole reason that questions have titles is to help users pick relevant questions out of a list. $\endgroup$ – Jim Belk Apr 6 '14 at 19:52
  • $\begingroup$ I think this is the correct answer. The title of the question should indicate what the question is about. It's purpose is not to be a clever headline, but to give users an indication of the content of the question. Jim is right to reiterate that the purpose of SE is to build a collection of excellent questions and answers. $\endgroup$ – jbaldus Apr 25 '14 at 2:43
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Rather than answering about editing such posts, here is my own preference:

When I open this site I wish to read well-phrased, tractable questions and/or well-phrased meaningful answers related to research or hands-on experience. I mean all of this in the context of Mathematics Education, and, of course, I don't wish to imply research and experience are disjoint. They are not.

I am fine with an academic tone or with a somewhat casual tone, but I am not so fond of:

  1. a "strange attractive" tone

  2. anything "encrypted attractive"

  3. a "journalistic approach" as alluded to in the post

  4. worrying about titles being "too informative"

And, more generally, I am not a fan of "special posts" as suggested here.

(In case it's not clear what I mean by "a somewhat casual tone," see the excerpts I posted here.)

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According to the special nature of some special posts which are special by their subject or writing style it is necessary to use an encrypted attractive title to show the difference of the post and hide its main subject for a while.

I disagree quite strongly with this assertion. To share why, I will pose some questions:

What would make a post special in such a way? Why are some other posts not as special? Who gets to decide such a thing?

(Edit: Are you asserting that all posts are equal, but some are more equal than others? :-P )

Why would you want to hide the main subject matter from your audience? Isn't the point of a question to engage your audience, and to get them to share their knowledge with you? If you truly cared about the main concept of your question, so much that it motivated you to write up something about it and post it to this site in the first place, don't you care about what the answers will be? Don't you want to encourage others to read it and think about it and respond?


Please understand that I am not disagreeing with the idea that a post can be made more interesting or "flavorful" by adding some nice prose, or sharing an anecdote, or making an analogy or literary allusion. But, when these kinds of "additions" become the main content of the post, then I believe we have a problem. This site is not about coming up with interesting mathematical questions and sharing them in the most creative way. This site is about asking questions and getting answers.

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  • $\begingroup$ I think people can ask nice questions and get useful answers in an interesting creative way. What is the contradiction between these two subjects? $\endgroup$ – user230 Apr 6 '14 at 18:44
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    $\begingroup$ @SaintGeorg: There's not an inherent contradiction between those desires: to ask good questions, to get good answers, and to be creative. I just strongly believe that the good question/answer considerations should come first, that the intent and nature of the question should be clear to all. If the creativity adds some amusement or interest, sobeit. But that should not be the driving force of the post. $\endgroup$ – Brendan W. Sullivan Apr 6 '14 at 18:49
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You refer to this notion as journalistic. I have been blogging for a few years now, and I think of my blogging as somewhat journalistic. I try to come up with memorable titles for my blog posts, but I do not try to hide the content in any way. That doesn't make much sense to me, unless you need to hide the punchline of a joke.

I found all 3 of the titles you reference off-putting.

We looked for lots of 'flavor' for the chapter titles in the book I'm editing. But we hoped to get the flavor of the chapter, and never tried to hide content. (We just wanted not to be boring, so readers would remember the chapter by its title.)

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I agree with the other answers. To answer the question, how to edit such posts, especially as concerns the title.

A solution could be to presereve the original creative title in some way while still having a more informative/formal title. More generally, we could say:

  1. The "official title," the one in the title field, should be informative and essentially unformatted.

  2. A "creative subtitle" can be added at the beggining of the body of the post (yet doing so should still stay an exception).

This is what I did on When and how could special formatting and fonts be used? aka $\mathfrak{\mathbb{O}nce~upon~a~time~there~was~a~mathematician} \ldots$

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  • $\begingroup$ Your edit on my meta post "Once upon a time there was a mathematician..." is a good example of a nice editing.Because the post is not really about what the title is talking about. It is just a title of a tangential example in the post. But the case which we are discussing about it, seems somehow different. The post is entirely about "the lord of the fields" it is an encrypted and summarized form of the main subject of the post.Thus I think It is legitimated to use it. Also I think based on showing respect to questioner's choice and style, we should be more flexible in such cases. $\endgroup$ – user230 Apr 6 '14 at 21:49
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    $\begingroup$ @SaintGeorg: Your use of "encrypted" is entirely the point. Why would we want a title to disguise the purpose of the question contained therein? The answer: we don't. It should be clear. $\endgroup$ – Brendan W. Sullivan Apr 6 '14 at 23:48

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