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I have been using math.se for about a month and have noticed that often in comments on a question, people say things like "please don't put the entire question in the title". Makes sense - such titles are very hard to read.

However... I just decided to ask a question for the first time and noticed that the title box comes up saying "What's your math question? Be specific".

So it's not really surprising that people, especially new users, (mis)interpret this as meaning that they should give full details in the title. Maybe the instruction should be replaced by something like this: "What's your math question? Give a short title here and specific details below".

Any feelings on this?

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    $\begingroup$ My feeling is that the title should contain as much of the question being asked as possible without going overboard (i.e. in one concise sentence). The purpose is to give readers the best possible idea of what the question contains at a glance without taking up too much front page real estate. $\endgroup$ – Alexander Gruber Feb 19 '14 at 1:35
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    $\begingroup$ Also, I should add, I am rarely bothered by excessively long question titles around here. Most problematic titles I see are too short, e.g. Question About Solvable Group and the like. $\endgroup$ – Alexander Gruber Feb 19 '14 at 1:43
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    $\begingroup$ @Alexander: I am bothered when people substitute the question for the title. Then the body is something like "I tried, but I couldn't find any. Please help." $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Feb 19 '14 at 4:20
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    $\begingroup$ @Asaf So it's the Q body that's actually bothering you, not the title. If the asker succeeds in stating the question in the title, good - but they still need to state it in the body. Even if it's a verbatim copy. $\endgroup$ – user127096 Feb 19 '14 at 4:49
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    $\begingroup$ @127.0.9.6: Yes. But often the OP will post an excessively long title, with a "vacuous" body. $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Feb 19 '14 at 4:53
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    $\begingroup$ See here for some guidance on choosing good title. $\endgroup$ – Martin Sleziak Feb 19 '14 at 7:14
  • $\begingroup$ @AsafKaragila I didn't realize this was a concern for the community. What, in your mind, constitutes a "perfect" question title? $\endgroup$ – Alexander Gruber Feb 19 '14 at 16:52
  • $\begingroup$ @Alexander: Closed question title without isolated points? :-) $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Feb 19 '14 at 17:13
  • $\begingroup$ @Alexander: More seriously, though, probably a title which is a title to the question. It conveys some information on the main topic of the question, and it includes a hint to the possible difficulty the OP has found with the problem; the tags should complement a good title in telling the reader of the main page what is likely to be inside the question's body. $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Feb 19 '14 at 17:19
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Without examples, I don't know for sure what those comments were really about. I would certainly object to the question where title contains everything and the body is

How to do this?

or something of the sort. Perhaps this is what was meant by those critical comments? The issue here is not a long title, but a vacuous body of the post.

Another objection is the excessive use of LaTeX (involved formulas) in titles. Those are rightfully criticized for breaking layouts and for slowing down page loads.

Concerning length, in my opinion (based on the front page right now), the titles are usually too short and lack descriptive power. "Vector simplification", "Symmetric Groups", "Metric Topology", "Regression towards the mean?"... these titles do not distinguish the questions from hundreds of other questions on the same topics. In contrast,

How to show that the cohomology of a Grassmannian has a basis consisting of the equivalent classes represented by Schubert cycles?

is a fine title, in my opinion. Having read it, I know for sure if I want to read the question or not. (This was the longest title on the front page when I looked at it.)

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I agree that the dialogue there should be as helpful as possible, while making it clear what makes a good title and question.

My further two cents: If we're going to change what's there, we may as well make the message clear that the title needs to be short, yet succinct, and the question itself detail what's needed. Perhaps something like

What's your math question? Give a short title that accurately describes your problem.

for the title and something like

Write your question in detail here. Tell us what the problem is, what you have done, and where you're stuck. Make the issue as clear as you can.

for the question description itself.

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  • $\begingroup$ Sounds good to me, especially the second. In the first I would just have a faint worry that "accurately describes" might once again encourage people to include too much detail in the title. $\endgroup$ – David Feb 19 '14 at 1:24
  • $\begingroup$ @David Sure, which is why I put the "short" there. $\endgroup$ – Dennis Meng Feb 19 '14 at 1:29
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    $\begingroup$ The second message is perfect for homework questions, but there are more than just homework questions on this site. I don't think it's a good idea to imply that all questions should be book problems. $\endgroup$ – Alexander Gruber Feb 19 '14 at 1:32
  • $\begingroup$ @Dennis True, and I'm not saying it's a huge issue. On the other hand there are a fair number of people around who will only pay attention to the last thing they read - by the time they have seen "accurately describes" they may well have forgotten about "short". $\endgroup$ – David Feb 19 '14 at 1:34
  • $\begingroup$ @Alexander Fair enough; is there an alternative that you think would be better suited? I'm open to suggestions. $\endgroup$ – Dennis Meng Feb 19 '14 at 9:13

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