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Recently, I've found out that questions with $ \TeX $ markup in their title are excluded from the Hot Network Questions. This made me think about my editing habits.

One of my favorite topics is . It very often happens that I encounter a post about this topic with a title similar to one of these:

  • "How to solve this functional equation";
  • "Find a function satisfying a given condition";
  • "Hard functional equation";
  • "Function problem from [author's name]'s [book name] on page [page number]";
  • "Problem [problem number] of [contest name and year]"

These kinds of titles say almost nothing about the content of the post (other than being about functional equations, which is obvious from the tag). In fact, other than in the case of famous functional equations that have a well-know name (like additive functions satisfying Cauchy's functional equation), it seems that there is no way of differentiating two post on functional equations by looking at their titles, unless the equations appear there. Without that, one might open many post that he/she is not interested in, or miss ones that he/she is interested in. Also, for many posts about other topics, adding a brief formula in the title will be a huge change in conveying the intentions of the post, and the issue is not limited to posts about functional equations.

These made me start to edit any such post I encounter and add the functional equation (or the formula related to the content of the post) to the title. But seeing this meta post made me wonder whether that's a good idea. Fortunately, most of the posts I've edited in this fashion were ones inactive for a long time, and as a consequence, they couldn't appear as Hot Network Questions at the time. But the point that remains to be true is that it's me editing the post, and it's not the choice of the owner of the post or those that have posted answers to it, whom are affected by it. Also, it made me wonder whether there are issues other than this, that can be the result of this sort of editing, that I'm unaware of.

So, is it a bad idea to continue doing such edits? Is it a generally encouraged/discouraged behavior? Are there better alternative ways to achieve the same goals? Also, are there issues other than the mentioned one regarding editing titles?

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    $\begingroup$ From what I understand, many of the questions on MSE that make it to the Hot Network Questions list are often removed from that list by moderators anyway. So I'm not sure how much of a problem this really is. $\endgroup$
    – Joe
    Sep 5 at 15:59
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    $\begingroup$ @Joe Why is that? Is there something generally wrong with Hot Questions from MSE? $\endgroup$ Sep 5 at 16:05
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    $\begingroup$ Since removal by moderators was mentioned, I'll add a link to an older post on meta: Under what criteria should we remove questions from the HNQ list? Some of the discussions linked there are also related. $\endgroup$ Sep 5 at 16:09
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    $\begingroup$ Some moderators simply do not want mathematical questions on the HNQ list. From math.meta.stackexchange.com/a/30672/42969: “This, to me, at least, is a justification to remove any and all questions from the HNQ list, which I would gladly do.” $\endgroup$
    – Martin R
    Sep 5 at 17:12
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    $\begingroup$ In summary: no need to worry about the impact on the Hot Network Questions list. $\endgroup$ Sep 5 at 23:04
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    $\begingroup$ In addition to the comment of @GerryMyerson, I'll add my opinion that there is no use, no utility, in worrying about the impact on the Hot Network Questions list. $\endgroup$
    – Lee Mosher
    Sep 6 at 14:12
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    $\begingroup$ @LeeMosher: I agree. Most of the questions that become popular on MSE are too technical to be of interest to a wider audience. $\endgroup$
    – Joe
    Sep 6 at 15:15
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    $\begingroup$ @Joe: That criterion would apply to many sites. Just to pick two random examples, is “For this Art of Electronics circuit, why aren't the transistors specified? And what transistors do I use?” or “Lilypond: define MIDI output file name” of more interest to a wider audience then a some question about mathematics? – I would like to see (good!) questions from MSE represented on the HNQ as other sites are represented. $\endgroup$
    – Martin R
    Sep 7 at 7:34
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Editing is encouraged!, in particular

  • to clarify the meaning of a post without changing it

A good title is an essential part of the question, and the first thing that people see. Your examples (“Hard functional equation”) are indeed bad titles: They tell us nothing about the contents of the question.

So my opinion is:

  • If you can improve the title of a question, do it.
  • If that requires adding (MathJax formatted) formula, so be it. That is an important tool on our site to describe what the question is about.

It is unfortunate that questions with titles containing MathJax/TeX are excluded from the Hot Network Questions list. That seems to be a technical problem (such a title would not be rendered correctly on all sites), and I do hope that this will be solved eventually.

But that should not prevent us from choosing/improving titles as appropriate for this site.

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    $\begingroup$ There is absolutely no intention of adding MathJax support to every site on the network. So it's extremely unlikely that posts with MathJax will ever be permitted on the HNQ. $\endgroup$
    – PM 2Ring
    Sep 8 at 17:29
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    $\begingroup$ Many members are often unhappy with the posts that are selected for the HNQ because they aren't representative of the kind of question we want to encourage. The exclusion of posts with MathJax titles unfavourably biases the selection even more. This is also an issue for other technical sites (eg, Physics), where good questions frequently have MathJax in their titles, but I think it has its biggest impact on Mathematics & MathOverflow. $\endgroup$
    – PM 2Ring
    Sep 8 at 17:30
  • $\begingroup$ @PM2Ring I would suggest that the solution then is not to actually add MathJax support to every site. Have MathJax only available inside the HNQ pane, or have the MathJax prerendered and baked into the title. $\endgroup$
    – trlkly
    Sep 12 at 9:53
  • $\begingroup$ Unless or until the above is done, I would recommend seeing if you can convey the important information without using MathJax, and using that in the title. I can make a title say something like "the sum of n^2 as n approaches infinity", for example. $\endgroup$
    – trlkly
    Sep 12 at 9:55
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    $\begingroup$ @trlkly whether MathJax is supported on every site or only on HNQ, it doesn't make any difference because the script to render the MathJax always needs to be (down)loaded per page load (and also the original reason why it's only enabled on some sites). Having MathJax pre-rendered (i.e. server-side rendering) has been suggested, but no feedback. $\endgroup$
    – Andrew T.
    Sep 15 at 4:17
  • $\begingroup$ @AndrewT Huh. I would have never considered that to be the issue, as Mathjax in typical use is not larger than a small image. And I would presume that the files would would be cached locally, not loaded for every page load. It also seems to be loaded lazily (based on what happens here), so the page proper would still load just as quickly. It's not like the user looks at HNQ first, so it has time to finish rendering. $\endgroup$
    – trlkly
    Sep 15 at 6:29

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