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How do I compose an effective node title?

by SiteDocClan (Initiate)
on Mar 30, 2004 at 22:28 UTC ( [id://341118]=sitefaqlet: print w/replies, xml ) Need Help??

How do I compose an effective node title?

Before you click submit, ask yourself: Does this post have a good title?

When composing node titles, remember their important role in site searching. In particular, keep in mind that the PerlMonks search engine is far more reliant on keywords, and less on context, than a human is when scanning titles. Therefore, titles need not only to be meaningful to humans, but also to have high information value for a keyword search. (Not that you should be appending a list of keywords to your titles, of course!) For example, a human can map "apache" to "webserver" far more efficiently than a search engine can.

Ever since the start of the age, poorly composed node titles (or email subject lines, or Usenet subject lines) have been a persistent problem on the Internet. Poor titles inhibit readers from finding the posts that interest them, and from filtering out those posts that are not of interest. If you want your post to be read by people who care what's written (and don't we all?) choose an effective node title.

A node title should concisely convey the subject of the node. If the node is a question asking how to sort in reverse-numeric order, the title ought to make that clear. If the node is a meditation on the merits and pitfalls of using map in void context, the title should make that clear as well.

If the node is about betting on basketball games, its title should be prefixed with "[OT] " to indicate that the post is Off-Topic.

Node titles should be crafted with care and thoughtfulness. A reader should be able to read the node title and already formulate an accurate opinion as to the node's content.

The following is an example list of bad node titles, along with a description as to what is bad about them. They're not intended to pick on anyone. But read them with a smirk, because I'm sure you've all seen them before and thought, "Argh!":

  • Newbie question or Simple question or Another question or Perl question
    Such titles convey no information. It's understood that most root posts are questions. The level of the poster's perl expertise and the simplicity of the question are irrelevant. And since this is a Perl-oriented site, saying it's a Perl question is annoyingly redundant. Even titles like Hash question, Array question, or Syntax error are not specific enough to be of any use. The only thing people will get from this is that the poster is a newbie having some trouble with perl syntax. Maybe.

  • Help please, or Urgent help needed!
    Good questions, posted with good titles, will get answers. There is no need to grovel or demand anything in the title. One thing to remember is that PerlMonks is not a professional helpdesk. No one is obliged to answer any questions. The best way to get an answer is to ask the question effectively, and give it a good title.

  • thanks, or problem, or regex
    In addition to all the deficiencies discussed above, such titles have the additional problem of consisting of a single word. One-word titles are generally a bad idea. (There are certain sections of the site where exceptions are made - notably, Perl Poetry and Obfuscated code - and, of course, users.) The reason, in a nutshell, is that it impedes title-based site navigation. For more info, see:

  • XML::Simple,, etc.
    A module name isn't a question. If you're having problems with a module, give some gist of the problem in the title! For example, "XML::Simple chokes on my input file". This rule applies even in the Module Reviews section, where titles should be of the form "Review: XML::Simple".

  • When should I demand a raise?
    PerlMonks is a Perl-related web site, so posts should always have something to do with something that could be related to perl. However, allowance is made for discussion of topics that may reasonably be considered of interest to most Perl programmers. In such cases, the titles should be prefixed with "[OT] " meaning Off-Topic.

Why is it important to compose accurate, concise, and descriptive titles?

There are several reasons, including (but not limited to) the following:

  • Have you noticed that "Search" box at the top of PerlMonks page? Many people use that before posting questions, to try to research answers for themselves. This "Search" utility searches node titles. If every discussion thread were named "Newbie question", it wouldn't do any good for someone to search for nodes with "deleting hash elements" (e.g.) in their titles. For title searches to work well, titles must be written well. (For the record -- there's a second, more powerful, search utility here at the Monastery, called "Super Search." It can search node titles and/or node content.)

  • Click on Newest Nodes, if you haven't done so lately. (Open it in a separate browser window so as not to interrupt reading this FAQlet.) See how many nodes there are? This is a pretty high-volume website. Wouldn't you like to know ahead of time, without clicking on each and every node title, which nodes might be of interest to you, and which ones you might just want to skip? Effective node titles save everyone time on skimming through the sea of nodes for ones that are of interest or relevance. Imagine if the dictionary contained 35,000 definitions, but in place of the word being defined at the head of each entry, they all started with "Definition".

  • Go look at Nodes To Consider (again, in a separate window, so you can follow along here). Chances are, at any given time there will be at least a couple of nodes being "considered" for title change. This happens when a high-level monk decides that the title of the node in question is so poorly composed that it needs to be changed. Other high-level monks get to cast votes saying if they agree. If there is strong concensus, the site janitors are given the task of editing the node's title. They do this for many reasons, including those listed listed above. Do you really want to create all that work for others here, and at the same time draw negative attention to your node because your title just says, "Newbie, help!"?

As a general rule, refrain from changing the title of a reply node unless you're actually changing the subject.

... and in such cases, posting a new root node is generally preferable. (But of course, link back to the original thread if it is relevant.)

If, after careful consideration, you decide that a mid-thread title change is appropriate, please at least retain part of the original title, including the "Re^$x:" part.

A complete title change may seem reasonable when viewed in the context of the thread, but there are too many other places where titles are displayed outside the thread context (especially Newest Nodes and several types of search results) where complete title changes are just annoying. Straining the patience of your fellow monks with such antics is likely to garner you some down-votes.

Also read this related discussion, and this explanation by tye.

For additional reading, please see How do I post a question effectively?.

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