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On Parenting.se we did a title cleanup effort several months ago.

This coincided (roughly) with the original formation of the CHAOS team, and the intent was to raise the readability of title content to improve search engine results.

However, in doing so, we wound up editing quite a few older questions, which bumps them to the top of of the "Active" question feed.

I have noticed that there are quite a few questions on Scifi.se with titles that do not meet the criteria we established (complete sentences, proper grammar, phrased as a question when possible, and matching tags where appropriate).

Now that we've graduated, it might be worthwhile to revisit some of the question titles and improve them. However, doing so will bump old questions to "recent" status. This will disrupt the "Active questions" sorting, and will also disrupt the "recent question" RSS feed.

Given these potential issues, is it worthwhile to make a concerted effort to improve the quality of some of our older question titles?

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  • What does "matching tags" mean? Do you mean editing the tags as well as the title, or something else? – Tony Meyer Dec 17 '11 at 5:01
  • The "matching tags" is not likely to be relevant to scifi. In the context of parenting, it meant changing age-specific titles to match the tags associated with the age range (e.g. "my 2 year old" becomes "my toddler". I can't think of any situation similar on scifi, unless someone were to use a non-standard nickname. – Beofett Dec 17 '11 at 7:49
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Questions that have poor titles almost inevitably have something else wrong with them: poor tags, copyediting issues, rants, flow issues, etc. It'd be a real shame to polish questions that are already bad with new titles just to say they titles are nice.

Editing should be holistic: don't stop with the title, improve everything about the post. If an edit makes it the best question it could possibly be and it just so happens the title was changed, then awesome! But editing only the title (just like editing only the tags) would be more disruptive than helpful.

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    When we did the cleanup on parenting, we also did a cleanup on the questions themselves when appropriate. However, there were a surprising amount that did not really need much changed beyond the title. I do agree with you that fixing titles while leaving the questions unchecked/unfixed would be a waste of time, though. – Beofett Dec 16 '11 at 19:43
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Go for it.

IMHO, I don't think disrupting the "Active questions" feed is a big deal, but that's because I generally view SE sites in chronological orders.

My only minor suggestion is to do this gently - propose the cleaned up title in a comment, and let the poster explain if he thinks it will greatly change the meaning of the question. (unless the title is simply atrocious and not worth keeping at all).

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  • I think gently can work if the rep intimates that it's a regular user, but for 'drive-bys' it's unlikely to get a response. If the user disagrees, there is a easy-to-use revert button - I'd include an explanation for the edit and point out that it can be reverted in the edit summary. – Tony Meyer Dec 17 '11 at 5:01
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IMO yes, it would be disruptive (but it is worth tidying up titles as part of overall tidying up of questions/answers).

Questions that haven't been edited since around September will get pushed into the "recent questions" RSS feed if they are edited, but it's not a problem for questions that are newer or more recently edited than that.

When sites (including when parenting did it) do this for a large number of questions at once, it's really annoying, because it floods the feed with questions that have most likely already been seen, and obscures any new questions that arrive during that time.

Presumably there also are people that use the "active questions" view, since it's the default view for the site, so flooding that with old content will likewise be annoying and obscure new questions.

As Mark said, it's more worthwhile to take a more holistic look at questions. Find questions that don't have great titles, but also need other cleanup and, most importantly, are worth the additional promotion that the bump will cause (e.g. no answers or no great answer). Only do a few of these at a time, so that they don't overwhelm - i.e. it's a long term project, not a short term effort.

Note that there's no expectation here that question titles are formulated as questions (at least, the top-voted question there says that there's no need to edit a question title for only that reason).

"Complete sentences" isn't necessarily a goal for titles, either (and I don't recall that being discussed on meta before?). It's important that titles are brief.

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  • The complete sentences/formed as question criteria were part of the overall initial project taken on when the CHAOS team first joined us, iirc. I believe the question/non-question aspect may have been an issue of debate between Jeff and Joel, but a primary focus of the project was SEO, and IMO in most cases titles formed as questions are more likely to match likely search terms. – Beofett Dec 17 '11 at 7:55
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    @Beofett As I argued in that debate, I'm personally far less likely to choose search results that are formulated as questions. So unless and until your IMO is backed up by solid data, I'll continue to prefer titles that are not questions. – user56 Dec 17 '11 at 16:31
  • @Gilles my claim is that titles formed as question are more likely to match search terms, not that most search terms are questions. Consider this example: "The Stillborn Child" was the title given to a question. My edit was "Was Daenerys's child really stillborn?". I think some titles are okay not expressed as questions, but as a general rule for fixing "bad" titles, converting them to questions is an effective "rule of thumb" guideline. – Beofett Dec 17 '11 at 18:31
  • @Gilles I think I may have misread your previous comment. Since there is no concensus on questions vs statements, how about we leave that up to whoever makes the individual edit on the condition that only titles that are of low quality are targeted for editing? In other words, being a statement (or a question) is not sufficient reason for a title cleanup, but if a statement title needs improvement, it is ok to edit to be a question, if it improves it, and vice versa. – Beofett Dec 17 '11 at 22:12
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    @Beofett “Being a statement (or a question) is not sufficient reason for a title cleanup, but if a statement title needs improvement, it is ok to edit to be a question, if it improves it, and vice versa”: I fully agree with that. – user56 Dec 17 '11 at 22:20

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