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We have a relatively new user (their profile currently says they've been a member for 16 days) who seems to be particularly interested in Harry Potter, and has asked a number of questions about the books under the tag. However, there is a problem: Every single question is originally posted with a title of the form "Book title - Character name".

Everybody reading this should be aware that this is not a suitable title for a question. This user has been told that this is not a suitable title for a question. Repeatedly. On multiple questions. By more than one person (myself included).

For whatever reason, they refuse to take this feedback on board. New questions get posted using the same structure for the title, and are then edited by other users (often with a comment informing them, yet again, that it's not an acceptable title). They don't - as far as I've seen - respond to these comments, so it's possible they haven't seen them. It might be a (lazy) method of avoiding spoilers in the question title. Whatever the reason, the feedback is not being taken on board.

In situations like this, what can be done? Ideally an answer would cover:

  1. Methods for ensuring the user has seen the feedback.
  2. Methods for encouraging - and, if absolutely necessary, forcing - compliance in the future.
  3. Further options if all other actions fail.

I don't want to get into a discussion about whether this is an issue. We have community standards, rules and guidelines, and all users are expected to comply with them, so a user not doing so is a problem, especially if they continue after being informed of what the expectation is. It's disrespectful to continue to expect other users to do basic things for them, but it's also not exactly disruptive enough to warrant a suspension or question ban (other than the titles, the majority of their questions aren't particularly low quality).

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    About point 2: would you please define what you mean by forcing compliance, because that sounds really wrong. – Jenayah Sep 4 '18 at 16:30
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    @Jenayah I think the only mechanism we have in place to "force" compliance is an ultimatum/punishment for not complying: Start doing this or your account gets suspended. I'm not sure if that's an option we want to have (or even one SE would let us have), but I do think there's probably some point where it's simply not worth having a user who absolutely refuses to change (even on a minor point like this) as part of the community. I'm probably (significantly) less tolerant of this kind of thing than a lot of other people, though. – Anthony Grist Sep 4 '18 at 16:38
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    There's a post ban thingy, but as we discussed in chat, it's murky. Granted, these Qs aren't especially great now, but that does not justify an actual suspension, the reasons of which are generally "Don't be a jerk". Side comment: don't take this against your stand :) I think if we're going to talk suspension, the relevant main Meta posts should be linked. – Jenayah Sep 4 '18 at 16:50
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    @Jenayah Suspensions aren't only for "being a jerk". There's also a "consistently low-quality questions over time" suspension reason, with accompanying mod message template. – Rand al'Thor Sep 4 '18 at 16:57
  • @Randal'Thor well, different kinds of jerks out there ;) however, in this particular case, we're talking about titles. The questions for instance, have improved a bit - first one was 3 unrelated Qs, later asked separately, and said scheme did not reproduce, I think. Progress! :D – Jenayah Sep 4 '18 at 17:00
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    I have edits, I can edit, not a problem – Edlothiad Sep 5 '18 at 10:31
  • @AnthonyGrist - Wait - there's not SFF.SE commando teams that go around and force newbies to post correctly at gunpoint? I'm so disillusioned.... – RDFozz Sep 5 '18 at 22:02
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For what it's worth the user in question is the second user who has acted like this in recent times. The first user eventually took the feedback on board after lots of prompts and editing by community members and has since gotten better at writing titles.


Now these titles aren't great but lets not forget...

Writing good titles is an art

For some general guidance on writing good titles I'd recommend reading this post over on Meta.SE. It's a fairly decent post to link to users who may need some pointers as it covers the general guidelines and is a network wide guide.

Now for some specific links from our site that can be helpful to point users too:

That's about it for specific metas, that I can find, on our site. An attempt for a guide on What are the guidelines for 'descriptive' and 'searchable' title? went unanswered so we have no formal meta policy on descriptive and searchable titles. The best guide we have is really the one from Meta.SE I initially linked.


As for what can actually be done, well do what we are currently doing. At each step if the title has not already been fixed I would encourage the user to edit it. I would also suggest linking to one of the metas above if you feel it is appropriate.

  1. Comment on the user's post and politely explain the situation to them.

  2. Comment again, maybe a bit sterner. Should go without saying but all comments should still comply by the Code of Conduct.

  3. Rinse and repeat a few times.

  4. If nothing else works and all attempts fall on deaf ears flag for moderator attention, explain the situation and let them handle it. It's out of the community's hands at that point. The flag doesn't have to be too wordy but explain the situation briefly. For an example flag text, edit as needed as I'm not the most eloquent user, see below.

    This user usually has less than ideal titles of the format: format. All attempts to reach them have failed and poor titles continue to come in. Can you send them a message to ask them to improve?

Beyond commenting and raising to the moderators there isn't much you can do and I wouldn't get too worked up about it. Remember the community can always edit and with the active users we have titles are usually fixed nice and quickly anyway.

I will note though that personally I wouldn't comment to the same user more than N times, where N is an arbitrary number. It may feel like you are personally "attacking" the user and you don't need any retaliation to come your way from trying to help. At some point it's best to walk away and let someone else handle it.


Further reading


Side note

Most of these questions are generally well received, some have hit the HNQ, and they have undoubtedly brought traffic here. If all that is wrong with them is a poor title that is something I can live with when considering the benefits. After all it is trivial to fix the title with a simple edit and can be sorted out quite quickly considering our active users.

  • There's some general SE guidance on writing a good title, but I dunno how well that applies here. On SFF we have this very old discussion about whether or not a title has to be an actual question, and also a whole title tag here on meta. – Rand al'Thor Sep 4 '18 at 16:14
  • @Randal'Thor Added quite a few sources now :) – TheLethalCarrot Sep 5 '18 at 9:47
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    Yes for editing. The "bad" titles might actually be better for editors, because it's clear that they need to be edited! Not-so-great titles that aren't bad stick around awhile because it's not readily obvious they need improvement. – user31178 Sep 5 '18 at 14:12

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