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I thought I would write a meta post giving my advice for improving titles. (Feel free to add your own advice too.)

I've been making substantial edits to question titles on Islam.SE. Most of the time, I just track down the actual question the user asks in their post, and rephrase the title to match that as closely as possible.

Why are titles important?

  • Question titles are the most visible aspect of the home page.

  • The title of a question is the first thing people see, and we decide whether or not to read the post based on the title.

  • Searching this site, either through the site's search feature or through search engines, is facilitated by functional titles. Indeed, most users find Islam.SE through search engines.

  • Closing questions as duplicates, and ensuring one does not author duplicates, is easier when we know what questions are about without having to open them.

  • The home page is a list of titles. We should make it look professional and attractive to experts. We're competing with Quora (whose titles are readable) and QA.Islam.com (whose titles are almost useless).

What's the problem?

How many thousands of different questions would fit equally well under the following heading?

Is this a sahih Hadith?

What differentiates it from How can I determine if this hadith is authentic? or Can anyone verify this hadith? or Hadith about the Prophet? (I now changed it to: Is the hadith "true scholars are those who speak... the truth against tyrant rulers" sahih?.)

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It's worth mentioning up front, that this is general advice; it can be (and should be) foregone in cases where it would be beneficial to do so. People can reasonably have differences of opinion.

There's analogous question title advice on various sites throughout the StackExchange network, and I'll cite these throughout.

General advice

  • Ordinarily, the title should be the question.(meta.SE, meta.SE, meta.physics.SE, meta.drupal.SE) It's more formal and professional, and helps to restrict the answers and comments to those directly related to the question.

    However, it can be beneficial to do otherwise: "...the title should communicate the question itself as faithfully as possible"(meta.math.SE) but "...don't insist that your title be expressed as a perfectly formed English sentence"(meta.SE).

  • The specificity of the title should match the specificity of the question.

    • If a question title asks a general question but the question content asks a specific question, subsequent questions which seek to ask the general question might be incorrectly closed as a duplicate. It can also give rise to the problem: "The title was exactly what I was looking for, but the question itself had nothing to do with my problem."(meta.SE)

    • If a question title asks a specific question but the question content asks a general question, users might ask the general question not realizing there is a duplicate.

  • Avoid ambiguous titles.(meta.SE, meta.Judaism.SE) As in the example in the question.

  • Concerning title length...

    Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler. -- Albert Einstein

    Basically, "keep it short"(meta.SE, meta.SE, meta.stats.SE) but "don't be afraid to make the title long"(math.SE, meta.drupal.SE).

  • Make titles useful for searching by including words that people will search for(meta.SE, meta.stats.SE).

  • Avoid reusing tags in titles(physics.meta.SE, meta.SE) except when they make the title read better(meta.SE):

    To be clear, I think it is fine to duplicate the tags in the title, but only when they can be worked into the titles organically and conversationally. -- Jeff Atwood

  • Avoid words like "problem", "question"(chemistry.meta.SE), "doubt"(chemistry.meta.SE), "help", "please", and "advice" in the title(meta.SE). Also avoid "Could anyone..." or "Could someone...".

  • Sentence case is easier to read in titles(meta.SE).

Islam.SE specific advice

  • Avoid the word "Islam" in titles as every question is about Islam, unless it makes the title more readable.

  • If you're after a specific viewpoint (Hanafi, Sufi, etc.), it should be worked into the title. This is important for efficiently identifying (non-)duplicates.

    What is the Shi'a ruling on such-and-such? -- goldPseudo

    might be a different question to "What is the Sunni ruling on such-and-such?", so it's best that they are not both titled "What is the ruling on such-and-such?".

  • Don't use "(saw)", "(pbuh)", etc. in titles. There's a specific meta.Islam.SE post: Don't append "SAWW", "PBUH", "RA", "AS" etc in front of names and titles if the original author hasn't and don't change it either

  • Prefer English over Arabic transliteration in titles. This is an English-language site, so the default should be English (although this should be balanced with searchability).

  • When Arabic is necessary, descriptors help. A title like "What's in Riyad As-Saliheen?" is equivalent to "What's in [something]?". From the title, we learn that "Riyad As-Saliheen" is an object that things can be in, and the author wants to know what's inside it. (I changed it to Where do the ahadith in Riyad As-Saliheen come from, and what grade are they? to match the wording in the question.)

  • Beware that "Qur'an X:Y" is not uniquely defined as some authors include "Bismillah al-rahman al-rahim" in their numbering while others don't.

    Al-Ma'idah

Other

  • Ensure the question in the title is consistent with the question in the post.

  • Try to find an answer to your question by copy/pasting the title into a search engine (before posting the question).

  • Critical information should not be contained solely in the title.(meta.chess.SE)

  • Starting questions with "How to...", "How do I...", and "What is a..." is debated.(meta.SE, meta.diy.SE) At Islam.SE, we probably also have problems concerning "Is it permissible to...", "Is it okay to...", "Is it acceptable to...". I'd suggest go with whatever seems best for a particular question.

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