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How strict should we be on question titles?

There are a few questions on the site that are on topic, but at reading the title on its own it appears off-topic. However, I notice that this is tolerated when the title is worded in a way that will likely help the page with SEO and generally is more interesting sounding than the actual question. I get the feeling that Richard baited the question with a catchy title, but was clever enough to make the post on-topic.

For example Was Jesus a separate god? has this in the body:

The New World Translation of John 1 seems to indicate that Jesus was a separate god from the Father.

1 In [the] beginning the Word was, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god.

2 This one was in [the] beginning with God.

3 All things came into existence through him, and apart from him not even one thing came into existence.

How does the concept of the trinity fit with this concept of Jesus being a separate God?

The actual question is the last sentence. For the record, I personally think they are close enough to the same question.

What should we do about this? Encourage, discourage, edit, let it be ...


A related meta post: What to do when titles and questions don't match

  • 1
    I think bait titles should be changed, because the title colors my perception of the description. – Double U Jun 25 '14 at 12:49
  • I'm not sure I see what you are getting at. The question title seems like a general shortening of the actual question. It might be better if it included "within the trinity" in the question, but that seems a relatively minor point. My initial impression of the question was still the same as what the question actually was in this case. – AJ Henderson Jun 25 '14 at 15:05
  • @AJ That could be because your experience has taught you to only sort of trust the titles. – 3961 Jun 25 '14 at 17:46
  • @fredsbend - out of curiosity, what do you see as the difference between what it appears to be asking and what it is actually asking? – AJ Henderson Jun 25 '14 at 18:03
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    @AJ "Was Jesus a separate God?" is a distinct Truth question. When I read it, I first think that's off-topic, then I want to click through because the way it is worded would lead to debates, which interest me. The actual question is asking if this 'separate god' idea can be or is reconciled with the common Trinity doctrine. – 3961 Jun 26 '14 at 5:49
  • I actually don't have any problem with this, but I think it is happening enough that we should lay down a guideline for how lax we will be when titles and bodies don't match like this. – 3961 Jun 26 '14 at 5:51
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My two cents would be to edit the title and leave a note explaining why... And link back to this answer.

The bottom line is that for people searching for an answer it's counter-productive to have misleading question titles. The mismatch makes it harder for end users. Most people just scan search result titles and only read the contents if the title appears to be a match. Good posts will be missed if there's a mismatch.

As a such, they should not only be discouraged, they should be removed or edited to remove the conflict.

3

They look like two completely different questions to me.

"Was Jesus a separate god?" According to perspective X he was.

"How does the concept of the trinity fit with this concept of Jesus being a separate God?" According to Trinitarians that's a non-sequitur.

  • Yes, they are different. I'm asking what the community thinks we should do about this kind of scenario. – 3961 Jun 26 '14 at 5:35
  • Well it's always bad for the title not to match the body of the question! I submit edits if that's the case. – curiousdannii Jun 26 '14 at 11:40
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Second Answer: They should be discouraged.

Not to go too deep, but there are a few reasons it's just not a wise thing to do... And it all goes to "who is our audience, who is our desired audience, and who is our unwanted audience?

While this site doesn't exist solely to serve Christians, and we're not a Christian site, it should go without saying that most of our traffic is going to be from one of the following groups:

  • Christians who want to learn more about Christianity or share their knowledge
  • Seekers wanting to learn what "Christianity teaches"
  • Non-Christians who have a scholarly interest, or a desire to participate constructively.
  • Atheists wanting to poke the funny little Christians to get a reaction or score some points
  • People from other religions that want to point out the inferiority of our belief system compared to theirs.

So let's look at those groups, and make generalizations about how they tend to view such questions. I realize every individual is unique, but I doubt anyone with experience here would argue the general patterns I'm about to describe.

Christians that want to learn or teach: obviously that's a target audience. We want to attract those people above all.

Christians, for the most part, get offended when the God that we love is mocked, or not shown the respect and reverence that we feel he deserves.

Generally, it's not a good idea to go out offending your target audience. Any good business person, PR specialist, or marketing intern can tell you that.

Seekers: - Not exactly our target audience, but still the types of people we want to attract and feel comfortable here. They're here to participate constructively. Sure, they usually want to know about Truthy things, but usually they're honestly looking for answers. If we can edit their questions into a format that fits the site guidelines, we will, and we'll give answers that are helpful, but skirt the Truthiness issue. If we can't do that, and they insist on advice questions, etc. we'll kindly point out that we're not qualified to pass out that sort of advice, and they're better off finding a local Pastor than asking strangers on the web.

They're also likely to be turned off by juvenile or bait questions.

Non-Christians that want to participate constructively. They are rare. And their insight is valuable. We've had a very small handful of atheists that fit this category. They play by the rules, and are overall respectful, and often more knowledgeable than most Christians. We want them here.

These are people mature enough to be able to participate constructively with people whose views they think are wrong, and perhaps even silly and naive. People with that level of maturity aren't attracted by bathroom humor, they're attracted to intellectual stimulation, interaction with other adults.

Atheists who want to poke fun at the funny little Christians with their naive belief in some invisible "God": Yeah... we've had plenty of them, and with rare exceptions, it never turns out good. In my entire time here, I can think of three people in the atheist category that participate constructively here. Quite frankly, I personally don't want to deal with that sort of headache.

These are the ones who like to get a rise out of Christians, so they tend to love bait questions. Bait questions will definitely attract and encourage these. Just what we don't need around here.

People from other religions that want to point out the inferiority of our belief system compared to theirs.

This tends to be a mixed bag. Bear in mind that "people from other belief systems that want to participate constructively" is covered in the third group. Here I'm specifically addressing the ones here to tell us how Jesus was a liar, and we should bow down to (insert their god here) or face the consequences.

Bait questions don't generally attract these. They tend to be as offended or more offended by them. So for this group, it's a non-issue.


So, with all of that said, the harm is that such questions may draw traffic, but they draw exactly the type of traffic that we don't want, and drive away exactly the types that we do. Why on earth would we want that?

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