On Node Titles

Recently a noder suggested to me that we add something to the Everything FAQ explaining why node titles which begin with "How to ..." are deprecated. This issue is mentioned in passing in the FAQ, "Pick titles carefully", but not given much attention. I put it up for discussion among the editors, and it became apparent to me that there was no consensus allowing me to write a clear FAQ.

The general idea is that a verb form, such as "fooing a bar", is preferred over "How to Foo a Bar". Sometimes, however, "How to ..." is acceptable. ("HOWTO" is never acceptable because it is reserved for code documentation, and because it makes you sound like a total geek). If, though, you ask me how to determine when "How to ..." is acceptable, I have no easy answer. A preference for brevity and elegance explains why "Making tea" is better than "Making a decent cup of tea" or better than "How to make a decent cup of tea", but this explanation only takes us so far. We don't insist that everything go under "tea":

Oolong says A decent cup of tea could easily warrant a writeup or two about the cultural and psychological importance of a decent cup of tea. Most nodes housing instructions, I agree, are better without the 'how to'; but there are exceptions.

Gorgonzola says So why doesn't it all go under "tea"? You can always put "How to make a decent cup of tea" at the top of a writeup in large letters.

Oolong says Well, why *should* it all go under tea? Should we also move history of tea and grading tea, maybe also Things to Put in Tea and tea ceremony in there as well?

anthropod says I'm with Oolong on this one. The relentless drive to consolidate strikes me as unnecessary.

Nonetheless, we object to "how to" node titles, and other wordy constructions, because they limit what writeups might appear under that node. A scrambled eggs node could include a "how to", a vignette involving eggs, a band named "The Scrambled Eggs", and more. A shorter, less wordy node title is conceptually a more general title: it can contain a wider variety of writeups. The juxtaposition of this variety makes Everything2 greater than the sum of its parts. Keep in mind: The node title is not the title of your writeup. A node can contain many writeups, and the best node titles are those which allow for additional writeups.

Coming from me, this is "do as I say, not as I do" advice. User Search will reveal I am fond of excessively long node titles. For example, the writeup under The Civil War Monument in Santa Fe which used to refer to "savages" probably should be –and maybe by the time you read this will be– noded under the title of savage. (In fact, I'm pretty sure when I originally posted this as a wet-behind-the-ears noder, I probably posted it as The Civil War Monument in Santa Fe that Used to Refer to "Savages", and dannye stripped out the unnecessary capitals. I had a very hard time in the beginning getting used to the idea that a "node title" wasn't like the title of an article, which would normally be capitalized.) A node title like savages has a lot of possibilities. The Civil War Monument ... etc. does not. I can argue all day that my title is exactly what my writeup is about, but it's going to remain a rather lonely writeup, if I keep that title.

Shorter titles are more likely to be found by searches and more likely to be linked in someone else's writeup. (Just try searching for a node title that begins with "How to...". Go on, try it. I leave this as an exercise for the reader). You can easily include a link to tea in the structure of a sentence, but it's much harder to smoothly incorporate "How to make a decent cup of tea", and nearly impossible to incorporate something as specific as "The Civil War monument ...etc." without a pipelink. In the end, though, node titles are an art, not an exact science. Sometimes, a long interesting title is better. This is especially true when posting factual nodes about obscure stuff. Among my own writeups, my favorite example is United States v. Lucite Ball Containing Lunar Material. I could have put it under "in rem" or "forfeiture". That's what the writeup is about. But would anyone read it? Forfeiture law is a part of my law practice, but the Lucite Ball case is not one of the leading precedents, and I doubt I would have read it if it didn't have such an absurd title.

Until someone presents me with a FAQ which strikes a delicate balance among all these competing considerations (and probably more considerations I'm not thinking of now) let this Editor Log suffice.