'can I' are redundant words when they can be replaced with just 'to'. It's important in titles because they should be as succinct as possible.

Two words in a single post don't really make a difference, but two words in a thousand posts do.

Do you agree?

  • 6
    Personally I don't think the difference matters Feb 27, 2015 at 16:26
  • @ZachSaucier If you don't think it matters why bother to comment? Pointless comment.
    – Dom
    Feb 27, 2015 at 16:30
  • 1
    I commented to show my disagreement with the mentality that the question titles should always be changed to this Feb 27, 2015 at 16:31
  • 1
    I never stated that the issue brought up is pointless. I stated that the difference between the two options doesn't matter enough to force people to change to use one form over another Feb 27, 2015 at 16:41
  • 1
    @Dom this goes back to what we've discussed. Zach has every right as a community member to voice his opinion as you do on the subject. Personally I think he could make it an answer if he extended upon it.
    – user9447
    Feb 27, 2015 at 16:41
  • 3
    Perhaps... just perhaps... time is better spent trying to answer questions from users rather than obsessing over one or two words. Just wondering.
    – Scott
    Feb 27, 2015 at 17:10
  • 4
    On my screen "How can I" takes up 36% more space (21 pixels) than "How to". If someone wants to use those 21 pixels to phrase their question as "How can I", I'm okay with that. If they prefer "How to", that is also fine. A micro-optimization like this seems silly to me, and I don't think we need an official site policy on it.
    – JohnB
    Feb 27, 2015 at 17:15
  • 1
    I never even said anything about it being official. Ever since the tag popups came in everything I suggest is somehow supposed to be a rule, and not just a way of improving general approach. Those few pixels do make a teeny difference on Google as well, and how can I is recommended against in the SE meta post about titles.
    – Dom
    Feb 27, 2015 at 17:19
  • Meta is where rules are discussed and formed as a community. A post like this gives us all something to refer to for what the consensus is. There are no official or unofficial tags. For unofficial discussion, we have a chat. Meta is for official things.
    – JohnB
    Feb 27, 2015 at 17:27
  • @JohnB I didn't know that, I thought it was the place to discuss ideas for improving the site. So how would anyone agree on unofficial practices? Chat doesn't seem like the best way to reach everyone to discuss potential improvements.
    – Dom
    Feb 27, 2015 at 17:32
  • So are you asking "If I'm already editting a question title (e.g. because it was unclear), is 'How to...' better than 'How can I...'?". If so, that's a fair support question (but that's not how this question initially comes across - hence the negative reaction). I think the answer is, yes, it usually will be very slightly better - but stylistic changes like this are only worth it if the original needed a drastic re-write. Clarity comes first, then balance conciseness with maintaining the initial intent. Mar 1, 2015 at 12:53
  • @user568458 spot on, it would only be done when there's already things to do. I think forgetting the editing tag doesn't help here (adding now). Alone it doesn't matter, but as part of a checklist of things to consider when editing, I figured it would be a helpful reminder.
    – Dom
    Mar 1, 2015 at 14:22

3 Answers 3


I 100% disagree --- in fact you 100% disagree.

See: Should titles be phrased as questions?

"How to design a picture." is not a question.

"How can I design a picture?" or "How do I design a picture?" are questions.

Being that I agree that Questions should be... Questions, I have to disagree with this. And find it incredibly funny that you asked it, being the one who posed the notion that Questions be worded as questions.

  • I don't disagree at all. I've stated my preference for how to over how can I many times. It may not be perfect grammar but its much better. How can I is also recommended against in the post linked to in that question. So no.
    – Dom
    Feb 27, 2015 at 16:46
  • @Dom and I quote, "Is the title phrased as a question? Is the spelling and grammar correct?" --- sorry but I don't see how you get to have it both ways.
    – Ryan
    Feb 27, 2015 at 16:48
  • Considering those guidelines were not agreed with, and aren't used, I wouldn't have it both ways. It isn't strictly ungrammatical either, it's just a grey area depending on context.
    – Dom
    Feb 27, 2015 at 16:52
  • @Dom I'm done. You seem to just want to argue at this point for some pleasure you get in arguing. I've got neither the time nor desire to argue with you. Have a good weekend.
    – Ryan
    Feb 27, 2015 at 17:02
  • Not at all Ryan. You didn't discuss anything, you just jumped in aggressively belittling an innocent discussion.
    – Dom
    Feb 27, 2015 at 17:10

Here's the thing.....

You can't control what users, especially new users, use for phrasing. Sure in a perfect world all titles would be accurate, clear, and well defined. But that's just never going to happen.

So, you are left with one option really -- edit every question if it doesn't fit some predetermined standard.

This causes a number of other issues.

  • New users traditionally aren't thrilled with having their posts edited. Sure on SE sites they eventually come to realize that the editing isn't a personal attack. But this is different than any forum or blog or anything else out there.

  • To combat any harsh feeling due to editing, those doing the edit need to provide some comment or feedback to the user so they are aware it wasn't a malicious edit.

  • Are the above 2 items even worth it for 2 or 3 words?

  • Edits need to be made. That's a lot of time that could be better spent by actually answering questions rather than focusing on specific working the questioner is using.

  • Edit cause question bumps. So if you edit a poor question just so the title doesn't have "can I" in it, you move it to the top of the primary page. But if the actual content of the question is poor, is that a good thing?

I don't see how repeatedly editing titles is beneficial in any way. We already edit very poor titles and your'e free to do that when you see them. If you want to take on some witch hunt for "can I", well, you're free to do that. But unfortunately, I won't be joining for the reasons I've outlined here.

I think it is FAR MORE IMPORTANT to be welcoming and assist new users than edit their titles for two or three words.

  • Scott, my idea of implementation, if it got as far as agreement, would just be to add it to a small checklist of things to edit (which already exists). I would never edit just to change from how can I to how to, it would always be just a part of an edit.
    – Dom
    Feb 27, 2015 at 17:22
  • Checklist of things to edit? So an edit queue? And some algorithm to throw questions into that queue if they meet some "flag" for it??? Is that what you mean?
    – Scott
    Feb 27, 2015 at 17:23
  • No just something people change when they're already editing a post. No algorithms or regex or anything special, just a manual practice.
    – Dom
    Feb 27, 2015 at 17:25
  • Well in theory that's fine, but I think most of those who are editing take these type of things into account already. I know I will skip over a poorly worded title if the actual question is fine. I don't traditionally edit just for the title (unless it's horrible). And I always check the title if editing the content.
    – Scott
    Feb 27, 2015 at 17:26
  • Since I joined and started getting involved, I always hoped everyone would naturally move towards a consistent approach to editing. I brought it up here to bring it to peoples attention, because many are leaving those titles as is, and it isn't good for someone to reedit a post just for those two words, as you've stated.
    – Dom
    Feb 27, 2015 at 17:36

You may (not )have a point, but this is just not viable. Telling users to use the correct to save a whole 3 characters isn't going to be easy. It would require adding a notification, having the user actually see it, then listen. Thats alot of things to get wrong.

Editing afterwards is even worse since it generates allot of minor edits, which wastes SE's disk space (not much, but way more then three chars). That kind of editing would be a no-no.

Whether this is a good idea or not, it isn't implementable.

  • @Dom but I say the implementation won't work nobody ever reads those checklists, based on what they say and what I see in questions! What I'm saying is even if the idea is good, its not possible to execute... so why discuss it. Think through your suggestions. Feb 27, 2015 at 16:51
  • @Dom Not only is the difference pointless, the discussion over the difference is pointless because it can't be executed. The only reason I put this here is to educate you on thinking through all aspect of your "discussion" before you go ahead with it. Feb 27, 2015 at 16:57
  • @Dom Huh...? no... I'm not defecting, I was just clarifying the point of my post.. I'm not defecting from discussion... The point was to show this all as useless since nobody can act on it. Feb 27, 2015 at 17:01
  • Deflection* I meant. It's not useless at all. How do you thing procedures and practice's come about, you think they just magically appear? It's very easy to implement so I have no idea what you're trying to stress. If people can edit tags, titles and bodies, they can make a simple change from 'can I' to 'to'.
    – Dom
    Feb 27, 2015 at 17:04

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .