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There is tendency to make long titles, with redundant information inside. When a title has two lines it (usually) is bad for readability.

There is a reason why question has body - to provide the additional information there. And yes, inside the question one should make it precise, its worth to add an particular example, etc.

A bad thing is where there are redundant words (e.g. see also Isn't asking for 'research studies' in a question title redundant?). Even worse - when the question suggests answers or picks a lot of details that may be unrelated.

How about the following changes (or rather, a general rule of making titles as short as possible (but not shorter)):

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    I've noticed we have a LOT of two line questions. – Ben Brocka Jan 24 '12 at 19:38
  • @BenBrocka If it was a rare case, I wouldn't post it in meta. And now, such long title serve as examples... – Piotr Migdal Jan 24 '12 at 20:44
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    I went ahead and make these changes; they're good! Though I'm afraid I don't see too many more I could make when I looked over the answers – Ben Brocka Jan 24 '12 at 20:59
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    A good rule of thumb is to try and limit your titles to 65 characters -- that's what displays on a Google search. :D – Aarthi Jan 24 '12 at 22:52
  • Great rule of thumb @Aarthi! – Josh Jan 24 '12 at 23:45
  • @PiotrMigdal go ahead and change anymore titles you see if you feel they can be shortened properly. If you don't have full edit privileges I or someone else will approve them if they're good. – Ben Brocka Jan 25 '12 at 13:41
  • Great adjustments and comments -- my only concern is that we end up promoting more overly broad questions, which appears to be a far larger threat to the site. – zergylord Jan 25 '12 at 20:05
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General thoughts

I can think of two important principles of title construction brevity and accuracy. Thus, if words can be removed without changing the nature of the question, then I think it is worth doing. We've already discussed examples of words that add little, such as requests for research.

I can also imagine instances were brevity would make a question less precise and more general than it was intended, and other times there might be a trade-off. From my experience on Stats.Stackexchange.com, more often than not, I encounter issues with titles that are too short (e.g., we might get a question title like "motivation" or "motivation problem").

In broad terms, I think editing and maintaining quality titles is important for many reasons.

A few comments on the examples

What transient factors, such as sleep deprivation or low mood, can affect performance on IQ tests? -> What transient factors affect performance on IQ tests?

  • Removing illustrative instances from a title is a good idea; these can be elaborated on in the body.

Does caffeine improve performance for habituated consumers above pre-habituation levels? -> Does caffeine improve performance for habituated consumers?

  • I wrote this question, and did have reasons for the particular wording. I.e., I wanted to make a particular comparison; That said, I think the new title is pretty snappy and close enough in meaning.

Does the avian structure of many compact nuclei explain why crows are so capable of feats such as making tools? -> Is the avian brain structure more efficient than the mammalian one?

  • meaning is preserved and peripheral material can be moved to the body.
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    Agreed to all points. As a warning I would add, don't adjust a question title if you aren't absolutely certain it wouldn't change it's meaning". That's one of the reasons why we need professionals in the field as moderators. But as a general guideline, definitely keep titles short. – Steven Jeuris Jan 25 '12 at 9:52
  • When it comes to " above pre-habituation levels" - IMHO it is an important statement but better suited for the body. While I had some doubts when posting this example (it is not that long and its clear, so I could choose a better example), my point is that statements like "in comparison to the general population", "contrasting with people not affected" hardly convey any more information as titles (in the last case, I wouldn't think about "contrasting with adult dolphins"). Of course, in the body its important to write the longer versions. – Piotr Migdal Jan 25 '12 at 10:27

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