Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Forum Topic Titles: how to write them

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Once you've discovered a great online discussion forum on a favorite topic, hobby, or professional concern, you usually have to register to post comments or to start new "threads" (topics of discussion).

See my post: "Online Discussion Forums: your virtual advisory staff" for more introductory information on forums.

After your forum account is activated, you're ready to exercise all the privileges the forum offers.

Now let's say you went through the registration procedures because you have a burning question.

HOLD ON. STOP. DON'T WRITE ANYTHING...

...until you know how to compose forum topic titles.

What is a "forum topic title"?

It's the subject line, like in an email message, that identifies that with which your question or comment is concerned.

It might be general or specific, depending on the nature of your post entry, but it has to be readily understandable to others.

Forums often present a table labeled:

"Thread [Topic]" (original question or statement that someone seeks replies to)

"Thread [Topic]Starter" (online handle of person who added a "new thread": original question or statement)

"Replies" (number of forum user responses to a topic post)

"Views" (number of times forum users have looked at the topic post)

"Rating" (rarely used, forum users rate how good a topic is)

"Last Post" (date, time, online handle of person posting)

When the thread has 184 Views, but only 3 Replies, it's a good bet that the topic title aroused curiosity, but the posted question was really dumb, or irrelevant, or posted in the wrong forum area.

Choose your forum area carefully. Review all the areas if necessary, to determine where your question best fits.

WARNING: Never engage in forum post spam. This is where you post the question in multiple (more than one) forum areas. Like if you post the same question in the CSS, Web Design, Ecommerce, DHTML, General Newbie Questions, and Miscellaneous areas of a web development discussion forum.

Another form of forum spam is to post something like "Great idea. See my web site at www.cosmosblogmos.blogspot.com"

This will be seen as a post that has nothing to do with the topic, but is seeking to generate traffic at a web site.

Read the forum's posting rules, and several posts and replies to them, to get a sense of what's acceptable and what is not.

Forum Topic Title Guidelines:

1. Never use such empty, meaningless titles as:

"Help"

"I'm new here"

"Advice Needed"

"I was wondering..."

"Does anyone know...?"

"Check it out!"

"Your thoughts appreciated..."

"What T F *****!!!!!!"

"This drives me crazy!"

"Request comments about my site, please"

"I've got a big problem"

"Need Information"

"Just thought I'd say Hi"

"I'm bored today"

"What's wrong with me?"

"Has this ever happened to you?"

"Greetings from New Jersey"


2. Use meaningful titles that let others know quickly what your topic is.

If your topic title is vague or silly, many, perhaps all, forum users will ignore it.

Nobody will read your question. Nobody will waste their time messing around with it.

Very few forum users have any leisure time they'd be willing to spend exploring vague topic titles out of bored curiosity.

3. Write backward, using "front weighted relevance" of word strings.

By this phrase I mean: make the front or first word or phrase of the title carry the most specific information.

Instead of writing: "how do I find design ideas to increase web site credibity?"-- write something like: "web site credibility: design ideas to enhance."

More examples:

"Blog journalism: URLs of conservative political blogs?"

"Screenshots: what keyboard commands to copy & paste?"

"Sunflowers: tolerate partial shade?"

"HTML tutorials online: best FREE ones?"

"Mars water: same as Earth water?"

"Teens & smoking: tips for parents needed ASAP!"

"Internet usage statistics: need URLs for"

4. Well-crafted complaints can also be effective forum topic titles.

Make them direct and to the point, like expressing your grievance to a friend who has a sympathetic ear.

"Blog add-on feature breaks my layout."

"Rabbits keep eating all my bachelor button flowers!!!"

"99 Buick Regal engine makes pinging sound during ignition."

"Foot goes dead every 12 to 20 steps, must drag it one step."

"Wife says I pay no attention to her, or something like that."

"Need old-fashioned salad dressing recipes."

"Can't find downloaded screensaver."

"Disappering downloads"

"W3Schools Won't Load!!!!"


NOTE: While these complaint statements are sometimes somewhat vague, complaint titles do at least identify what your concern is.

Forum users may readily relate to the complaint statement and guess how best to respond to it.

Whenever possible however, try to think in this order:

1. What broad category does my question fit into?

2. What is my specific question or problem?

3. How can I write the topic title so everyone will immediately understand me? If I showed this title to my spouse, friend, co-worker, or neighbor, would they be able to state what my specific problem seems to be? Would they readily understand what it is I'm seeking?

If you can't answer those 3 questions sufficiently, perhaps you're not ready to start a new "thread" (discussion topic) in the online forum. Maybe you need to think harder about your situation.

The more clear you make your topic title, and the entire message you post under that title, the more the forum users will be able to help you.


4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hello.

Nice forum design. Okay, I need your help.
So, I wanna make personal site, and I am looking for site template.
Can you advice some online store or other resource where I can find many site templates?

It would be better if it will be free:)
I think many of us have personal sites, do you design it yourself?

Thanks a lot, Bill.

steven edward streight said...

This is not a forum, it's a blog. A forum is where anybody can start any thread and anybody can reply to it directly, or ignore it. Forums have different uses and rules and practices.

Nearly everything is nowadays. I can't remember the last time I paid for anything, other than broadband, anti-virus protection, printer toner, paper. I never pay for something as ephemeral as software.

Google "free web templates" and you should find plenty. Read the comments, if comments are enabled, under each template, by the download button.

Many free templates have problems: won't work in all browsers, background image becomes unavailable, you can't provide the functionality you desire, etc.

A guy in Holland designed the current Vaspers the Grate blog. I tweaked it and added sidebar bling.

Let me know how it goes, and give me the URL of your site once you launch it.

Anonymous said...

Hello world! I'm from Latvia, I now have a computer and Internet! It's so interesting here! But on some forums I see strange posts, they offer to buy some pills or something and they look very stupid. It is robots posting? I thought moderators should delete such posts. Maybe somebody will explain me what's going on? But at all it is very interesting to speak to all you people!
Kisses! :)

steven edward streight said...

Latvia Kisses: you are correct, the moderator should remove the spam comments.

See my "Comment Spammers: Internet pigs and how they feed" post (see sidebar for link to it).