Should Blog Post Titles be Posed as Questions?

The title of this post was used for ironic reasons, since this post will argue that blog post titles should be more assertive if they want to attract more readers.  That is, they should be posed as statements instead of questions.

This little blogger pet peeve of mine stems all the way back to high school, namely, first year English.  My grade 9 English teacher taught us a bunch of pointers and rules for writing an effective essay.  Organize your thoughts into a structured form with introduction, body, and conclusion paragraphs.  Link paragraphs and sentences together with transition words.  Refrain from using personal pronouns.

Most notably, never make the title of an essay in the form of a question.  She actually never taught us this UNTIL I had submitted my first essay of the school term.  I lost marks from what I believed to be a very strong essay simply because its title was in the form of a question.  She never said anything about it in class, but deducted marks anyway.  I relentlessly argued with her about it, and eventually convinced her that I shouldn’t be penalized for something I was not taught in class.  This somewhat ‘nasty’ experience definitely solidified that rule in my head for life.

The reason why argumentative essays have that particular rule is that using a yes/no question relating to the main thesis of the essay weakens the thesis itself.  If one is writing a post that argues one answer over the other, using a yes/no question in the title will leave the readers to answer the question for themselves.  Regardless of whether or not the reader agrees with you, your argument appears stronger if you answer the question yourself, rather leaving the reader do it.

For example, if I ever see a blog post titled “Are mages that bad in Wrath?” I will think for myself, “no they’re fine,” and skip ahead to the next post in my reader.  If that post was instead titled “The Plight of the WotLK Mage” or something similar, I would be intrigued by the title, and despite my opinions supporting the contrary, I would wonder why the author thinks as such.  I would read the article with a more open mind, perhaps even agree with some points, and be more inclined to leave a comment to debate with the author’s points.

When that line of communication is created between the reader and the blogger, that’s when the personal connection is made.  That’s when the reader gets the impression of the blogger’s authority on the subject.  That’s when the reader decides that he or she will continue reading future posts.

However, using the question format has its uses outside of argumentative thesis posts.  The only reason why blog posts should be posed as questions is to spark conversation with an existing reader base.  By using the question format, the author gives up a little bit of that authority and allows the readers to form their own theses and debate with each other.  Through the comments section, the post itself becomes a forum of sorts that allows for multiple readers to interact with each other.

An example of this would be Larísa’s wonderful blog, the Pink Pigtail Inn.  A lot of her post titles are in the form of a question, but for good reason.  She has a large reader base, and they are all often invited to have civilized debate with each other, fulfilling the blog concept of a warm inn, managed by a lovable moderator and host.

However, if you’re a new or up and coming blogger, something as simple as making your title more assertive will increase the effectiveness of your post by a noticeable margin, simply because you are arguing your points to your readers with more confidence and authority.

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14 thoughts on “Should Blog Post Titles be Posed as Questions?

  1. Wow. I never thought about that. And I suppose I should with my background as a writer. I will certainly think twice before putting a questionmark in my titles. Speaking of titles – I’m really really bad at it which is a shame. I think putting a little bit more of effort into the title is crucial if you want people to read your posts.

    Thank you for all kind words by the way! Your blog may be frosty, but the climate is still very warm and friendly here for a fellow gnome to enjoy.

    Cheers!

    • As I’ve already mentioned, it’s easier to get away with that sort of thing if you already have a strong readership. It sparks conversation with your guests, which immensely helps with the image of your blog. But if you want to be stronger about your stance on the subject, using a more assertive title definitely helps!

      As always, your kind words are greatly appreciated!

  2. Hm, personally I find posts with titles phrased as questions often more intriguing than plain old statements. By phrasing the title as a question you kind of acknowledge that it’s something that can be debated and invite the reader to hear your arguments for both sides and maybe contribute their own. To me trying too hard to be assertive would rather have the opposite effect of shutting the reader out, as in “this is how it is and I don’t care what anyone else says”.

    Though I agree that titles as questions can be overused, and some bloggers kind of “abuse” it as well by phrasing their titles as inviting questions and then always giving a very strong yes or no answer that effectively tries to shut down all discussion.

    • The effect of “this is how it is and I don’t care what anyone else says” is only shutting the reader out if there is no opportunity given for the reader to make any sort of response. On a blog, having comments disabled for a thesis post would have such an effect, since the author clearly does not care for any sort of feedback.

      Similarly, having selective moderation on responses also gives that nasty vibe of shutting out the reader. When all the responses are nothing but “i agree” “good post” and whatnot, it can definitely give a hint that the author went out of his or her way to censor the other sides of the argument. I can think of a number of instances where this happens in the blogosphere, not necessarily pertaining to WoW.

      Do note that in the post that I made here, I mentioned that question titles are usable (even encouraged) in certain situations, particularly when you intend on inviting people to an open forum as you have suggested. But when you do have a point to make, and you certainly have a strong belief in it, a strong argument for those points are just as effective in drawing the reader in to respond or rebut. In a way, it’s like trolling, but without the personal ad-hominem attacks and flames.

      In short, the effectiveness of an argumentative piece should encourage open discussion anyway, since it is indicative of how well the author conveyed the points to the reader. If the reader feels shut out of the conversation, the effectiveness was lessened, and the author failed in delivering his points across.

  3. I think if your post is a technical one it’s ok to use a question as a title, eg “how do I dps as a frost mage?” might pick up more hits from google than “how to dps as a frost mage”.

    • Information posts and guides will tend to pick up google hits anyway, so I wouldn’t worry too much about titling them. For the most part, keywords in the title tend to be more important than how they are arranged, when it comes to search terms on google.

      In your case, both titles contain the keywords “dps,” “frost,” and “mage.” Those should be good enough for google to pick up on when responding to a particular search query.

  4. Never. Ever. I’m here to read what you have to tell me, not what your readers have to say (let ‘em write their own blogs!). Umm…of course, there is the very rare exception, such as the current post. *grin*

    Writers asking questions in their post titles turn me off. Any title can be made stronger, more “hooky,” by ditching the question mark and telling me, for instance, “Why You Should Never Ask a Question in Your Post Title.”

    • “Why You Should Never Ask A Question in Your Post Title.”

      BRILLIANT! I would have gone for that myself, if it weren’t for the intended irony behind the title that I am currently using! Very reassuring comment from none other than a copyeditor :D

  5. Sometimes I like to engage the reader, so I pose a question to my audience.

    I don’t really follow rules, Spelling? Grammar? Get that crap out of here.

    I liken my blog to sitting at a bar next to a friend, and I am chatting with them. Informal, sometimes funny, sometimes sad, sometimes just plain stupid.

    • Like a really really poor man’s Pink Pigtail Inn. I’m like the dive bar down the street from the Inn, that’s open after hours.

    • Hey hey! Who says that PPI is shutting down early? But I don’t mind having another bar as neighbour. The more the merrier! Our guests can need a bit of fresh air, having a bar round down the street.

      I too like the analogy of a blog as a bar/pub. Waaayyyy back when I started to blog I tried to understand what I was doing, what it was all about. After a couple of months I understood it myself. It was like a virtual pub, a place to hang around at. This image is somehow prevailing, always somewhere in the back of my head, even though it’s not necessarily reflected in every post.

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