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Are Gerunds in Topic Titles Problematic in Search Results?

by Tom Johnson on Feb 11, 2008 •
categories: technical-writing

I've been accustomed to writing topic titles as gerunds (for example, "Configuring the Monitor Display" or "Reformatting Your Hard Drive"), followed by specific steps that would begin, "To configure the monitor display...," or "To reformat your hard drive...."

However, when I watched how an actual person used my online help file, I noticed he didn't use gerunds in his searches. He typed his search like this: configure monitor display, or reformat hard drive.

When I search on Google, I also do the same: I use the form of the verb that expresses the action I want to do. I'm not looking to "reformatting my hard drive." I want to "reformat hard drive." I want to "configure monitor display." I want to do something, to perform an action.

Grammatically, I think the gerund is more common. But given that the topic title plays a huge role in the search results, I'm thinking of saying goodbye to gerunds in topic titles. When the user searches for "reformat hard drive" the answer will more readily surface if that's how I've named the topic.

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About Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson

I'm a technical writer based in the San Francisco Bay area. In this blog, I write about topics related to technical writing and communication — such as software documentation, API documentation, visual communication, information architecture, writing techniques, plain language, tech comm careers, and more. Check out simplifying complexity and API documentation for some deep dives into these topics. If you're a technical writer and want to keep on top of the latest trends in the field, be sure to subscribe to email updates. You can also learn more about me or contact me.

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