Currently, when I need to explain the issues with recommendation questions, I link to Q&A is hard, let's go shopping!.

... except that that's more or less just about shopping recommendations on SU. Now that we've expanded, can we have a canonical, site-agnostic meta post that details why most recommendation (product/book/software/etc) questions are bad, what defines a "good" recommendation question, and outlines a policy on this?

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    +1 It would save the effort of having to reiterate many things from different sources.
    – asheeshr
    Commented Mar 27, 2013 at 7:15
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    And can it be linked in the FAQ? I can never remember where the Q&A is hard post lives.
    – MikeW
    Commented Mar 27, 2013 at 7:47
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    Why not start a faq-proposed, community wiki? I'm sure you can give it a decent start.
    – Bart
    Commented Mar 27, 2013 at 8:38
  • @Bart I'll try, bit busy now Commented Mar 27, 2013 at 12:01
  • at Prog meta, we established resource-questions tag wiki to cover that, primarily because users were confused by references to multiple "canonical" posts. "About questions asking for resources - books, links, tutorials, articles, tools, libraries etc. For guidance, refer to..." etc
    – gnat
    Commented Mar 27, 2013 at 12:22
  • @Bart there's a draft below, opinions? Commented Mar 30, 2013 at 11:22

2 Answers 2


This is a draft, feel free to edit it!

The question will later be edited to:

  • When is a post closed as "not constructive"?
  • Why are such questions not allowed?
  • Is there any way to fix such questions?

When is a post closed as "not constructive"?

A post is closed as not constructive whenever the post is open ended and can have many different yet equally valid answers. This goes for:

  • Questions asking for opinions and other subjective questions. Not all such questions are bad; the guidelines here help distinguish a good subjective question from a bad subjective question.
  • Questions asking for a big list, especially questions asking for recommendations (book recommendations, product recommendations, etc)
  • Questions comparing two very different things.

Why are such questions not allowed?

Firstly, many of these questions are interesting but, in the end, useless. Opinion-poll type questions asking for opinions are rarely useful; they tell you what the general public feels about an issue, but have no practical use.

Some questions, like recommendation questions, are quite useful. However, they have a few issues. Many such questions, especially product recommendation questions, get outdated fast. New products come in all the time, and these lists either become obsolete or need constant maintenance.

Recommendation questions tend to be insanely popular as well. This has many ill effects:

  • They attract a lot of votes, skewing the reputation system. One can get a sizeable amount of reputation quite fast by asking/answering such questions before the community wikification kicks in.
  • They clutter up the "hot questions" lists
  • Their popularity gives outsiders an impression that recommendation questions are great on the site, which leads to more recommendation questions, and amplifying the problem. The sites should not give the impression that they are for getting recommendations; they should give the impression that they are for getting definite answers to closed-ended questions.

Finally, certain broad comparison questions out of idle curiosity are bad, since they (again) aren't really that useful. Sure, there may be accidental learning accompanied with reading the answer, but this information won't be easy for others to find. Accidental learning is good, only accidental learning means that the learning will never reach those who are looking for it. Also, such questions have a tendency to drive away experts.

Is there any way to fix such questions?

Sure, many such questions can be tailored to a better, acceptable form.

  • Product recommendations: A lot of this is outlined in this blog post. Basically, see if you can convert a "what is the best X" into a "what should I look for while choosing an X". Try to make it more specific as well; explain what you need the product for.
  • Book recommendations: These generally cannot be fixed. What one can do is ask in the chat room associated with the site, and edit the recommendations into the tag wiki of that topic. Some sites allow book recommendations, as long as the topic isn't too broad, and the level of understanding is specified.
  • A vs B questions: Make sure that A and B are comparable entities. If not, choose a specific aspect/portion of A and B, and compare those. There are more details on this in this blog post
  • Subjective questions (Opinion polls, etc): Guidelines on subjective questions have been outlined in this blog post, and try to tailor the question to fit these guidelines. Basically, the question should invite answers that back up the opinion with facts, explanations, and/or experiences. And, as always, the question should attract useful answers.
  • @Mat: It actually is a major reason for sites like Math.SE and Physics.SE. The reasons given in the "Q&A is hard" blog post just don't cover book recommendations on science sites. They don't get outdated fast. The only real issue is getting too much popularity and votes, skewing the system and giving outsiders an incorrect impression of the site. Commented Mar 30, 2013 at 11:44
  • @Mat: There is a CW protocol on Math (doesn't stop these from getting insanely popular and giving a skewed impression of the site). And this isn't really just for new users; this is for experienced users as well. There have been tons of arguments going on about book recos on Physics.SE (and other sites, but Physics is where I generally am). These arguments are between experienced members, not that many new users. We can always tell a new user "it's not allowed". An experienced user won't be satisfied with that. Commented Mar 30, 2013 at 11:55
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    I actually like this post a lot; I wouldn't change a thing, except to somehow point out that not all subjective questions are bad questions. Not Constructive is a "narrow" definition, in the sense that, if the question does not run afoul of the reasons for questions being not constructive, it can still be allowed, even if the question itself is subjective. blog.stackoverflow.com/2010/09/good-subjective-bad-subjective
    – user102937
    Commented Mar 30, 2013 at 15:00
  • @RobertHarvey: Yeah, I'm not entirely clear myself on Good Subjective/Bad Subjective -- I'm clear enough to apply it, but not to write about it. I've added a bit on it, do you think that's good enough? (again, feel free to edit it however you want!) Commented Mar 30, 2013 at 15:23
  • Looks good. . .
    – user102937
    Commented Mar 30, 2013 at 15:25
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    I think you're spending too much time (and space) here on irrelevant topics. "Recommendation question" is already an extremely broad term - I've seen folks go through flagging any question with the word "recommend" in it because they don't understand what the term is meant to imply. You would be better off ditching the attempt to re-state what's already in the FAQ (defining problematic opinion-based questions) and focusing on this specific category. Big difference between a search for a tool to address a specific problem and the old "give me a list of all tools in category X" - address it.
    – Shog9
    Commented Apr 1, 2013 at 19:46
  • @Shog9: Thing is, the FAQ doesn't say why it's bad, and how to fix these things, so I'm more of expanding it. But yeah, I don't mind sticking to reco questions, those are the ones after all which vary in type from site to site. (the other two blog posts cover all sites pretty well). I'll do this when I get the time, then, thanks for the input! Commented Apr 1, 2013 at 19:53
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    You're not really going into much detail on those here either though; you're just saying that they're "useless" and that they have "no practical use" and then linking to the blog. That's only meaningful to folks who already buy into the idea that these posts should be excluded.
    – Shog9
    Commented Apr 1, 2013 at 19:56
  • @Shog9: Good point. (I guess I didn't want to get too long winded). I'll expand the reco part and get rid of the others then. Commented Apr 1, 2013 at 19:57
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    FWIW, neither shopping questions (or "recommendation" questions) need to be opinion-based. You might want to be careful about lumping in "what's the best text editor?" with "what text editor can I use to edit large (>5gb) XML files?"
    – Shog9
    Commented Apr 1, 2013 at 19:58
  • @shog yeah, I know about that, thanks for the reminder :) Commented Apr 1, 2013 at 20:03
  • @Shog any chance of eventually using this as the basis for a blog post? Blog posts are easier to find, and carry more weight, than any Meta answer, no matter how good it is. There's a couple of frequent complaints from new users which it would be great to have a canonical blog post for - "Why does Stack Overflow allow anonymous downvotes? Would it not be better to force people to justify their reasoning?", for example
    – Pekka
    Commented Apr 7, 2013 at 7:03

We should extend this to other popular blog-based commentaries, like Gorilla/Shark and so forth. It would also a lot easier to find these things on MSO than to find your way to the Blog site and search from there.

  • Yep. I extended my draft (below) to cover all NC questions. Commented Mar 30, 2013 at 11:23

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