Consider a question asking "Is this documented in any citable reference?" (or similar)

It sort of feels like an (off topic) recommendation question, but also not really.

So, can I get a definitive answer as to whether the above, asked as is, is off topic?
Well, not as is 'as is', but 'as is'-ish - "this" obviously needs to be defined.

The question: Average time complexity of finding top-k elements

I realize that, depending on exactly what OP wants, it should be easy enough to modify to avoid asking for a citable reference (thus I figured a comment would be more appropriate than a close vote).

I'd like to reiterate - I don't think the above question necessarily needs to be closed (perhaps just modified a little), I'm just asking about this so I know and have something to reference.

Why this may be off topic:

There could be a tendency to posting answers that consists of little more than a link or reference, and we don't like that. Although one can certainly, in most cases, extract sufficient information from the paper, but the question isn't whether one can, but rather whether most users will (I don't think the typical Stack Overflow user will).

I'd like to point out the "they tend to" in the recommendation reason. As I understand it, we don't disallow them because all of them are unwanted, just because there's a tendency of bad things happening.

Also, it's very much a research-based question, not "a specific programming problem". So perhaps another site, but not really Stack Overflow (perhaps CS Theory, but I really have no idea about that).

Why this may be appropriate:

There shouldn't really be a tendency to "attracted opinionated answers or spam", as the recommendation reason says. But that doesn't mean another reason or a custom reason may not apply.

  • 2
    Well, it is still a list question, which is generally undesirable.
    – Servy
    Dec 20, 2013 at 16:46
  • @Servy: So, would asking for the first appearance in scientifically published literature help, since now it is now longer a list question, but has a unique answer (and is imho of general importance)? Apart from that, the question for appearance in literature is only a minor extension of my main question. Before closing the question, please consider removing this minor extension by editing, since I think apart from that it should comply with SO regulations.
    – bluenote10
    Dec 20, 2013 at 18:33
  • @bluenote10 Then you'd have to say that any answer that posted a better, but newer, article is an incorrect answer. That doesn't seem productive.
    – Servy
    Dec 20, 2013 at 18:46

3 Answers 3


I think that asking for something specific like that wouldn't really be a recommendation question, though I don't think it should be the whole question either (which your example isn't).

If the question had that as it's main or only part, it could still be answered, though as with link questions, we'd prefer a little excerpt.


I think it is appropriate if it is secondary to asking for help with the programming problem (i.e. "and if you have a citeable reference for your answer please include it"). Very often you can't separate programming from research, and it would be quite unfortunate if someone used a result with no citation, or citing a StackExchange post, when it is in fact a known published result - or a known published piece of code/pseudocode.


I would consider "asking for a reference" off-topic because it is not asking to solve a specific programming problem, but rather is asking for research help. Asking for research help is not on-topic for Stack Overflow.

If the problem were 'how do I do X', that's fine. But 'Is it possible to do X' is only fine if it's a rephrasing of 'how do I do X'; when the question becomes 'Show me where someone said it was possible to do X', that's not on topic.

In particular, Stack Overflow (s/Stack Overflow/any SE Site/) is explicitly intended to be a self-contained repository of knowledge - hence links should only be providing further detail for answers, not be the answer in and of itself. Asking for a link to something seems like it must be off topic, since any reasonable answer would be a poor answer.

The specific question in the OP, without the 'citable reference', is okay; but the 'citeable reference' part is not appropriate.

  • One note, I suppose the citeable reference bit may be okay for academia...
    – Joe
    Dec 20, 2013 at 17:10

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