When you ask a new question (or edit one whithout having the edit privilege) and edit the tag field, a help box with the following appears on the right:

How to Tag

A tag is a keyword or label that categorizes your question with other, similar questions.

  • favor existing popular tags; avoid creating new tags
  • use common abbreviations
  • don't include synonyms
  • combine multiple words into single-words with dashes
  • maximum of 5 tags, 25 chars per tag
  • tag characters: [a-z 0-9 + # - .]
  • delimit tags by space, semicolon, or comma

Most of this advice does not apply to users without the create-tags privilege and thus is unhelpful, may confuse them or even disappoint them when they put effort in creating a tag when adhering to the advice and then realise that they are not allowed to create tags anyway. Moreover, some advice is hardly relevant due to the live search for existing tags.

I thus propose to change this help text for those who cannot create tags or, if that’s too troublesome to implement, change the help text for everyone, because it’s new users who really need this text (while those who have acquired the power to create tags usually know how to obtain information on this anyway). The focus should arguably shift from technical details to proper tagging.

As a sidenote: It would be nice if basic, site-specific tagging advice would be included here, which is apparently possible. For example users on Stack Overflow could be informed to use the programming language their question is about as a tag or users on SciFi & Fantasy to use the work their question is about.

  • I agree that the help of the "how to tag" seems to be tailored for "how/why to create a tag", except for the first bullet point. – Braiam Aug 9 '15 at 19:57

The following is live incorporating copy from both answers.

How to Tag

A tag is a keyword or label that categorizes your question with other, similar questions. Choose one or more (up to 5) tags that will help answerers to find and interpret your question.

  • complete the sentence: my question is about...

  • use tags that describe things or concepts that are essential, not incidental to your question

  • favor using existing popular tags

  • read the descriptions that appear below the tag

If your question is primarily about a topic for which you can't find a tag:

The example-hyphenated-tag is pulled from the current site to ensure relevancy and the ask link points to the per-site meta.

| improve this answer | |

I fully agree, the existing text provides detailed technical documentation about tag names but says very little about how to pick them. Here's my proposal for a baseline. It would be nice for sites to be able to add a bullet point (preferably with a link to a meta thread).

A tag is a keyword or label that categorizes your question with other, similar questions.

  • complete the sentence: my question is about …
  • favor existing popular tags; avoid creating new tags
  • at least one tag, maximum 5
  • combine multiple words into single-words with dashes
  • check the tag decriptions that appear below the tag


  • The first point “my question is about …” remains the best rule of thumb I've seen of how to pick tags.
    Should there also be a bullet point for “don't use tags that relate to how you asked the question rather than what the question is about”? I don't know how to explain this in a comprehensible way in just one short sentence.
  • Keep the advice not to create new tags.
  • Keep a mention of the 5-tag limit. It's relevant in judging what tags are important and how long to keep looking for relevant tags.
  • Keep the explanation of how to write multi-word tags. Even with that a lot of people get it wrong by by separated spaces words writing or runningthemalltogetherintoanunreadablemess. A site-topical example would be nice.
  • Tell people to check the tag wiki excerpts, at least.
  • Don't mention synonyms here, it's too much information. Synonyms should already exist in the system; this dialog box should focus on how to use the existing tag hierarchy.
  • Don't tell people to use abbreviations. They overdo it as it is.
  • Don't include the detail of what characters are allowed. This belongs on a tag creation help, not a tag choice help. The current text is wrong on some sites anyway (language sites, localized sites) where some non-ASCII characters are allowed.
  • I think the separators are intuitive enough that they don't need to be mentioned.

Users with the tag creation privilege should see an additional bullet point with a link to how to create a tag. Only a link, because we don't want to encourage it too much.

The text on private betas (not on public betas that are several years old) should be different. There, tag creation is the norm. The line with “favor existing popular tags” should not be present, and there should instead be a line like “tag characters: letters digits #.+- (25 characters max)”.

| improve this answer | |
  • 2
    Maybe move the last bullet up to position two? – rene Aug 10 '15 at 11:44
  • Why would you tell new users to avoid creating new tags or how to create multi-word tags if they cannot create tags anyway (except on public betas as you correctly noted)? At the very most one could say something along the lines of: “you have to use existing tags” (this message should be bound to the tag-creation privilege). – Wrzlprmft Aug 10 '15 at 12:10
  • @Wrzlprmft It's allso a recommendation to look for popular tags. But maybe this should be wrapped into some site-specific advice. For example a question without a programming language tag on SO is likely to go unnoticed. – Gilles 'SO- stop being evil' Aug 10 '15 at 12:14
  • @Gilles: 1) Then you should reduce it to that recommendation. 2) Looking for popular tags is not a good advice per se and may lead to tags being misused. For example new users on Academia looking for popular tags would stumble across a series of tags like research or phd that are very likely to be somewhat related to their question but much less often be good tags for it. – Wrzlprmft Aug 10 '15 at 12:45

I propose as a new text:

A tag is a keyword or label that categorizes your question with other, similar questions. It helps to make potential answerers to become aware of your question.

  • use tags that describe what is essential, not incidental to your question
  • as a rule of thumb: What you would use to search for an answer to your question?
  • let similar questions inspire your choice of tags
  • delimit tags by space, semicolon, or comma
  • you can use up to five tags
| improve this answer | |
  • 2
    Your rule if thumb seems convoluted - can you perhaps provide an example of how a new user would incorporate it into their thinking about tags? – PolyGeo Aug 9 '15 at 20:30
  • @ PolyGeo: I am all open for better explanations, though this is already the second version. A typical example would be a user on Academia tagging a question about citing with thesis, because it arose during writing a thesis, but which may have as well arisen during writing a paper. Or a user on Travel tagging a question about what to do during a layover in country A with the target country of their journey. – Wrzlprmft Aug 10 '15 at 6:08
  • How about "if the tag relates to something incidental to your question, you should not apply it. For example, if you are having a problem using software X while doing your thesis, software-x is relevant and should be applied; while thesis is incidental and should not." – PolyGeo Aug 10 '15 at 6:16
  • @PolyGeo: I used the word incidental at another place and added a new, slightly different rule of thumb. Your example has the problem that it does not translate well to all sites. – Wrzlprmft Aug 10 '15 at 12:37
  • "Use as tags what you would use as keywords to search for an answer to your question" using "keywords" is bad, as in Very Bad™. I've seen people rationalizing that they should tag with X, because it says X in the body of the question, whenever or not is relevant. – Braiam Aug 13 '15 at 22:44
  • @Braiam: That’s exactly what I want to avoid, and that’s why I said what you would use to search for your answer. Once more, I am open for better suggestions. – Wrzlprmft Aug 14 '15 at 6:36

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