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, 2015 at 19:57

4 Answers 4


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.


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)”.

  • 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, 2015 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. Aug 10, 2015 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, 2015 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
  • 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, 2015 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, 2015 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, 2015 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, 2015 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, 2015 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, 2015 at 6:36

As a user without the create tag privilege, I need to be able to ask a new question which does not fit under any specific tag yet. Maybe I already know the answer, and I just want to contribute new stuff to the site. Such was the case for me recently when I tried to post a question and answer detailing how to get around a bug in my local power utility company's crappy customer billing web application. Many stack exchange sites require at least one tag. And you will surely be whipped with a cane by the mods if you simply pick some random tag and put it on there so the site will allow you to post. This puts the onus on the user to do research on the available tags (poring over pages and pages of tiny text on the screen).

This requirement right here will shut out 80% of users already. Is it appropriate friction ? No, I don't think so. Every time the user experiences pain and frustration bouncing off this wall and being unable to post, they are less likely to try again in the future. Its sadistic. That sadism not what you want for your website.

Many Stack Exchange sites have tags which are specifically designed to help ameliorate this problem, for example the "retag" tag on the Anime & Manga stack exchange or the "website" tag on the Web Applications stack exchange.

However these tags, while well-intentioned, completely miss the mark and do not actually help users, because they are not delivered to the user when needed. The user still has to learn how to scale this research-wall that you have placed in front of them.

As an aside -- having help pages is ok, and making sure that the text on the help pages is actually helpful is fine... but lets be real here. Most web users can't read. Or, its not that they can't read, its that they won't. Like Bartleby the Scrivener, they would prefer not to. So any solution which requires users to read, especially ACTIVELY read, like, go out and seek information (research) is going to fail over 80% of the time.

So what are we to do? I asked a moderator on the Web Applications stack exchange if they had any ability to customize the text on the question submission page for their specific Stack Exchange site.

I was wondering about this because if the text (preferably rich text / html) on the question submission page could be customized on a per-site basis, then the moderators could mention these 'catch-all' or 'overflow' tags for new users directly in context, thus eliminating the research-wall and giving the user exactly what they are looking for when they are looking for it.

For example, the moderator could place some text on the question submission page that says something like

"Welcome to <Site>! Are you a new user? If you aren't sure what tag to put on your post, please use the "<catchall-tag-name>" tag. Thank you!

Bonus points if moderators can customize the error message that gets displayed when the user tries to submit a post with no tags on it. This would be even more "in context", and might win a web design award.

The moderator Rubén never answered my question about whether or not this was possible, however they did direct me here. So I am suspicious that perhaps what I am talking about is NOT possible for moderators to do right now. I think thats the real root of this issue.

  • Related The new ask page is now live on the network!
    – Rubén
    Feb 27, 2021 at 18:53
  • come on, friend. I spelled it out for you, its not that they can't read, its that they won't. This kind of elitism, "our site is not for the hoi polloi, it is for the hard working academic", doesn't help anyone. If you want to better understand how real people use the internet, I can recommend this seminal book on the subject: lames.it/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/…
    – forestj
    Mar 1, 2021 at 2:40
  • Here is a screenshot of what the ask question page looks like right now --- nowhere on this page do I see any SE-site-specific info, or any the suggestion for what tag to use if the ostensibly correct tag does not exist yet: picopublish.sequentialread.com/files/tags.png
    – forestj
    Mar 1, 2021 at 2:46
  • holy cow ! I just read the release notes on "The new ask page is now live on the network!". It says even the error messages can be customized on a per-site basis. So then in this case, as they say "We Have the Technology". Someone just has to implement it. (On the Web Applications SE at least)
    – forestj
    Mar 1, 2021 at 2:54
  • Stop trolling pls. I am talking about how most people don't have 20mins to do research just so they can do unpaid labor to contribute to a wiki site. Instead they will simply walk away and the site will lose potential valuable contributions
    – forestj
    Mar 1, 2021 at 3:05
  • I'm sorry that you don't like my comments. Good luck with your quest.
    – Rubén
    Mar 1, 2021 at 3:08

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