A simple question about all Q&A sites. Let's say I'm asking a question on, for instance, music.stackoverflow.com, regarding electric guitars. There's a tag guitar and there are specialised tags electric-guitar, classical-guitar, etc.

Then: should I tag the question as:

  • just electric-guitar,
  • both electric-guitar and guitar?

I believe that on all Q&A sites there exist similar situations that one tag is a "super-tag" of others. There's no mechanism for tag inheritance on SO, so which convention shall be used?

Some pros and cons:

Single-tag convention:

  • + simplicity
  • - no reasonable way to favourite / ignore all guitar (supertag) questions

Double-tag convention

  • + allows for either broad-scope or fine-grained tag favourite, tag ignore, searching
  • - needs to be used consistently

2 Answers 2


You've got a con that isn't, which makes the answer easy. You wrote:

no reasonable way to favourite / ignore all guitar (supertag) questions

Try this search on Music.se: all questions containing the tag *guitar*. What you'll get is all questions that contain any of these tags:

  • guitar
  • electric-guitar
  • acoustic-guitar
  • guitar-effects
  • classical-guitar
  • electric-bass-guitar
  • bass-guitar
  • fingerstyle-guitar
  • semi-acoustic-guitar
  • guitar-tapping
  • slide-guitar
  • 12-string-guitar
  • acoustic-bass-guitar
  • flamenco-guitar

Similarly, you can favorite (or ignore) them in the same way: just type *guitar* into your preferred text area and click "Add".

There's a nice side benefit, in that if anyone ever adds a lead-guitar tag, it's automatically favorited.

Once you know about this little feature, the answer is simple: only use the single most exact tag.

  • 2
    The discoverability of this feature is pretty poor, many experienced SE users know about it, but I don't think new users can easily discover this feature. I'd wager a guess that only very few users use any wildcard tags (happy to be proven wrong, though), only using the more specific tag could therefore hurt the visibility of the questions. Though one should probably improve the discoverability of the wildcard tags instead of tagging questions redundantly. May 30, 2011 at 7:43
  • 1
    You're right, that solves the problem (as long as the 'dependent' tags are related by name to the parent tag- and I sincerely hope they always do!). But I believe we all can agree that this feature needs to be somehow announced... The auto-complete feature always proposes full tags, which gives the impression that only full tag names are allowed. A little text wildcards allowed somewhere in the context assist pop-up would do the trick... Should we open a feature-request for that?
    – Kos
    May 30, 2011 at 11:19

Generally speaking, when you tag a question:

  • If the question is about guitars in general (i.e. it's likely to interest most guitar players), tag it guitar.
  • If the question is about a specific kind of guitars (e.g. only electric guitar players are likely to be interested), tag it electric-guitar.

Again: the intended audience of the guitar tag is all guitar players. So the tag is not appropriate for a question that's specific to electric guitars. (Conversely, it would be madness and even impossible to tag a question about guitars with all guitar-related tags.) So there's no inclusion relationship between the two tags. (Mathematically speaking, tags have opposite variance on questions and for subscription/search.)

Of course this generalizes to other situations, such as tagging a question ubuntu if it's specifically about Ubuntu and linux if it's likely to interest any Linux user.

If in doubt, it's usually better to use the most specific tag.

If you see a specific tag, and you know that the guitar type (or Linux distribution or whatever) is actually irrelevant, retag to replace the more specific tag by the more general tag, since the more general tag is in fact more appropriate. If the question has both type-specific and type-agnostic reasonable answers, put both tags.

  • 1
    Good answer, exactly what I said here. Tags need to be specific enough to be useful; if they don't want to be, acoustic guitar players shouldn't have to be subscribed to questions that only apply to electrics.
    – user154510
    May 31, 2011 at 17:43

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