Several times now, the issue of whether questions that solicit some sort of list as an answer (e.g. a list of book recommendations) are valuable here.

  • This questions has some comments to that effect (but seems to have generated some useful answers).
  • This question also has comments to that effect (no answers and a lot of negative votes).

Do we want to adopt a blanket ban on these kinds of questions, or is there some way to shape them to turn them into a valuable resource?


3 Answers 3


My view is that we should adopt a strict position on these kinds of question, but not an outright ban. As I have mentioned elsewhere, my view is motivated by this example from TeX SE, which I think shows what a good resource a list question can become if well-managed (look at the number of up votes/favourites!).

Comparison of that example with some other, less successful cases suggests some rules of thumb for a good list question:

  • One suggestion per answer. This makes the answers easier to browse, avoids duplication and, most importantly, allows people to vote on individual suggestions. From the TeX example, this has meant that the voting mechanism can serve to promote what the community thinks are the best suggestions.
  • Standardised format for each answer. For example, a title in standard formatting that states what item this answer is recommending. A standardised bullet-list of metadata (e.g. operting systems supported for software, topics covered for a book, etc.). A standardised image (e.g. screenshot or cover image).
  • All answers are community wikis. Necessary so that the community can ensure that the list remains an up to date resource.
  • A fairly well-defined and meaningful scope. Big list of economics books is probably not useful. List of textbooks in industrial organisation is likely to be more useful.

My feeling is that with guidelines like these we can support some very valuable list questions (book recommendations, software recommendations, seminal papers on a topic, etc.)

  • $\begingroup$ I don't think they should be community wikis. If a comment is posted, the original poster can update the link. Worst case: a new link is posted in the comments. Remember, economics has a lot of disputes, so... we'd want to avoid even the possibility of edit wars. $\endgroup$
    – user218
    Commented Nov 23, 2014 at 15:13

If we ignore the way that list questions can break normal voting mechanisms, allowing list questions does provide some value to some people, including the original poster. It is also one way to solve what I call the "zero or many" paradox where an disinclination to answer a list question results in none of the good answers being posted.

To discourage 10 or 20 answers to a list question, I would suggest raising the bar a bit by requiring an respondent to explain why the resource is a good one; in a manner beyond personal anecdote. It also allows for some "meat" for the voting mechanism to sift answers.


Are these examples expert-level questions? No, they're not. So they are off-topic for the private beta.

Do they have objective single answers? No, they don't. So they're unsuitable for the Q&A format.

Is there a place for them? Yes there is. We have tag wikis. As the name indicates, they are wikis: they are designed to be collaborations, with multiple contributors. They are a resource to provide broad information about a subject, outside the constraints of the Q&A format. So book lists belong in tag wikis.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Firstly, refusing to think beyond the private beta (likely to end within ~1 week) is incredibly myopic. Secondly, to the extent that experts ask each other for, e.g., book/paper recommendations, and that only experts can recommend good graduate+ level texts means that they are expert level questions by definition. Thirdly, the objective single answer criterion is too narrow because it rules-out a whole range of potential questions about economic modelling, where there is seldom a single right way. Other SE communities have found such questions useful, so why adopt a per se prohibition? $\endgroup$
    – Ubiquitous
    Commented Nov 21, 2014 at 11:44
  • $\begingroup$ @Ubiquitous if you're interested in the status of this in the public beta, then the time to ask is in the public beta, not now. $\endgroup$
    – 410 gone
    Commented Nov 21, 2014 at 11:52

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