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What is the tag "Soft-Question" being used for? In this field, it certainly sounds like a pejorative. With no wiki guidance as to its use, would it be better to just remove this tag? It seems this might be part of the external guidance/aggression we seem to be getting to ask only questions that have one and only one right answer. For instance the Parent-Child question has been besmeared with this tag, even though it is clearly not asking for opinions or anything other than factual information.

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If you are using tags as designed, there should be no soft-question tag.

Please edit it out when you see it. It's one of those "meta tags" that appears from time trying to repurpose tags to filter content beyond what the question is actually about. It's generally not useful to label questions as soft or easy or subjective or other ways that end up misusing tags in that fashion.

For some background, please read this post on avoiding meta tags as a matter of policy and design.

It's one of those policy decisions that I have never regretted myself, but it continues to frustrate efforts to fix things where it has been ignored.

You don't need this. Sticking to the core purpose for which tags were created is one of those policy decisions that saves us a lot of in-fighting about when and how to go outside the intended use case of a feature. And, yes, sometimes these tags are used to brand content some folks simply don't like. I would get rid of it myself.

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    $\begingroup$ With enthusiasm! $\endgroup$ – Michael Trick Jun 13 at 20:12
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I agree that it gives that connotation, and that that's a bad thing. There may be some value in categorizing them somehow though. Of the questions that currently have that tag, many are about the field - perhaps we could rename it "field-of-OR".

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Let me first answer the question in the title: The tag is used on some SE sites (most notably math.se and mathoverflow) and on OR-exchange to indicate that the question is not about the subject matter itself (e.g. mathematics), but about the job1 of experts in the subject matter (e.g. about doing research in mathematics). This is probably better explained in the tag guidance on MO.

So, a possible reason people may use this tag is because that is the norm on some other SE sites or OR-exchange and that they are used to that. I do not think it is seen as prejorative on those sites. (Clearly, people appreciate them enough to vote and answer!) However, that it is being used on other sites is in itself not a good reason to use them here and I agree with Robert that they in principle should not be used.


But I'd like to point to the other answer on the question Robert linked to, to note that there are some meta tags that are actually used without too much issues on some sites.

From what I can see, the meta tags that are purposefully kept on some sites mostly are used to unambiguously indicate the type of answer requested. Some examples are the beginner tag on Code Review and the self-study tag on CrossValidated. These tags are useful, in the sense that there certainly people who are more skilled or more interested in either teaching people beginning with a particular programming language, who then are happy find those questions by following this tag. (See also this 'defense' of the beginner tag)

However, the tag 'beginner' is also dangerous. If people start slapping 'beginner' on every question they think is easy, you'll end up with endless bickering on those questions. How can we get the benefits of a meta-tag without the crippling disadvantages?

I'm not sure what is sufficient for that, but the following seems at least nessecary to me:

  1. It should be clear and unambiguous when the tag must be used. Note the use of 'must': while the applicability of normal tags can be fuzzy, whether meta tags should be used must always be clear. If it is not clear from the question whether it is a 'beginner' question, then that should be clarified, likely by asking the asker. This also means that a 'beginner' tag should not be applied by someone other than the asker unless the asker has explicitely stated that they are in fact a beginner in that particular language.
  2. It should be clear and unambiguous what a tag means. This is mostly to prevent discussion on answers of the question about whether the answer is appropriate for questions within the tag.

Perhaps more succinctly, if you really want to use meta-tags, be sure to design them such to avoid all discussion about whether a meta-tag applies to any particular question, or what behaviour is expected for questions tagged as such.


1: 'job' here means the activity experts in the field do, e.g. research. This includes doing this activity if you're not getting paid for it.

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On OR-Exchange, the soft-question tag was used for questions which were expected to produce answers that are either not strictly mathematical or more, well, opinon-based. Generally speaking, those kind of questions were welcome -- if tagged as such.

While Jeff Atwood is not a big fan of such "meta-tags", the soft-question tag still is heavily used on various SE sites, for instance:

  • MathOverflow: "Questions that are about research in mathematics, or about the job of a research mathematician, without being mathematical problems or statements in the strictest sense. In other words, questions that can be answered without making computations or applying theorems and axioms."

  • Math.SE: "For questions whose answers can't be objectively evaluated as correct or incorrect, but which are still relevant to this site."

  • TCS.SE: "A soft question is a question (possibly subjective) about the field of theoretical computer science as opposed to being a question in theoretical computer science."

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  • $\begingroup$ I don't really think Jeff's opinion holds much sway anymore. His arguments are of course relevant, and a lot of meta-tags do have a lot of the problems described. In any case, the soft-question tag is completely unusable and incomprehensible without a proper explanation of what it means or when it should be used. $\endgroup$ – Discrete lizard Jun 14 at 8:59

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