Context: There are now 43 111 questions tagged .

The current tag wiki guidance is

For questions asking for references from the literature or textbooks on specific topics. If possible, references should be accompanied by a hyperlink to the article for accessibility.

Related OR Meta discussions like Avoid usage of non-permanent URLs to reference papers are very limited in scope.

Our own Help Center even states to

avoid asking subjective questions where every answer is equally valid.

Also from OR Meta,

Stack Exchange was not intended to be a list of links or a search engine telling users where to find their answers elsewhere. — Robert Cartaino ♦ (source)

Peer Sites:
CrossValidated (stats) has a related discussion on this issue including guidelines on using community wiki for certain reference requests. They refer to these guidelines officially.

Mathematics has language to avoid "big lists" (source).

Physics seems to have address this this topic by creating the tag which has usage guidance that separates these "What is the canonical source for X?" or "What is the first paper on Y?" from general topical questions to use the tag. The two tags are considered mutually exclusive. These topical resource recommendation tags must comply with the usage policy.

Resource recommendations must ask for descriptive answers. It's not enough to ask for a list of books that cover topic X — a simple Amazon search can provide that.

Instead, you should ask for recommendations, which specify:

  • What the book covers
  • How it covers it — is it rigorous? Intuitive? How is the writer's style?
  • What are the prerequisites?

and similar questions. (Source: Physics.SE FAQ)


I expect these kinds of questions will likely continue on the site and we should note these questions can be highly useful.

Here are some examples of reference requests in reverse chronological order:[1]

Some questions are of dubious quality but without the tag:

The amount of research or even detail provided by the asker varies greatly from question to question.

The lack of guidance on questions currently leaves the site open to low quality generic questions that may have limited value for future visitors (similar to the gimme the codez questions on StackOverflow). While some users already attempt to improve these questions before answering, many (including myself) have rushed in to provide answers (see [2]). Perhaps the community should consider how these questions should be asked and how we should curate them on the site.

A few questions for discussion:

  1. What research is expected of someone asking a question?
  2. What should be included in the question?
  3. How should the community moderate these questions? (and if needed, improve their quality to help askers)

[1] Examples only include literature-specific requests (books, papers, references) and do not include benchmark problems, courses, etc.
[2] Disclosure for questions that I have also answered.


1 Answer 1


In my opinion, the things we expect of someone asking a question are pretty similar to the things we ask of someone asking any other question: do research, show your work, be specific, make it relevant to others, etc.

I agree that some of the questions you link to do a better job than others of ticking those boxes, but that's true of non-reference-request questions too.

By the way, I fully agree that these questions are welcome on OR.SE, even if other SE sites frown on them.

What do others think?

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ FWIW Math.SE, Stats.SE and MathOverflow (MO), among more similar sites, have [reference-request] as a tag with a similar tag description. I suppose the rules, especially in MO, apply well here. $\endgroup$
    – TheSimpliFire Mod
    Commented Nov 18, 2019 at 19:36
  • $\begingroup$ @TheSimpliFire Good find. I should have looked at other sites with similar content. Will look over those and edit into question. For example, CrossValidated (stats) has this guidance linked in their tag. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 18, 2019 at 20:28
  • $\begingroup$ @TheSimpliFire MO has no guidance on the tag usage. I've updated the question to include CrossValidated (CV) and Mathematics. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 25, 2019 at 17:14

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