The Stack Exchange network is somewhat split on how to handle shopping recommendations. They tend to generate questions of the list type, which triggers two of the network-wide close reasons, "too broad" and "primarily opinion based". However, there are sites which allow such questions, with varying degrees of success.

Does Computer Science want to keep these questions open, or close them? The most common example here would probably be textbook recommendations, although it is best to make a more general policy.


As a rule, we don't get questions that ask for shopping recommendations here. We get literature recommendation questions sometimes. That's different.

“Shopping question” to mean questions whose answers are likely to involve pre-existing things (a piece of computer hardware, a software package, a book, etc.) is an unfortunate piece Stack Exchange slang. It essentially has a pejorative meaning. By using this term, you are driving the discussion towards a specific answer — “if you defend shopping questions, you're bad”. Please refrain.

There are at least two distinct types of questions asking for literature recommendations:

  • Questions asking what paper to cite on a given topic. These questions usually have an answer which is a single paper (or “it's folklore”). A significant fraction of our questions are of this type. While I tend to find these questions boring, they do not raise any particular moderation issue.
  • Questions asking what to read on a given topic. These questions are problematic to moderate, because they tend to degenerate into lists of items. Stack Exchange has no problem with recommendations — we just want them to be constructive — but Stack Exchange is not good with polls. The problems with questions that call for lists (“what books should I read?”) is that they tend to attract answers that say “you should include this one book in your reading”, which doesn't really answer the question. An answer should recommend a curriculum, not a single item. See What about list questions?

    We have no ban on questions asking for a curriculum, and we should not have one. The usual quality control does apply, of course. If a question is too broad (lacking information about the scope of the topics that should be covered), or primarily opinion-based (lacking context to rate which books/papers are most relevant), then it should be closed. Furthermore, we should apply quality control on answers: please downvote and flag answers that recommend a single item rather than a full reading list.


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