We have 16 questions.

Reference requests are generally disliked on Stack Exchange, for many good reasons:

  • They have the potential to grow forever, with everyone and their grandmother putting in their favorite resource.
  • They tend to accumulate duplicate¹ answers and answers of dubious² relevance³.
  • The votes are primarily an indication of who came first, secondarily an indication of popularity, and only very occasionally an indication of suitability.
  • Do you really want to sort through this?
  • Stack Exchange is a questions and answers platform. It isn't good at being a collection of links. Lists of books or articles about a general topic can go in tag wikis.

On the other hand, finding an article to explain an advanced subject can be difficult (especially if you're making a foray into a field you don't know much about). Reference requests do work reasonably well on CSTheory, but this is a highly unusual audience, with a stringent barrier.

Where do we draw the line? Is there such a thing as a good reference request? Do we want specific policies on answers?

¹ This is where I should link to all the occurrences of K&R, but I don't have the patience to collect them.
² Alice in Wonderland.
³ The Joy of Sex.


2 Answers 2


I have problems with broad reference request that ask for resources covering a whole field, very much for the reason you state. We should refer such questions to chat, and put the results into the respective tag wikis.

Requests asking for work on individual issues (i.e. the answer is likely a handful of papers at most) are fine, imho; they do not have the disadvantages you list.

The distinction is maybe not always clear, but I think it is useful to make it (on a case-to-case basis, for the time being).

  • $\begingroup$ Agreed. I think the problem lies in that some reference requests are too broad (rather than a problem with the general concept of a reference request), but then we should close them as such. A focused question may very well yield only one or two references, which I think would be fine. $\endgroup$ Apr 25, 2012 at 14:50

There are some problems with the following scheme that might make it unworkable, but I feel like at least the intentions are good. Perhaps someone with more experience will recognize that this is a really bad idea, but just in case...

  1. Allow any (non-duplicate*) reference request question to live for several days/weeks, to gather several answers and votes. However, such questions are immediately protected.

  2. Questions receiving insufficient attention are closed and deleted with extreme prejudice; the default policy can be that these are interpreted as not constructive or not real questions.

  3. Questions which do receive lots of good (highly voted) answers within some time frame are then migrated to the entry's tag wiki page, under a sort of "suggested reading" section.

  4. Original question and answers are eventually closed and deleted after the migration.

    • Meaning that the "suggested reading" section of the corresponding tag wiki entry exists and has been updated recently, say, during the last 6 months.


  • People lose out on reputation for good answers;
  • Requires potentially lots of moderator/community involvement per question;
  • Something about this feels draconian, despite that not being the intent.


  • People get their references without these nasty questions lingering;
  • References are (at least as much as can be on SE) peer-reviewed;
  • There aren't all that many reference requests, anyway;
  • And having and publicizing this policy would further reduce their frequency.

To answer the title question: no reference request question is a good question for SE, IMHO. That doesn't mean it's not a good question... it just isn't right here.

  • $\begingroup$ Hm, why not keep the questions and link them from the tag wikis? That has the benefit that people can vote on references. Imagine you establish that and people start proposing tag wiki edits adding their new reference; how can we approve those if we don't know the field ourselves? $\endgroup$
    – Raphael
    Apr 25, 2012 at 16:21
  • $\begingroup$ @Raphael I see what you mean. Then again, just leaving them as questions doesn't address the problems cited by Gilles. What about protecting reference request questions, and then moderators periodically culling answers by users with under some cutoff score in the appropriate tag (say, in the top 10% for that tag, or something)? That would require more moderator effort, but it would allow experts to be the ones to provide answers, and would keep those questions from becoming noisy. Then again, such a policy might not be seen in a very positive light. $\endgroup$
    – Patrick87
    Apr 25, 2012 at 20:46

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .