I only saw the "Good Subjective, Bad Subjective" warning next to book recommendation questions. Do they form an exception? For example this question is a "recommendation"-kind, which is indeed not a good fit for Q&A, but then again, so aren't book recommendation questions (you can't really select a single good answer).

  • It should be noted that the question you linked is now "locked", and the locked description reads: This question exists because it has historical significance, but it is not considered a good, on-topic question for this site, so please do not use it as evidence that you can ask similar questions here.
    – Rachel
    Jun 1, 2012 at 15:13
  • That happened after I asked this question. Jun 4, 2012 at 21:14

3 Answers 3


The key here is that we don't want a list of everyone's favourite book. What we want is the question to bring out the book on a given topic.

This means that the the question has to be specific and to the point so:

What's the best book for networking?

would be closed whereas:

What book will help me with X?

where "X" is something specific and clear cut.

  • "The book" - does this mean that if there is more than one good book (for example "Book for C++ UDP networking in computer games") it is deemed to be closed? Or is the "clear cut" rule stronger, meaning that it might be acceptable to keep it despite more than one good answer? If so, how do you differentiate between cases when the question is too vague and cases where there is simply more than one good book? Feb 29, 2012 at 9:49
  • 1
    @TamásSzelei - I suppose there could be two or three good books - but that's getting into "not constructive" territory. The problem is not that these are intrinsically "bad" questions - just that they are bad fits for the Stack Exchange model where there's supposed to be one answer that's right.
    – ChrisF Mod
    Feb 29, 2012 at 9:52
  • Thanks, I think I grasp it now. Feb 29, 2012 at 10:10

ask us what you need to learn to tell what you should buy...

To me, the most enlightening guidance on asking and answering recommendation type questions appears to be one given in Q&A is Hard, Let’s Go Shopping!

...consider the voluminous amount of information you need to even begin properly answering...

Let’s say the question asker provided all that information. Fat chance, I know, but let’s pretend for a moment they did — and we were able to provide the perfect, ideal shopping recommendation to them. Even if that was the case, technology moves so rapidly that the best shopping recommendations will be utterly obsolete within a year! What’s the point of a bunch of labor intensive questions that provide only temporary benefit to a limited (some might say Too Localized) audience? There isn’t any...

... there is a way to ask these questions that avoids the inherent problems with shopping recommendations. For example, let’s say you wanted — as I did — to buy a point-and-shoot camera that takes good low light photos. So we’re going to ask on photo.stackexchange.com, naturally!

Here’s one way to ask:

Q: What’s the best low light point-and-shoot camera?

...Here’s another way to ask:

Q: How do I tell which point-and-shoot cameras take good low light photos?

...The former question provides the path of least resistance: a laundry list of products I can buy without thinking about it too much. But that answer will only be valid for a year at best. The latter question may take some thinking, but its answer will be valid forever … or at least until camera technology somehow shifts beyond lenses and sensors as we know them today. Thus, when it comes to shopping questions, don’t ask us what you should buy — ask us what you need to learn to tell what you should buy...


We welcome some book recommendations, as described in the accepted answer on "Are book recommendations on-topic?" (emphasis mine):

I would say that like "what language should I learn" questions, questions that effectively ask for a list of books on X should be closed as "not constructive".

However, like programming language questions, if you have specialised requirements (you want to go into LINQ, or networking, or.. in great depth) then perhaps those should be allowed. They should inspire answers that explain why a book is good for this topic and shouldn't just produce a list of everyone's favourite.

On book questions that we feel are borderline there are two equally valid options:

  1. Add the "good subjective - bad subjective" warning and hope for the best,
  2. Close the question as not constructive.

If the question is getting down / close votes, flags, or very bad answers (think: just a link), option 2 is the better choice. The process is about the same for every borderline question and it's always a judgement call.

  • Are there other kinds of questions that are not book recommendations, not good Q&A format, yet can stay (perhaps with said warning)? Feb 29, 2012 at 9:18
  • The warning is not supposed to be used to save a question from closing. There are a few questions that were re-opened after copious community effort to salvage them (revising the question, removing irrelevant answers etc), and the warning was added to warn future answerers to think twice before adding crap answers. But just the warning, without the aforementioned community effort, will not keep a question open.
    – yannis
    Feb 29, 2012 at 9:24

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