According to a discussion I had in the comments on this SO question, it seems that asking for a list of book recommendations is verboten on Programmers.

The site's FAQ gives me the opposite impression. To me, as long as it's asking for recommendations a topic like the ones listed in the bullet list under "What kind of questions can I ask here?":

  • algorithm and data structure concepts
  • design patterns
  • developer testing
  • development methodologies
  • freelancing and business concerns
  • quality assurance
  • software architecture
  • software engineering
  • software licensing

then it seems like that should be fine. It seems to me like a constructive type of question, and doesn't seem to violate the guidelines on what counts as a "constructive subjective question". A good book recommendation would include some explanation for why it's being recommended, which would make it right in line with the list of 6 characteristics to look for in the kinds of answers that a constructive subjective question should inspire.

Apparently what's supposed to tell me that the opposite is true is the sentence, "Chatty, open-ended questions diminish the usefulness of our site and push other questions off the front page." That doesn't communicate it to me, either. To me, asking about books related to a certain topic doesn't seem open-ended at all. After all, there's a defined topic being asked about.

So I'd like to suggest that the FAQ be clarified a bit. Perhaps an extra bullet point could be added to the list of things a question should not be about up at the top of the page? Perhaps something along the lines of

  • Recommendations for learning resources, technologies, etc.

2 Answers 2


Book suggestions are adequately outlined between the What about suggestive questions and the What kind of questions should I not ask here sections. The 6 suggested guidelines:

inspire answers that explain “why” and “how”.

Book recommendations don't fit this based on experience of what answers they generate.

tend to have long, not short, answers.

Again book recommendations to to have very short "this book was good" type answers and worse link only answers.

have a constructive, fair, and impartial tone.

Book recommendations are generally OK on this point.

invite sharing experiences over opinions.

Book recommendations fail this point as it is mostly opinion based answers.

insist that opinion be backed up with facts and references.

Book recommendations fail this as well answers reflect popular opinion not anything that could be cited.

are more than just mindless social fun.

Book recommendations are OK here.

So 4 out of 6 of the guidelines are a no, furthermore there is this Stack Exchange blog post that further clarifies these guidelines, which is also linked in the FAQ. More reading about book recommendations. There are some ways to post book recommendations though.

  • 1
    The first two 'no's, though, are based on experience that Stack Exchange veterans have observed. Like I said in my comment, a reasonable a priori assumption (at least to people like me) is that book recommendations would be 'yes'es on those two points. Bringing the tally to 4 yes and 2 no. Shouldn't the FAQ be or newcomers, and therefore not rely the assumption that someone reading it would have pre-existing knowledge of how these things have worked out in the past?
    – Sean U
    Commented Aug 1, 2012 at 21:53
  • 1
    @SeanU if the rule was absolutely no books recommendations it would make sense to put it in the FAQ, but its more of a grey area that would be a long and complicated addition to the FAQ, and our FAQ is pretty long already.
    – Ryathal
    Commented Aug 2, 2012 at 12:22
  • So what's an example of a book recommendation that's okay, and an example of one that's not okay, and what's the difference? Surely the guidelines can be explained in a way that makes sense to the intended reader and not just the author.
    – Sean U
    Commented Aug 2, 2012 at 15:13
  • @SeanU See the Meta FAQ entry for Book Recommendations. Basically if your question will produce a list of everyone's favourite book, its off topic, but if it will elicit the title of the book on a topic then its OK. The difference is the first doesn't have a single right answer, while the second does.
    – Rachel
    Commented Aug 2, 2012 at 15:33
  • @SeanU here are some examples, I added this link to my answer as well.
    – Ryathal
    Commented Aug 2, 2012 at 15:37
  • 2
    ChrisF's comment on the Meta FAQ entry is very succinct and clear. I'm sure it could be made even more succinct for inclusion in the FAQ, rather than being left hidden in a response to a Meta question on the FAQ.
    – Sean U
    Commented Aug 2, 2012 at 15:54

Yes, I think something should be in the FAQ explicitly stating that questions asking for broad recommendations are not allowed on this site.

I see many questions getting closed because they're asking for a broad recommendation, such as book topics, framework advice, shopping advice, etc.

Since they all get closed for being a broad recommendation, it makes more sense to explicitly state in the faq that broad recommendations are off-topic here, and not try to list every type of broad recommendation in its own bullet point.

Adding such a line would actually shorten our faq a bit too, which is always a good thing since its so long already.

and it is not about...

  • general workplace issues, office politics, résumé help (check out The Workplace instead),
  • implementation issues or programming tools (ask on Stack Overflow instead),
  • broad recommendations, such as what language/technology you should learn next, what book you should read, or what project you should do next
  • career advice, salary or compensation,
  • personal lifestyle, including relationships, and non-programming activities
  • Where's "including which technology is better"? I like the "broad recommendations" bullet, but "including which technology is better" is more of a "broad comparison" thing than a "broad recommendation".
    – yannis
    Commented Aug 2, 2012 at 15:24
  • @YannisRizos I had simply combined it in the first example: "what language/*technology* you should learn next", although you're right that it addresses "what should I learn next" and not "what is better". Perhaps that could be rephrased a bit, like "broad recommendations or comparisons, such as what language you should learn next, which technology is better, what book you should read, or what project you should do next"
    – Rachel
    Commented Aug 2, 2012 at 15:31
  • 1
    Hm, I see them as different things, broad recommendations are "tell me what to use/read", broad comparisons are "foo vs bar", don't know how easy they are to combine. Perhaps two bullets instead of one?
    – yannis
    Commented Aug 2, 2012 at 15:33
  • 1
    @YannisRizos That would work. We could also just leave the "what technology is better" line in the off-topic list, since the majority of off-topic comparisons that get asked are which technology is better :)
    – Rachel
    Commented Aug 2, 2012 at 15:34
  • Hm, now that's interesting, we should sit down, examine our closures, see what the actual percentages are (foo vs bar is probably the majority) and re-arrange our off topic list based on hard data.
    – yannis
    Commented Aug 2, 2012 at 15:37

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