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More often than not, our tag wiki excerpts start with “for questions about topic so-and-so”.

How did this “for questions about...” thing come about as such a common excerpt format? Why do we use incomplete sentences to introduce tags? I'm curious about the history of this topic.

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There's a mix of factors here, some of them coincidence, some of them the effects of automated processes running on our sites.

If you look up tag descriptions on other sites you'll find lots of different formats people use, including this one and others: here's some links to tag pages on Meta Stack Exchange, Academia, Stack Overflow, Serverfault, and Game Dev. Sometimes the tag wiki defines the topic in full because you'll probably have no idea what the topic is: technical sites do this a lot, and it helps to both introduce you and clearly disambiguate the tag. Sometimes you know exactly what the topic is, you just need to know when to use the tag: Academia sees no reason to tell you what a “citation” is, it's just telling you when the tag does and doesn't apply.

Personally when I'm adding a tag wiki for a new game system, I'll lean toward the former: “{Full name of game system} is a {brief summary} released by {developer} in {year}.” helps introduce and disambiguate. But I'll default to the latter if you probably already know what the word in the tag means in our context.

There's also specific reasons this specific format shows up so much though, and that brings us to the magic of: automated sentence trimming bots! 🤖

Automated processes trim excess wording from the front of tag wiki excerpts

Stack Exchange values signal to noise, and tag descriptions don't have much space, so automated jobs will come along and annihilate excessive wording patterns at the start of tag descriptions. Some of the patterns that were targeted as of 2011 are described here, and they still today include phrases like “This tag is ...” or “Use this tag ...” or “The tag-name-here tag is ...”

Just for a test, I edited the tag description to this a few minutes ago, adding “this tag is for” at the start, plus “test” at the end so I knew when things had been updated properly:

"This tag is for questions about a setting's in-world details or background, test.

The string was immediately trimmed on our tags page, even though it still said the full text on the tag page:

the same tag wiki, but starting with "for questions about ..."

A little while went by before anything else that happened, and then I noticed my tag revision was changed in-place to remove “this tag is ...” from the start of my revision entirely. Apparently this only happens for tags on the first page(s?) of our popular tags.

a screenshot of the tag revision history with no evidence of my edit

I appreciate that the automated task that trimmed the text also ensured the first letter was capitalised, and that it updated the edit summary. You might see what this robotic change left us with: the famous “for questions about” format. Other common sentence beginnings also leave us with this format.

So the reason we use incomplete sentences is ... there's limited space, and mindless automatons will come along and chop a tag description in half if need be and create incomplete sentences to keep us using that space efficiently.

Like follows like

The final bit: when you're not sure what to do for a tag description, what do you do? Probably you'll visit the first page of tag wikis, look to them for an example, and follow their lead.

This means because we have so many tags following formats like this, we'll see other tags following their lead unprompted.

While the automated system that changes your revisions only works on the front few pages, the tag page will always trim out excess wording from the front, and the tag page is what you'll be looking at for a point of reference here.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Thank you for the write-up and revision :) \$\endgroup\$ – Akixkisu Mar 31 at 12:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Akixkisu Awesome. I've updated the first paragraph accordingly. Thanks for clarifying that with me. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Mar 31 at 13:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ "I appreciate it re-capitalised the first letter and updated the edit summary." - I'm having trouble parsing the start of this sentence. I assume "appreciate" was autocorrected from some other word here? \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Mar 31 at 20:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ @V2Blast I added some words. Hopefully that's clearer! \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Mar 31 at 20:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ Ah, thanks, that is clearer. Also: Thanks for clarifying! I didn't even know those automated processes existed. I guess that explains why so many tag wikis/excerpts follow this same sort of format :) \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Mar 31 at 20:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ @V2Blast I'd totally forgotten about them until I started writing this answer! The robotic training mechanisms worked well enough we were just doing this stuff anyway. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Apr 1 at 10:46
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I don't know if this is how it started, but it may have been partly my doing/continued by me...

A lot of the tag wikis I have seen previously just described the subject of the tag - that is, the thing the tag is named after (e.g. an RPG, or the concept of metagaming, or characters, etc.) - rather than detailing how the tag is meant to be used (e.g. for questions mainly about a certain topic, such as questions primarily relating to a certain RPG, or primarily relating to metagaming). And so I've edited at least some of those tag wikis/excerpts to emphasize the tag itself (rather than just, e.g., the RPG/class/concept/etc. that the tag is named after).

Naturally, this alone doesn't solve the issue of tags being (sometimes) used incorrectly, and there's no need for them to be sentence fragments - it just happened to be how I ended up rewriting some of the tag wikis. (And I think I largely haven't edited the tag wikis just to make that change - it's usually that I'm already editing the tag wiki to try and improve it, so I also make that change while I'm there.)

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