[Headnote: in a few places I think linked examples would be nice, but I can neither think of nor find good ones. These are indicated by a "()" after a phrase. Please feel free to plug one in if you think of it. Thanks.]

The State of Tool-Recommendation

Many questions come to us which presume the existence of a tool which will solve the querent's problem. These questions are often problematic: often XY problems, often too broad, often primarily opinion-based(). These, and more, are the reason that recommendation ("shopping") questions are non grata in all of the SE sites().

Until recently RPG.SE had an explicit, local policy allowing for recommendation questions. This policy was recently debated in meta--largely in the context of the game-recommendation tag--and revoked. It appears that many users did not realize that removing the (local) policy allowing game-rec questions--the larger "allow recommendation questions" policy--would also be the undoing of tool-rec questions.

I confess to being one of those surprised by tool-rec questions losing the support of the now-defunct "allow recommendation questions" policy. I had followed the conversation with my eye toward game-rec questions. I also confess that had I understood better at the time the "allow recommendation questions" policy that ramification might have been obvious. (Though maybe not.) Yes, the policy that allowed for game-recs also supported tool-recs; tool-recs thus lost their support when game-recs did.

Nevertheless, from the answers and comments to many of the above-linked and from recent meta discussions we see that there is a desire in this community to provide assistance to these querents.

Cribbing largely from meta discussions had at softwarerecs.SE--pointed out by @AngleoFuchs--I put forth the following proposal:

Tool-Recommendation Question Guidelines (Proposed 10/2015)

Recognize that successful Tool-Recommendation questions contain two essential components: a goal to accomplish and a set of requirements to be met.

Question Content must describe - the task you're doing when you find yourself having trouble; the "user story"

  • ways in which your current 'solution' succeeds and fails--what it does and doesn't do

  • other things you've tried

  • what you hope to achieve--a desired feature list

  • what you absolutely do not want--things that would cause you to reject a solution untried

  • what level of tech is acceptable/allowable: pen-and-paper, laptops, online, must run on phone-only, &c.

  • what budget you have

Recommended Question Format:

  • "What is the best tool to ?" Is to be avoided. Prefer "How can I ?"
  • Don't say you're looking for a replacement for X; tell us what you do with X that you're hoping to do differently/better.
  • Feature requirements should be listed in order of importance, with a clear distinction drawn between must-haves and gee-that-would-be-nices.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I don't believe we should be following this up by proposing policies in questions, let alone questions we've posted only to post a self-answer rejecting the policy therein. I've taken more than long enough to post the question I'd said I would, which opens this up to open discussion where policy can be proposed as answers. I'm voting to close this as a dupe of that. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 23, 2015 at 4:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ After some thought, I added my close vote to @doppelgreener's - while this post is well written and reasoned, it would be cleaner to have a clear question post so that the meaning of votes is clearer. That said, I think the answer you gave here is excellent and should be ported over post-haste. \$\endgroup\$
    – Miniman
    Oct 23, 2015 at 5:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ If that answer's brought to my question, please do take care to address the nature of the question I asked in the process. It will probably need some rewriting. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 23, 2015 at 6:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ @doppelgreener absolutely--sorry to have jumped into the fray before you. I'll VtC, too. I don't have time today to take much of a look at yours and bring over my answer, but it'll happen soon. \$\endgroup\$
    – nitsua60 Mod
    Oct 23, 2015 at 11:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ @nitsua60 It's fine, I should've posted that question way earlier. There's a lot of fray to jump into and it was asking for something to happen. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 23, 2015 at 11:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ Feel free and post this as an answer on the other question. \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Oct 26, 2015 at 3:45

1 Answer 1


My answer:


I've come around on this one during the last two weeks. I initially was very surprised to see tool-rec questions' ground fall out from under them; I'd not understood the rec-policy well enough while discussing game-rec to understand both would fall.

But a week of reflection and reading has convinced me that an explicit exception to the recommendation ban is unnecessary. In particular, TuggyNE's link to (an answer to) Why are "shopping list" questions bad? helped me see how much better a hypothetical tool-rec question becomes if simply cast as a problem-question. I.e. a "How can I do this?" question rather than a "What's the best tool to do this?"

I haven't had any sort of privileges long enough to understand why and how the exception it's a bad thing; but I assume good faith and believe those longer-time users who say it's a lot of work to curate/moderate.

I believe we can still help those querents get good answers, inherently improve the questions, and make less work for mods, by rejecting a tool-rec exception to the rec-ban. (Or creating a new local permission for tool-rec questions, however you like to think of it.)

My takeaway:

A tool-rec can still be part of an answer; it shouldn't be a requirement in the question.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Feel free and post this as an answer on the other question. \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Oct 26, 2015 at 3:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ @mxyzplk Honestly, I just re-read your answer on the live question and re-read mine. Mine only looks (to me) like a poorer-supported, less well-described, version of yours. I'm inclined to delete mine, as I think it doesn't really add anything to that conversation. Or do you think it's useful having a little "weight of numbers," or having the same argument made from a different perspective? \$\endgroup\$
    – nitsua60 Mod
    Oct 26, 2015 at 13:25
  • \$\begingroup\$ Either way, just vote unless you have something different to add, but similar-not-quite-identical answers are fine esp on meta... \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Oct 26, 2015 at 14:47

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