Introduction to reference requests

The topic of references requests has come up a few times already, for example in these questions:

The tag description for is fairly broad:

Questions seeking books, websites, articles, papers, research, or downloadable content on any topic about politics.

Yesterday, this book recommendation question was closed, reopened, then closed again. In the comment section, there was some discussion about whether such the question was off-topic because it's a book recommendation. Quoting two comments with the main opposing view points:

Welcome to Politics SE! This is a question and answer site, not a suggestion forum; book recommendations are explicitly off-topic here as they are only questions that can be answered by opinion and not hard fact. Please take the tour and visit the help center to learn more about how this site works and the kinds of questions that fit here. – Joe C

@JoeC - See, reference-request: Questions seeking books, websites, articles, papers, research, or downloadable content on any topic about politics. Feel free to retract your close vote. – Rick Smith

What should our policy be?

In this question, I'm hoping to establish some more ground rules regarding .

When are reference requests too broad?

For example, should asking for books covering a broader subject (e.g. 'foreign policy' or 'political theory') be allowed? On the other side of the scale, there are questions seeking a single reference, e.g. asking where to find the full-text version of a specific bill.

The ideal policy is probably somewhere in-between those two edge-cases so I'm wondering how the community views this matter.

3 Answers 3


What should our policy be?

Close all reference requests that do not pose an actual question to be answered. (Such questions are inconsistent with the position of Stack Exchange.)

When answering a question, the sense of [reference-request] is an addition to the question. Any source may be used to answer the question, as usual; but an effort should be made to identify a source matching the type of source requested.

From Phillip's answer at Books or articles on ... ?, Apr 20 '20, we have an expression of the position of Stack Exchange.

Requests for books or articles are not a good fit for Stack Exchange in general.

  1. Stack Exchange is generally not a good website for questions where the best answer is a matter of opinion. Which book or article is "the best" to answer a given question? That's a matter of opinion.

  2. Stack Exchange aims to be a repository for knowledge. Not an index for where more knowledge can be found. When someone has a question, then we want to answer the question on the website. We don't just want to link to off-site sources which might become outdated or even disapper from the Internet altogether.


What should our policy be?

Allow reference requests without an actual question, but require all answers to summarize why the reference satisfies the request.

The tag information for reference-request suggests such questions are permitted.

Questions seeking books, websites, articles, papers, research, or downloadable content on any topic about politics.

And, within the limitations of the tag, is consistent with the topics permitted.

What topics can I ask about here?

For purposes of this site, we define politics as:

The end result of conflicting egos working themselves out through matters of policy.

It would be rather disingenuous to permit on-topic reference requests, only to close them because they do not have an actual (specific) question to be answered.

Similar requests are permitted, within certain guidelines, on Physics SE as [resource-recommendations].

What is a resource recommendation question?

A resource recommendation question is one that asks for a resource (which can be a book, website, or other resource) to learn a topic from. It should have the [resource-recommendation] tag.

What sort of resource recommendation questions are allowed here?

Resource recommendations must ask for descriptive answers. It's not enough to ask for a list of books that cover topic X — a simple Amazon search can provide that.

Instead, you should ask for recommendations, which specify:

  • What the book covers

  • How it covers it — is it rigorous? Intuitive? How is the writer's style?

  • What are the prerequisites?

and similar questions.

Actually, this becomes more of a constraint on answers to resource recommendation questions, which brings us to the next point:

How should I answer a resource recommendation question?

If you wish to answer a resource recommendation question, the answer should be substantive, and give as much information about the book as possible. Try to explain the style of the author, as well as listing the topics it covers well and the topics which it isn't so thorough with. Try to list the prerequisites too.

  • 1
    This seems in line with what I had in mind when I wrote the question. It's still not clear from your answer though how broad the scope on a single reference-request may be. 'Recommend me good books on politics' is clearly too broad, but how much more narrow should it be for us to allow it? Are 'foreign policy' or 'political theory' (just one of those fields) specific enough to be considered in a question?
    – JJJ Mod
    Commented Jun 11, 2021 at 20:23
  • 1
    Also, you wrote two answers where you made a clear distinction: with or without a specific question. Those are clearly two categories and it could make sense to have separate tags, assuming we allow both and want a tag for both.
    – JJJ Mod
    Commented Jun 11, 2021 at 20:26
  • @JJJ - I think we get into a judgment call with whether the request is too broad. I did a narrow search, using keywords, for the prior (now deleted) question and found only one book and a book review; but could not recommend the book because I had not read it. While that question was closed as "needs more focus," I think it was fine by the above criteria, specifically, "What the book covers" and "How it covers it." The problem may be educating those with VTC privileges.
    – Rick Smith
    Commented Jun 11, 2021 at 21:03
  • Yea, one of the difficulties with such a broad scope is that users can go to Amazon, type it in as a search term, and then post most of the results. There must be thousands of books on foreign policy, so there'd be so many possible answers. That's kind of what this question is for though, where do we want to draw the line? Enforcing the line isn't that hard; simply point to the consensus on meta and then it's clear, assuming we can reach a consensus.
    – JJJ Mod
    Commented Jun 11, 2021 at 21:08

There are two situations:

  1. In my opinion, some of the questions tagged reference-request should be migrated to Meta. Those include questions looking for a book, paper, etc. In general, these questions are broad. Again, I believe, comments should be encouraged here, comments that include the answer too. I have found this idea from ELL SE Meta, where they have a tag resource-request (not reference-request). The description reads

    For questions about (links to) external resources. These are (generally) discouraged on the main site, as they attract opinion-based answers and spam, but on Meta some lists of external resources are maintained

    Some of the questions tagged reference-request here are quite similar to resource-request tagged questions in ELL SE.

    Now, there are other sites too that I use, where asking for book recommendations are allowed. Sometimes in Meta, sometimes in chat, and some allows in the main site too. Whenever a question tends to produce a "long-list", meta should be suitable.

  2. The other type could be very specific, example: fact checking, data source, etc. which might be suitable for the main site.

Justification for this answer:

  1. Are book recommendation questions acceptable on some sites but not others?
  • 3
    One of the close reasons here is “This question does not appear to be about Politics Stack Exchange or the software that powers the Stack Exchange network within the scope defined in the help center.” Migrated reference requests would fall under this category, and would be closed here too. Commented Jul 28, 2021 at 0:20

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