Given that we get a lot of "shopping questions" that we have decided are off-topic, should we create a custom off-topic close reason along those lines?

For instance, we could have a reason such as:

Shopping questions asking for recommendations for specific programs and universities are considered off-topic on Academia.SE.

Note that we can only have 3 custom off-topic close reasons, currently they are "cannot be generalized", "undergraduate", and "specific advice". If you want a new reason, please also mention which reason it should replace/modify.

  • I think the site needs such close-reason tags, because not only will help the users to find why the question is closed; but also the asker will have the chance to see other questions like his question and understand why his question is closed. Despite the moderation benefits this tag (and also similar tags) has, it will help users (specially newer users) to become more familiar with the website policies.
    – enthu
    Commented Aug 23, 2014 at 15:09

4 Answers 4


I agree that currently, there is no single close reason that applies universally to shopping questions.

  • Sometimes they are too localized or seek specific advice for a very specific situation ("Here is my profile, what university should I attend?") but not always.
  • Sometimes they are too broad or have too many potential answers ("I want to do an M.S. in Computer Science, which universities should I apply to?") but not always.
  • Sometimes they are opinion based ("What are the best departments for this subfield?") but not always.
  • Sometimes they are none of these things, but just straight-up shopping ("Is there an inexpensive online MS in CS that's a reputable degree?")

I often find myself closing shopping questions with "off topic"->"Other (add comment)" and writing out a comment with a link to this meta post. I would very much like to see a "real" close reason for shopping questions.

I would suggest to replace the undergrad close reason, since I find myself closing "shopping" questions a lot more often than undergrad questions.


In general, I'm happy to close with "This question appears to be off-topic because it seems to seek specific advice for a very specific situation, and it's likely that only someone with a good understanding of your situation will be able to provide an objectively correct answer. We would recommend to first ask the question to people with a good understanding of your situation."

  • 1
    Many such questions are not asking for specific advice, but very general recommendations. For instance, academia.stackexchange.com/questions/27436/… just asks "What are good schools in chemical engineering", not "what are good schools for me" (even though that's probably what she should be trying to find out). Of course, it could certainly be closed as "too broad" or "opinion based" (I voted the latter). Commented Aug 20, 2014 at 22:41
  • @NateEldredge: That's a good point, but I guess that the reason "opinion-based" is enough for that particular question (and I believe the question of a general ranking for schools is not necessarily a shopping list, but can ask for objective rankings, as pointed out by aeismail. That question was nevertheless asking for subjective input).
    – user102
    Commented Aug 22, 2014 at 10:29

I don't think we need a closure reason, but we could modify the help center to make this cleaner so that when we suggest people look at the help center there is a clear example.


As a lower rep user I try to flag off-topic questions as much as I can. Of the ones that I believe to be shopping questions I usually flag in the other for moderators attention box with a note saying I think it's a shopping question. I am not sure if I am putting undue work on to the moderators by doing it this way. I think either a close reason as per aeismail's suggestion might be a good idea or alternatively a community decision on using one of the other closing reasons for such questions.

  • When I was a mod, I would usually decline this kind of flags. Not because they are wrong, but because I believed that the community must take care of this kind of questions, and should not necessarily wait for a mod to close them. At the end of beta, we had at least 55 users who could cast a close vote, that should be enough for questions that do not require urgent intervention.
    – user102
    Commented Aug 22, 2014 at 10:27
  • @CharlesMorisset I didn't know the mod had sole decision on a question flagged this way. I agree with the sentiment that it's better that the community takes care of these questions. I'll be wary of flagging by moderator attention in future. As an aside I was one of those user that lost my close vote privileges after beta.
    – gman
    Commented Aug 22, 2014 at 10:37
  • I'm not saying my behaviour was optimal, I was just giving my perspective :) If the other mods welcome such flags, please keep going!
    – user102
    Commented Aug 22, 2014 at 12:31
  • 2
    Flagging a question as "needs ♦ moderator attention" because it is potentially off-topic is not generally desirable behaviour (cf. academia.stackexchange.com/help/privileges/flag-posts) since it only alerts diamond mods to the issue. Much better is a down vote and comment or mentioning it on chat to call attention to all high rep users. The best would be to post a few more high quality questions and answers and get your vote to close privileges back.
    – StrongBad
    Commented Aug 22, 2014 at 15:08

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