It's been a while since these have been looked at, but I think that it's appropriate to revisit the issue.

Right now, we have two custom close reasons that are very similar to one another in scope:

Questions that cannot be generalized to apply to others in similar situations are off-topic. For assistance in writing questions that can apply to multiple people facing similar situations, see: What kinds of questions are too localized?


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.

I can't see any situation in which one of these could apply, but the other couldn't.

[The other close reason is the often overused "Undergraduate" reason.]

Personally, I find myself using a variant on the "shopping question" tag a lot more frequently. I would recommend replacing one of the tags above with something such as:

We cannot offer recommendations or rankings of specific programs, courses, universities, or other similar requests, as these are primarily opinion-based.

  • 1
    Can we, once the dust on this discussion has settled (has it by now?) include a link to this discussion as in "For more information, click here" in the new close reason(s)? Commented May 21, 2015 at 8:56
  • The new "shopping questions" close reason has been live for a little over two weeks, and it seems to be quite well used: of 97 question closed in the last 14 days, 15 have been "shopping questions."
    – jakebeal
    Commented Jun 7, 2015 at 16:02
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    Given how often I was manually typing in variants of the "shopping" excuse, such a result does not surprise me at all.
    – aeismail
    Commented Jun 7, 2015 at 20:22
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    Now that I've had the status to vote on closing questions for a while, I felt I had to follow this link for the explanation of why shopping questions are disallowed. To be honest, I don't find it satisfactory. I agree that someone saying "please tell me all the departments that do X" would be bad. But someone saying "please recommend a book that will help me with X" seems like a perfectly fine question to raise here, and it's inevitably shut down. Commented Jul 21, 2017 at 21:46
  • @FredDouglis: If X is something related to academic practice, then it makes to consider it. However, if it’s a request specific to someone’s research, then it’s still off-topic. Resource questions about grant writing should be OK, but resource questions asking for data sets aren’t.
    – aeismail
    Commented Nov 27, 2017 at 20:44
  • I guess it depends on how broadly you interpret academic practice.... Commented Nov 27, 2017 at 22:12

2 Answers 2


I second that there is no need to distinguish between cannot be generalized and very specific advice and would like to suggest the following new wording for the close reason to compise them both:

The answer to this question strongly depends on individual factors such as a certain person’s preferences, a given institution’s regulations, the exact contents of your work or your personal values. Thus only somebody familiar with these can answer this question and it cannot be generalised to apply to others.

I chose to phrase it like this as many cases it should give the asker a strong hint where they can find an answer to their question, namely:

  • a certain person’s preferences → ask that person (in most cases: the advisor) or or somebody who knows them.
  • a given institution’s regulations → ask that university.
  • the exact contents of your work → ask somebody who is familiar with your work, namely your supervisor, colleagues or yourself.
  • your personal values → ask yourself, e.g., as to how much risk you are willing to take.

I also second the demand for a shopping question and suggest the following wording:

Shopping questions, i.e., questions that seek individual universities, academic programs, publishers, journals, research topics or similar as an answer or seek an assessment or comparison of such, are off-topic.

I chose this wording to slightly expand the scope (in comparison to the existing suggestions) and explicitly include such cases, where the asker is not explicitly asking for a recommendation but only for the existence of a program (but implicitly wishes recommendation). This should reduce certain complaints made by the asker (“I wasn’t asking for a recomendation, I just wanted to know if …”) I have witnessed quite often.

Also, at the end of the day, many close reasons (such as this) exist due to problem arising from the answers. Defining the problem via the answers directly addresses the problem and makes the close reason specific to what it needs to be specfic about.

  • I like your phrasing better than mine.
    – jakebeal
    Commented May 17, 2015 at 22:14
  • I think your first close reason does a nice job of combining the two close reasons. It just seems to me that the shopping question close reason is covered by your new close reason since shopping depends on personal preference and is therefore an individual factor.
    – StrongBad
    Commented May 19, 2015 at 9:47
  • @StrongBad: While this is true in some cases, there are shopping questions that can be generalised and are asking for somewhat objective criteria and are in particular not covered by the first close reason (see also Jakebeal’s answer), for example: “Which has a higher reputation? Castrop-Rauxel University or the Buxtehude Institute of Technology?”; “Is there a university in Liechtenstein which offers a degree in llama wrangling?”; “Which is the most-cited journal that covers llama wrangling?”.
    – Wrzlprmft Mod
    Commented May 19, 2015 at 13:02
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    @StrongBad: Moreover, when we close shopping reasons with the first reason, askers will go and somewhat objectify them. Then the first close reason does not apply anymore, but the question is still off-topic. This is bound to lead to some confusion and disappointment.
    – Wrzlprmft Mod
    Commented May 19, 2015 at 13:08
  • @Wrzlprmft sounds reasonable.
    – StrongBad
    Commented May 19, 2015 at 13:32
  • It’s nice to see my suggestions implemented, but the first reason reads “Thus only someone familiar can answer this question …” thus lacking with these. While this does not make a big difference in most cases, it does in cases regarding a certain institution’s regulations or similar.
    – Wrzlprmft Mod
    Commented May 26, 2015 at 8:45

I absolutely concur with the assessment that "cannot be generalized" and "very specific advice" are largely redundant.

If we are to do away with one of the two, I would suggest removing "cannot be generalized" because I find myself using the other very often for "Hi, here's my situation, help?" questions.

I also like the idea of a "no shopping questions" close reason, which I would suggest to tweak to:

Suggestions or recommendations or comparison of specific universities, journal, research topics, etc (i.e., "shopping questions") are off-topic.

Mainly, I am suggesting we drop the 'primarily opinion-based' wording from your original suggestion for the "no shopping questions" reason because that is setting us up for argument that some distinctions are not just matters of opinion. Instead, I think it is OK to simply say that we do not do this as a matter of policy, since there are many good reasons to do so (opinion, "taking sides," unprofessionalism, tendency to gossip, overly broad libel laws, etc.)

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    We can't drop "opinion-based," as that is a systemwide default reason. The only three custom reasons are the ones mentioned above (can't be generalized, specific situation, undergraduates).
    – aeismail
    Commented May 16, 2015 at 4:15
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    @aeismail Sorry if my text was unclear: i didn't mean the close reason, I meant the bit where you said we don't do shopping questions because they are opinion-based.
    – jakebeal
    Commented May 16, 2015 at 5:36

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