Based on my answer in this question, I propose that we modify the tag placeholder text (currently "at least one tag (graduate-school note-taking science), max 5 tags") to strongly encourage the poster to provide a tag identifying the field of research being discussed:

proposed text: "must include field of research (american-history mechanical-engineering), up to four other relevant tags"

The proposed text is:

must include field of research (american-history mechanical-engineering), max 5 tags

My rationale for this change is that if the poster does not provide the field of research, 9 times out of 10 they will be asked for it in the comments immediately after posting. If they don't, then 9 times out of 10 the answer they receive will be too broad to actually help them. (I'm noticing that most people - myself included - don't realize how many fields of research there are.)

2 Answers 2


While the experience of individuals will be mostly limited to one particular field and likely a specific geographic area (e.g. Europe or U.S.A. or Australia etc.), I believe we should strive for answers that generalize across all fields and areas. Otherwise the utility of any particular question and answer is severely limited in scope.

In anecdote, so far on the site I haven't seen any general advice given by individuals in STEM fields that don't in large part apply to social sciences. In general (I suspect) were likely to find more similarities than differences.

Hopefully as the site grows differing perspectives become represented, so if pertinent differences between fields exist for any particular question they are noted, but I don't think assuming a priori that differences exist is a good idea. And forcing tags naturally perpetuates such an artificial division.


To reify my perspective in address to the comments by @eykanal and @Henry, I think it best to be more specific about what I mean when I say advice should generalize to all fields. This does not simulataneously mean the answer is broad (and purportedly unuseable)!

The vast majority of posters on the site so far are not from social science fields, yet it is difficult to come up with answers that, at least in some respects (if not entirely) are applicable to my personal experiences (criminology graduate student in the USA).

For examples of questions/answers by people not within my field, but the responses IMO would be reasonable to generalize to my field;

You could arbitrarily insert into any of these questions specific field X (e.g. "How important are my grades to the rest of my PhD career in Mathematics"), but this immediately implies that experiences in other fields are not pertinent (which is not the case). Nor are the answers to the above "too broad to be useful" because they generalize across multiple fields.

It is difficult to say much more speaking widespread about the site (so far we have all made very general statements, and we could all find anecdotal situations as evidence for our positions). But I don't see how suggesting such a tag system is benifitial to the site, and I believe it could be harmful.

Asking for clarification on questions seems to be a regular occurence across the SE sites. Although it can be annoying at times, it is not a noxious enough problem to need such a novel solution as you are presenting.

As a side note, although I understand the motivation of the original poster, the proposed usage of tags in this instance is a "meta" tag. See the SO blog post by Jeff Atwood on the subject, The Death of Meta Tags for why such tags should be avoided. Although you could probably argue for their utility in other respects, they certainly don't describe the content of the question.

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    My only hesitation is that this seems to me to be an impractical goal. People asking questions will want to have their specific question answered, and the only way to do that is to have enough information. An answer which addresses the question broadly but not specifically will decrease the usefulness of the site. While we could just regularly request that people provide more info, I think we could save time by asking up front. @henry
    – eykanal
    Commented Feb 16, 2012 at 15:05
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    My concern about asking up front is that it might cause people in other fields not to bother posting. Stackexchange is supposed to create a permanent repository of answers; today the person asking is from one field, but tomorrow it will be a different one. People shouldn't answer broadly---people should answer specifically, and we should end up with multiple answers reflecting different areas. (I also think there's some value, both to the asker and to future visitors, to having the comparison across fields.)
    – Henry
    Commented Feb 16, 2012 at 15:20
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    To paraphrase Einstein - "questions should be as broad as possible, but not broader". Sure, there are many similarities. But I would hate to have academia with questions either too general (gathering some common points, but in fact being useless for the asking person) or two specific (everything with "here is my life story, please tell me what I should do"). Surely, not always the asking person knows (or can know) about the generality (or lack of it). But if e.g. there are different answers to funding bases on US/UE then it ends up as a polling question, which is bad and counterproductive. Commented May 20, 2013 at 20:44
  • Totally agree @PiotrMigdal. IMO you should add as an answer, it is good to bring this up again, it still isn't a real settled debate and your comment is about the best perspective on the topic I can imagine (and agree with!)
    – Andy W
    Commented May 21, 2013 at 1:27

I'm inclined to agree with Andy that we'd really like to have questions which make sense across field and location, even if the answers don't. In other words, it seems more important to have answers specify the field and location, but get multiple answers reflecting different areas.

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