Some questions, like this one get closed as Shopping Questions. But the OP, here, was asking how to get something done, not for a list of things. So, my view is that isn't really a shopping question at all.

However, we don't have (as some others do) a tag for resource-request, which might form a different category of acceptable question.

But one difficulty, if providing this category is considered valuable, is to make it known or to somehow "map" close requests into resource requests.

What do folks think about such questions that are "not quite" shopping but ask for ways to do things? I would, personally, like to find a way to allow them for the benefit of the OP but in a way that avoids "listy" answers.

Here is another "Listy" question that doesn't seem to be attracting "shopping" close votes. But it certainly has no "best" answer. Would a new tag "resource-request" be appropriate for such things?

Yet another question. This one is being flagged for closure, but it is about devices for doing academic work. Certainly "listy" and certainly about buying things. But not about academic programs and their comparisons.

  • 1
    Mind that while the title of that specific question is about how, this is absent from the body. Also, when asking about how, all the subject-specific details don’t matter.
    – Wrzlprmft Mod
    Aug 9, 2021 at 17:26
  • @Wrzlprmft There have been some others recently that probably fit the pattern better, but I don't know a way to search for them effectively.
    – Buffy
    Aug 9, 2021 at 18:45
  • @Wrzlprmft, see my edits (last paragraph) for another example.
    – Buffy
    Aug 9, 2021 at 20:52
  • Your second question is opinion based as there are many valid answers. Aug 10, 2021 at 0:00
  • This is a great question. On searching for the phrase "where can I find", one can find many examples of closed as well as open questions. I don't see any prominent differences between many of the questions in the two categories, so having a clear policy may be useful.
    – GoodDeeds
    Aug 10, 2021 at 0:20
  • @Buffy: While we may debate whether the second example is too broad or opinionated, it is not a shopping question, as the asker cannot possibly want to “buy” the answer, i.e., make a career decision (or similar) based on it. Individual (historical) researchers are not on the list of shoppable things. (Mind that I am not picking on your examples because I want to sabotage this discussion, but experience shows that if examples are not representative, this tends to derail such questions.)
    – Wrzlprmft Mod
    Aug 10, 2021 at 5:38
  • @Wrzlprmft: My current worry, then, is that "shopping question" is poorly understood in general even given this, resulting in somewhat inconsistent voting. My initial understanding (now improved, I hope) was that anything "listy" was shopping. Perhaps we just need a better way to make these distinctions.
    – Buffy
    Aug 10, 2021 at 15:07

3 Answers 3


I would suggest that programming answers in StackOverflow provide a good guideline here.

If the question can be well-formed as "How do I do X?", then while there may be many ways to do X, there will generally only be a small number of really good ways to do it, which fits the SE format nicely. In this case, the question may still fail due to being overly specific or too shopping-oriented.

Take the first example from above, which I will paraphrase:

"How do I find the names of all Asian institutions that offer post graduate programs in computational linguistics? By the way, I already know the standard answers to this question, but they aren't good enough for my purposes."

I don't think this fails as a shopping question, since it's asking for a resource. However, I believe that it does fail the "individual factors" criteria because it's asking for a resource that is too specific and unlikely to exist.

If the question really needs a list, however, then it's just a bad fit for the SE format. Taking the second example from above, which I will paraphrase:

What academic researchers published very few scientific articles (say, less than twenty) but exerted large influences on their fields of study? Also, I already know that Gauss is one of them.

If this was "Are there any...?" or "Is there a list of...?" then it would be a good fit, because a single good answer is possible. As it is, however, it is a bad fit because there is an open-ended set of possible answers with no particular way to tell which are better than one another. I wouldn't call it a "shopping question" (since there's no choice involved), but would probable use either "needs clarity" or a custom reason.

  • I do not see how "is there a list of X" is, in this context, different from "could you please list X". Obviously, for a mathematician or computer scientist these are formally very different questions but the intent of the person asking the question is usually the same. Should we really be so harsh and allow option 1 but not 2?
    – Louic
    Aug 11, 2021 at 20:10
  • 1
    @Louic There is a major difference because the first can be answered with a single pointer to a well-curated source, while the second is an attempt to build that source on Academia.SE, for which the site is not well-suited.
    – jakebeal
    Aug 11, 2021 at 20:16
  • I agree that the functionality of the site does not facilitate the creation of "community edited lists". But does that mean we should not attempt to do so anyway if it can help people? (provided it is deemed reasonable/appropriate for the given question)
    – Louic
    Aug 11, 2021 at 20:18
  • 1
    The consensus seems to be "only in special cases", c.f.: academia.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/4516/…
    – jakebeal
    Aug 11, 2021 at 21:26
  • I agree with the "only in special cases" consensus, but not with the part of your answer that states there is a fundamental difference between the two different formulations to what is (in my eyes) the same question, hence my first comment.
    – Louic
    Aug 11, 2021 at 21:30

I flagged to close the 3rd question regarding electronic devices (What is the best e-Ink device for academic paper reading and hand annotation?) as a shopping question. Your question regarding it seems reasonable to me, but I still feel fairly confident about calling it a shopping question. Whether we should necessarily add a specific item to the rule enumeration to cover the eventuality, I'm more ambivalent on. More detailed reasoning below.

In the first instance, it's fair to say that our enumerated shopping question examples (Why was my question put on hold for shopping?) don't clearly include "physical goods or products". I think those should also be prohibited within the spirit of the rule. There are, to my view, better places on the internet to debate or discuss the merit of specific product purchases.

I think the specific example we're discussing typifies an intrinsic issue: "shopping question" and "opinion-based" have quite a lot of overlap. So there's often a question of which reason to go with. My understanding is that "shopping question" as a reason renders no implicit verdict on whether one can obtain an objective answer to the question. As such, it is often my default reason over "opinion-based" where it applies. In this particular case, my lack of familiarity with the products in the question pushed me away from "opinion based".

As another example, consider this hypothetical question that I think largely mirrors the example we're discussing but even more clearly fits within Academia.SE's wheelhouse:

I've done extensive research on chalk. Which is the higher quality chalk: Hagoromo or Crayola?

It seems to me reasonable people may legitimately disagree about whether this question can be answered in an objective fashion, i.e. there may be quibbling over whether it should be put on hold for being "opinion based". But I think calling it a shopping question would prove uncontroversial.

Our prohibition on shopping questions has always struck me as philosophical. I support it, but think it's somewhat in opposition to a collegiate/academic paradigm of "open discussion". It's not that shopping questions are unreasonable, not answerable, or answers not potentially useful. It's that we've collectively decided that their cost outweighs their benefit in this format.


But the OP, here, was asking how to get something done, not for a list of things.

That is not true. It says:

How do I find the names of all...

This is clearly a request for a list, which is not permitted (I do not make the rules.) Asking for a method of getting a particular list is the same as asking for the list.

  • 1
    Actually, it is a request for how to generate the list. Not for the list itself.
    – Buffy
    Aug 10, 2021 at 0:02
  • @Buffy You seem to be viewing my edits on a delay. Aug 10, 2021 at 0:03
  • 1
    Sorry, I don't understand. "delay"?
    – Buffy
    Aug 10, 2021 at 0:04
  • 1
    I disagree with your last sentence. One is asking how to solve a problem. The other is asking for the solution.
    – Buffy
    Aug 10, 2021 at 0:11
  • Intent is clearly the same. Aug 10, 2021 at 0:20
  • 3
    Sorry, but this, which seems pretty official seems to contradict your assertion. In particular, not all answers would be "equally valid".
    – Buffy
    Aug 10, 2021 at 15:03

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