It's been assumed that questions about resources are off-topic because they aren't questions about the language per se.

Here's an example:

The following Meta.ELU question looks like a duplicate (of this Meta question), but it's not:

That question asks whether questions about resources are on-topic, but I'm interested to know where a visitor would look to know that 'resource' questions are off-topic (if indeed they are). The accepted answer there recommends asking at Writers.SE, but the attempt to do so was apparently rebuffed.

The following Meta.ELU question also looks promising:

It was answered by a current mod (although he wasn't one at the time the answer was proffered), and offers the opinion that 'resource' questions are on topic. He prefers that they be asked on Main, but concedes that by the time he joined EL&U, the decision had already been made that 'resource' questions should be asked on Meta rather than Main. However, that answer doesn't indicate what standard documents (FAQ, for example) a visitor could browse to know that 'resource' questions are off-topic on Main.

Where in the documents accessible from the question-mark menu does it indicate that questions requesting resources are off-topic on Main.ELU or Meta.ELU?

It's no good pointing to a consensus on Meta.ELU because that would be like looking for a needle in a needle stack for new visitors. A consensus answer on Meta.SE would be even worse - the visitor might not even be aware of that particular needle stack.

  • Your second ref looks right to me, it has been upvoted a lot. (your first one about writers seems crazy and has been downvoted a lot, which is rare for meta). – Mitch Aug 14 '18 at 18:36
  • Also note the top voted What good refs are there? on meta – Mitch Aug 14 '18 at 18:37
  • @Mitch If we consider the second ref to be in some way the community consensus, that would indicate that resource questions are on-topic for EL&U, contrary to the views represented by the 3 answers below. I'm not particularly fussed either way, but I reckon that when new visitors' questions are closed for being off-topic, it should be based on more than just 'unwritten' or hard-to-find rules. – Lawrence Aug 19 '18 at 14:08
  • Lawrence, the FAQs and Meta are not necessarily a constitution. Through experience here, there have been so many resource requests that were closed as off-topic, and many of those, but not all, migrated to meta. That's the more than half consensus here on ELU. I think that community behavior is the thing that is hard to see. – Mitch Aug 19 '18 at 16:33
  • @Mitch That last bit is my point: if something is to lead to summary closure, it should be stated publicly somewhere new visitors can have some hope of finding. – Lawrence Aug 19 '18 at 23:00

Resource requests are "shopping list" questions, and are inherently unsuitable for all SE sites, not just EL&U. The reasons why are discussed on Meta and in a blog post by Jeff Atwood.

Summary from the linked answer:

  • They are open-ended; there is never one perfect answer to them.
  • They outdate incredibly quickly. This was what turned me against shopping list questions: if you look around on Stack Overflow, you will find plenty of 2010 "what's the best xyz" questions whose answers are hideously outdated now.
  • They tend to attract a lot of spam and/or link only answers

It does make a lot of sense to me to maintain a list of resources that the community of experts for a site deems helpful for whatever the site topic is, but I think those sorts of questions are problematic on the main site.

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    @JJJ That fact doesn't change anything I posted. Open-ended questions aren't a good fit for the scoring mechanics of SE. – ColleenV Aug 15 '18 at 13:50
  • Thanks ColleenV, this is useful - especially the point about such questions being open-ended. I suppose the test would be whether you'd close such a question as "primarily opinion-based". – Lawrence Aug 15 '18 at 14:05
  • @JJJ skimming through the list, most of the questions that have been tagged correctly (they're actually asking for a list, and not something else) don't have accepted answers because there is no way to choose a best answer when all answers are equally valid. That's problematic from an SE perspective, because the best answers are supposed to float to the top. On the main site, we're compiling answers to questions and scoring those answers so that readers can judge their credibility. While compiling lists of interesting things can be useful, those discussions don't fit well on the main site. – ColleenV Aug 15 '18 at 15:29
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    @JJJ I didn’t say anything about one valid answer. I said all answers are equally valid. SWRs have a criteria by which questions can be scored, and the ones the community likes best (feels meet the criteria best) will float to the top. – ColleenV Aug 15 '18 at 15:42
  • @JJJ If a question is phrased such that there is an objective criteria by which answers can be ranked (meaning you can make a substantiated argument that one fits the criteria better than another) it’s not the type of question I’m talking about. If someone votes based on how pretty an answer is (or whatever makes them like it more) instead of how well it answers the question, they aren’t doing it right. – ColleenV Aug 15 '18 at 16:10
  • @JJJ Apparently we have different ideas of what “useful “ means in this context. I could post my absolutely fabulous gluten free deep dish chocolate chip cookie pie recipe as an answer to a question on ELU and I’m sure a couple people would find it “useful”. That doesn’t mean that casting an upvote on it is the right thing to do for the site. Regardless, what I write is my reasoned opinion. You are free to disagree, but I doubt you’re going to persuade me to change my mind unless you have a better argument than “they’re allowed on another site”. – ColleenV Aug 15 '18 at 16:36
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    @JJJ Here’s the recipe I started from - it’s pretty good without any adjustment: chocolatecoveredkatie.com/2011/05/31/deep-dish-cookie-pie I hope it’s useful ;) – ColleenV Aug 15 '18 at 18:42

Form the help centre's What types of questions should I avoid asking? page (I quoted only the relevant parts):

What types of questions should I avoid asking?

To prevent your question from being flagged and possibly removed, avoid asking subjective questions where …

  • every answer is equally valid: “What’s your favorite ______?”

The resource request seems to fall in that category. Indeed, every resource is an 'equally valid' answer.

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    This looks promising. If you imagine that you were a new user, though, do you think that reading this as a prohibition would stop you from requesting resources, when you've seen single-word-requests and the like being on-topic? I think ColleenV's answer addresses some of the fundamentals regarding why resources in particular tend to be off-topic on SE or get pushed into related "-requests" sites. I'd hesitate applying this as-is to resource requests, but I think this is a natural place for mods to add a few words to make resource requests explicitly off-topic. – Lawrence Aug 15 '18 at 14:23
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    Hear, hear! We need to simplify things, not make them more complex. The tour is the obvious place to start. The site's architecture has changed since I first joined SE. Things are now slightly easier to find, believe it or not :) . I stumbled onto chat one day when I was new to EL&U, and it took me a long time to find my way back there. At least they're working on it :) . – Lawrence Aug 15 '18 at 14:34
  • Excellent point why such things are not good for main. If there were no meta, I'd still think main would be appropriate (lots of answers, better resources get voted up, what's the problem). But we have meta and we have an existing question answers that is pretty good: What good references are available?. I feel like whatever the question is here, that link is the answer. – Mitch Aug 15 '18 at 16:04
  • That same page, verbatim also exists on Software Recommendations and Hardware Recs, which do nothing but recommendations. Both sites have strict rules to avoid having everything be opinion based. For this reason, I think we also need to state that recs are off topic explicitly. – Laurel Aug 15 '18 at 18:57

The on-topic help page says what questions are welcome:

Questions on the following topics are welcomed here:

• Word choice and usage
• Grammar
• Etymology (history of words’ development)
• Dialect differences
• Pronunciation (phonetics and phonology, dialectology)
• Spelling and punctuation

That would indicate that questions for resources are not welcome. In fact, such questions are ephemeral because resources which might be available and suitable to answer one request may not cover the topic or even exist six months later.

An upvote for this answer would support a case for altering the Help page to explicitly direct resource requests to Meta. (Alternatively, write an answer here saying we shouldn't answer them at all, or provide some other solution.)

Resource requests will need management, and I would suggest that a question asking for a resource which compares the meaning of synonyms should be answered on a basic thesaurus question which could be a canonical target for duplicate questions.

  • I've upvoted this answer and I'd welcome an explicit statement in the Help page welcoming or rejecting 'resource' questions. If they are welcome, the Help page should also specify whether they are welcome on Main or Meta or both. – Lawrence Aug 14 '18 at 13:38
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    Leaving it implicit should require wording along the lines of "if it's not on this list, it's off-topic", but that would push questions about (say) style off-topic completely. On the other hand, the list is pretty comprehensive, so it might not be such a bad idea. – Lawrence Aug 14 '18 at 13:57
  • Questions on style tend to be closed as opinion-based: one person's acceptable style is not another's. – Andrew Leach Aug 14 '18 at 13:58
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    @AndrewLeach A lot of 'style' questions and answers are documented in literal 'style' guides published by different organizations (Chicago Manual of Style, etc) so they are somewhat objective (even if changing between guides). Of course there is style like how to punctuate abbreviations at the end of a sentence and there is style like how fabulous something is. – Mitch Aug 14 '18 at 18:28
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    @Lawrence I think that list is not an 'allow only this' list but really a suggested list of topics. So explicitly listing somewhere other than meta what is off-topic (after having been decided) is a good idea (but again only a suggestion). – Mitch Aug 14 '18 at 18:31
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    I completely agree with Mitch that the bulleted list of "topics ... welcomed here" presents examples of welcome categories, not an exhaustive list of exceptions to a general prohibition of questions. If our purpose is to present it as the latter, we should restate it as "Only questions on the following topics are welcomed here:". Also, welcoming questions about punctuation (in the bullet point "Spelling and punctuation") explicitly invites the nose, head, neck, and two front legs of the style camel into EL&U's tent; good luck keeping the rest of it out under those circumstances. – Sven Yargs Aug 14 '18 at 21:01
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    @JJJ Thanks for finding that. 1) That could be part of a great answer (a link to what we already have. extra links makes things more easy to find). 2) That page has general parameters about questions but no actual questionable topic areas that have been deemed mostly off-topic (eg jokes/lyrics/literature interpretation, bald translation, test answer justification) – Mitch Aug 15 '18 at 14:14
  • @Mitch I agree that the list doesn't present itself as being exhaustive. – Lawrence Aug 19 '18 at 14:14
  • @AndrewLeach Would it be possible to either add resource questions to the list, or alternatively explicitly prohibit them (add them to the do not ask list)? – Lawrence Aug 19 '18 at 14:17
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    @Lawrence or better, say explictly that they are not prohibited on meta. Rather, resource requests are on topic but for meta. – Mitch Aug 19 '18 at 16:35

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