It has been suggested this question is best addressed as its own question right here in meta. Its been an often enforced bugaboo of moderators to block questions from users seeking reference material on apropos topics. Not always enforced, but too often.

I think the point of the rule OUGHT to be to prevent turning the site into an all-out review source and to prevent overt marketing/sales posts.

I have seen many great responses that were, essentially, a "yes I had that problem too. You should consider 'X'. This book is THE reference for that approach : http://amazon.com/SomeBookURLHere."

Nothing wrong with that. These are often well received comments with a solid number of upvotes (if not THE accepted answer).

So then the issue comes up when I'm looking, for instance, for a book that addresses a particular Parenting issue. This is my community. I don't think its inappropriate to want to come here and ask, "Can anyone recommend some books on toddler behavioral development that they found helpful?" These questions are often very highly viewed and often blocked. That demonstrates a disconnect. It means that we will have to go elsewhere to solve the problems we came here to discuss, with all the peer review and voting and so forth that makes the sites successful.

I'd like to see the rules adjusted to allow a more reasonable approach to community members seeking reference material requests.

Thoughts?

Thanks!

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Just a suggestion: it might be helpful to add some specific examples of questions that you felt should be left open, but were closed. –  Beofett Oct 19 '12 at 19:43
    
Sure. These questions are very similar and both have about 150 views (even interest). One is blocked, the other is not. The difference is the moderator's perception of the question it seems. Blocked : parenting.stackexchange.com/questions/2981/… Not Blocked : parenting.stackexchange.com/questions/4133/… –  Bob Oct 19 '12 at 19:51
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I can share my personal thoughts on why one was left open and the other not: the open question isn't explicitly looking for just books (in fact, it explicitly asks for suggestions, which is much more clearly what we're about). Perhaps more importantly, though, it is focused. "Teaching patience and persistence to a 10 year old" is reasonably scoped. "What should a new parent know about about a parent" is not; it is just waaaaay too broad. I will likely expand upon this in a full answer, but I'll wait a few days, and let other people have a chance to post answers first. –  Beofett Oct 19 '12 at 19:57
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I've posted three suggested policies below. –  Beofett Oct 22 '12 at 16:56
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Thanks. Good write-ups. –  Bob Oct 23 '12 at 19:01
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3 Answers 3

Yes, we should allow resource recommendations, if they meet specific criteria.

All request for resource recommendations should meet the following criteria:

  • Reasonably Scoped: The scope of the request should narrow down the list of possible matches in a meaningful and significant way. "What are some good books for a new parent?" is just way too broad. Some examples of "well scoped" questions are:
    • "What are some good books for teaching sign language to my infant/toddler?"
    • "What software programs would be good for teaching an 8-year-old to touch-type?"
    • "What are some good online programs for teaching a 10-year-old how to program?"
  • Directly relevant to parenting: Questions must match our site's on-topic requirements. The topic of the resource must be directly relevant to parenting. Any rules about scope defined here in meta or in our FAQ apply to the topic of resource recommendation questions, as well.
  • Clearly identifies what formats are acceptable: If books, magazines, and websites are all acceptable answers, this should be indicated in the question. If only books written by child-care professionals are welcome, this should be clearly indicated in the question, as well.

Good answers should include direct, personal experience with the resources recommended. "All of my friends swear by What to Expect When You're Expecting, although I haven't actually read it myself" is not a valid answer. Pointing out strengths and weaknesses of the suggested resource(s) is also very desirable, and can be the difference between a mediocre answer and an excellent one.

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I understand the reasoning with this answer, but the problem remains that any such answers would not be timeless which is essential if we want to build a useful website. This point is clear when I exaggerate it a little: None of us want to read "the best parenting book" of the 1950's. –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Oct 23 '12 at 12:36
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I like this option the most as I perceive the response below as being slightly too "micro-managey" (so totally not a word) for my taste, personally. And I agree with TG-B (yes, I just abbreviated your username, Torben Gundtofte-Bruun) that maintaining and enforcing such a thing would be a nightmare for whichever poor sap got stuck with the job. One of the things I like about SE is that it doesn't advocate or endorse specific products, but sometimes having the knowledge of products or resources from other parents is incredibly useful and insightful. True, TG-B, we want relevant, pertinent –  Meg Coates Oct 23 '12 at 14:45
    
resources, but you also have to leave some of this up to the judgement of the original poster. Who knows? The best parenting book of the 1950's could have some useful, informative parenting advice that is still applicable to parents today... –  Meg Coates Oct 23 '12 at 14:49
    
@ Torben Gundtofte-Bruun - you make a great point, but then shouldn't that also apply to ANY reference really? Even online references are often not updated and quickly become passe. Maybe as a newer member I'm a little confused, but while the Rule and its reasons make sense to me, I don't think it is applied consistently in regard to books, magazines, products in general really AND it IS something parents often ask about or at least ask things that you can easily make recommendations toward with a book or two. –  balanced mama Nov 19 '12 at 3:08
    
@ balancedmama I'm not sure what other kind of reference you're referring to? If you mean references supporting an answer, there's a difference between "Here's my answer, and I'm including some supporting information to corroborate it", and "here's a good book to read." As for not being applied consistently, please flag any incidents where you feel the rules (as they stand now) are not being properly applied. Just because something is popular to ask about does not make it a good fit for the format, nor does it mean that recommendation questions will be useful to other visitors. –  Beofett Nov 19 '12 at 12:13
    
I'm sorry, I didn't mean references as much as related parenting products. For example, when someone asks for advice on what kind of apps are best for teaching X or which video games are best for teens. . . I just mean that SOMETIMES these are caught and closed and sometimes not. Perhaps it is more of a clarity about the expectations for newcomers as much as it is about a problem with the rule? Anyway, my point is that I think the rule works as it stands for the most part and being less "purist" about it might increase confusion. –  balanced mama Nov 19 '12 at 22:01
    
At the same time, it is a type of question that often gets attempted and perhaps being more lax about the rule would increase the site's usefulness as a resource for some parents - though I think that is probably a short-term increase as opposed to a long term one. In whichever case, your standards seem like a REALLY GOOD PLACE TO START. –  balanced mama Nov 19 '12 at 22:03
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@balancedmama Ah, that makes sense. Yes, I know that I tend to be a bit more reluctant to just close a question outright if it is a new person, particularly if they've asked another question or two that were good. I tend to try and wait for some of our high rep users to cast a few close votes, and perhaps that might send a confusing message, perhaps if the close votes don't show. As for your comments about short-term increase as opposed to long term, well, I'll have to mull that over a bit, as I'm not convinced, but I haven't really thought of it in those terms before. Thanks! –  Beofett Nov 19 '12 at 23:42
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@balancedmama - "what kind of apps" or "what video games" is exactly the kind of fleeting, non-timeless answers I'd like to avoid; if some remain I've simply missed them. I usually convert them into "what factors make apps/games/books useful for goal XYZ?" Readers can put their own weights on the factors that are given, and then go shopping among their current choices. Like Beofett, I too hesitate with closing questions from new users if they show potential and good intentions. Sometimes I close and comment "I'll reopen this when you've rephrased it." –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Nov 22 '12 at 22:10
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No, questions asking for an open-ended list of suggested resources is a poor fit for the StackExchange platform, and should not be allowed on our site.

For an excellent explanation of the arguments against these 'shopping' questions, and suggestions as to how they can be worded to avoid the pitfalls normally associated with such open-ended recommendation questions, please read Jeff's blog entry: Q&A is Hard, Let's Go Shopping!.

This is generally the approach we've been taking so far on this site. If someone is asking a shopping question, we try to rephrase it to identify what the elements of the desired solution are. To quote Jeff:

If I had to summarize our network in a single word, that word is “learning”. People come to our sites to learn about topics they are passionate about. As the old Chinese proverb goes, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” Every question and answer ultimately should be about teaching and learning — yes, even the shopping ones.

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I cannot vote for my own answers, but I would very strongly support this answer as the choice for our site policy. –  Beofett Oct 22 '12 at 16:57
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Yes, we should allow resource recommendations, if they meet specific criteria. However, all such requests should be marked as community wiki, and each answer should provide exactly one, and only one, answer (people may post multiple separate answers if they want).

All request for resource recommendations should meet the following criteria:

  • Reasonably Scoped: The scope of the request should narrow down the list of possible matches in a meaningful and significant way. "What are some good books for a new parent?" is just way too broad. Some examples of "well scoped" questions are:

    • "What are some good books for teaching sign language to my infant/toddler?"
    • "What software programs would be good for teaching an 8-year-old to touch-type?"
    • "What are some good online programs for teaching a 10-year-old how to program?"
  • Directly relevant to parenting: Questions must match our site's on-topic requirements. The topic of the resource must be directly relevant to parenting. Any rules about scope defined here in meta or in our FAQ apply to the topic of resource recommendation questions, as well.

  • Clearly identifies what formats are acceptable: If books, magazines, and websites are all acceptable answers, this should be indicated in the question. If only books written by child-care professionals are welcome, this should be clearly indicated in the question, as well.

Good answers should include direct, personal experience with the resources recommended. "All of my friends swear by What to Expect When You're Expecting, although I haven't actually read it myself" is not a valid answer. Pointing out strengths and weaknesses of the suggested resource(s) is also very desirable, and can be the difference between a mediocre answer and an excellent one.

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"each answer should provide exactly one, and only one, answer" -- good luck enforcing/maintaining that. I wouldn't want to be the one to keep an eye on all those answers. –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Oct 23 '12 at 12:34
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One of the (many) flaws in the Community Wiki system, and why there's been such a concerted movement away from using it at all. –  Beofett Oct 23 '12 at 12:38
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