# Has the “soft-question” tag become a bad idea?

I took a quick peek at the newest 'soft-question' questions when I noticed something particularly disturbing, most of them are marked either as [closed] or [duplicate]. There were so many that I thought it worth the while to bring it to mention.

I suggest looking through the first 10 pages of the 'soft-question' tag to get a feel of what I mean.

• To be fair, was it ever a good idea? I don't know that I could say it was in the years since I have joined! – tpg2114 Feb 23 '16 at 0:54
• @tpg2114 well, its worked well on some other SE sites, but I really don't think it is appropriate for what I feel as the more 'serious' aura of the Physics site. – Simply Beautiful Art Feb 23 '16 at 0:56

## 4 Answers

If you ask me, it's always been a bad idea. I'm pretty sure the only reason we have it is historical; it's one of those tags that gets created on every new site right in the beginning, before we figure out what kinds of questions we want. But these days, as you've noticed, pretty much anything that deserves the tag turns out to be off topic.

I'd be in favor of blacklisting or burninating (technical term) the tag so that new posters can't use it anymore. Of course, if we do that people will probably continue to post those questions and they won't be so easy to find, but for organizational consistency, we probably shouldn't have a tag whose questions are so often off topic.

If we don't want to do that, SE is starting to experiment with tag warnings on other sites: little popup boxes that display some warning text whenever someone tries to use a particular tag. Perhaps we could request a tag warning for which points out that questions with the tag are likely to be off topic, and linking to a meta post (to be written) giving guidance on what sorts of soft questions are likely or unlikely to be okay.

• Maybe we could create a tag synonym soft-questions-are-usually-off-topic which replaces the soft-question tag on new posts? (I don't actually know how tag synonyms work.) – rob Feb 23 '16 at 4:23
• Tag names are limited to 25 characters, but that's not a bad idea if we're not going to keep the tag in some form. If we created a synonym, the soft-question tag would effectively disappear, and any time someone types soft-question in the tag box, the tag soft-question-off-topic (or whatever we choose) would be what actually shows up. The change would also be retroactive to old questions. – David Z Feb 23 '16 at 6:01
• I pointed it out on another answer, but I don't like the idea of using a tag to call something on or off topic. I think it will just result in the same questions but with a different tag because people will avoid the tag itself. I also wouldn't want to see experimental-physics-no-really-its-on-topic or engineering-but-not-about-how-to-build-something or other additions to tags that are designed to communicate on/off-topicness. – tpg2114 Feb 23 '16 at 20:49
• @tpg2114 Me neither. The reason for renaming the tag here would be, not to make a tag that designates questions as off topic, but to communicate to posters who use the tag that their question is likely to be off topic. But now that I think of it, there is a new feature which pops up a notice whenever someone tries to use a certain tag that we could use for exactly this purpose. We could request that the SE team enable that for the soft-question tag here. – David Z Feb 25 '16 at 5:45
• I would really like tag warnings on several topics. mathematical-physics also comes to mind. – Jerry Schirmer Mar 5 '16 at 6:18

Upvote this answer if you think should be burninated (i.e. all instances removed, and making it unavailable for future askers), or downvote it if you think that that's a bad idea.

There is nothing wrong with the tag. The issue is that we rarely get good soft questions, and the reason for that is that most experienced users of the site know they will be closed as off topic. We should keep the tag, and adapt our policies to be more accommodating to high-quality questions that are of interest to physicists but which are not necessarily "hard" questions about physics. We will be a more useful site that way.

To see what I mean, take a look at the soft questions over at Theoretical Computer Science. This is every bit as "hard" a discipline as physics, but I think their site shows that soft questions, when done well, can nevertheless be useful for the community.

• I disagree. The wording gives permission to ask vague questions, which is contradictory to our policy of discussing main stream physics . Physics has to be rigorous and accurate after all, or pointing the way to that. – anna v Feb 26 '16 at 5:19
• General comment: Note that on-topicness or off-topicness of a question is decided by the Phys.SE community, not by the existence or the non-existence of a tag. – Qmechanic Feb 27 '16 at 14:56
• I suppose there is some truth in this answer, namely that we rarely get good soft questions. But I'm a little skeptical that there are enough good soft questions out there to make it worth having the tag at all. In other words, I don't think the proposed adaptation of our policies is a good idea. But I'm open to having my mind changed. – David Z Feb 28 '16 at 15:33
• I'm really curious: could you post a link to a good soft question? – DanielSank Feb 29 '16 at 6:22
• @DanielSank it would be hard to dig one up on physics, but you can find plenty at cstheory.stackexchange.com/questions/tagged/soft-question, for example. Theoretical computer science is as "hard" a discipline as physics, but their site is a good example of how soft questions can be done well. (I'll edit this into the answer.) – Nathaniel Feb 29 '16 at 9:18
• "it would be hard to dig one up on physics" /quote I guess that's the practical problem here. The examples you linked are interesting, thanks! I wonder why we don't get such things here. – DanielSank Feb 29 '16 at 17:16
• I have found out that many high up-voted questions in cstheory stackexchange seems to be opinion-based. (e.g. " Importance of single author papers? "), which turns out to be not allowed here. I wonder why. (with care, some opinion-based questions can be quite useful, e.g. answers to questions like "Is it too late to study physics?" can be quite useful to people like me, especially with good reasons and sound arguments.) – Shing Mar 1 '16 at 8:00
• @Shing That's simply a community decision about the scope of this site: We only do physics here, not e.g. academia. – Danu Mar 2 '16 at 10:20
• @Danu I understand and respect the community decision, and now thanks to you, I know where I can ask these kind of questions now! :D – Shing Mar 3 '16 at 4:45
• Found an example that's not totally terrible: physics.stackexchange.com/q/241172 – DanielSank Mar 3 '16 at 4:55
• I'm curious as to why people respond to an argument that we should change our policy with a statement of what the current policy is, as if that were an a priori reason not to change it. I personally don't see it that way, and I would genuinely really appreciate it if one of the supporters of the "only questions about physics" policy would say something about it in terms of the benefits it brings, particularly if it includes a comparison to other successful Stack Exchange sites that don't have equivalent policies. – Nathaniel Mar 6 '16 at 0:46

As suggested in a comment above, I have created a tag and proposed it as a synonym for . This seems to require a community vote. My proposal for the way forward is to replace the one with the other, so that people who attempt to use are not-so-gently guided towards this meta question by the renamed tag wiki.

• Something about using the tag to communicate that message really bugs me. I think people will just stop adding that tag to their own questions rather than stop asking them. – tpg2114 Feb 23 '16 at 15:26
• @tpg2114 You know... seeing that synonym pop up just might cause people to think twice before posting garbage... – DanielSank Feb 29 '16 at 6:25