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It's been (slightly) bugging me for a while that we have two tags for questions about reading material, and . I've never been quite clear about what the difference is, or should be. Do we even need both these tags? If so, what exactly would each of them be for, and how do we distinguish between them?

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For reference, the meanings I've been using so far are as follows:

  • is for questions asking "What is a good book about X?" or more generally, "What should I read to learn about X?", typically where there is not a single authoritative reference. These sorts of questions have multiple answers and will acquire new answers as more books/papers are written on the subject, so they are almost universally community wiki material. Examples include anything listed at Book recommendations.
  • is basically for questions of the form "What paper explains effect X?" (example) or "Where can I find the derivation of X?" (example) or "What is the original source for X?" (example), etc... basically any question which is looking for one particular paper, or a short list of papers (or books). A decent but imperfect guideline seems to be that for these questions, all or nearly all of the references that could be posted as possible answers already exist at the time of the question being asked; we don't expect a steady increase in the number of valid answers as time goes on.

I'm not saying that this should be the distinction between the two tags, but it is one possibility. I'm aware that these rules are not always completely clear, which might be a reason to reevaluate the meanings of these tags.

If we go with this, an interesting borderline example would be 1-form formulation of quantized electromagnetism; I'd be curious to know which of the two tags concerned people would apply to that.

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  • $\begingroup$ I think that this is a reasonable distinction, though we would have to go back an impose it on the existing questions. Further, I haven't been able to think of another distinction that is as well drawn. $\endgroup$ – dmckee Jul 18 '11 at 16:00
  • $\begingroup$ Yeah, I guess it's not bad, it still just feels a bit on the vague side to me. The other solution that I would not be at all opposed to is just dropping the "books" tag entirely and replacing it with "reference-request". $\endgroup$ – David Z Jul 18 '11 at 19:22
  • $\begingroup$ this is excellent and the tag wikis should be updated to include the guidance expressed here: blog.stackoverflow.com/2011/03/redesigned-tags-page (see point #4) $\endgroup$ – Jeff Atwood Jul 20 '11 at 10:13
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    $\begingroup$ Comments: (1) Although an original reference and just a general reference are indeed two different things, note that in practice very few would follow guide-lines for tags, that ain't obvious from the tag-names themselves. (2) In the age of multimedia with web-pages, videos, electronic journals, etc, the tag 'books' seems a bit too narrow by itself. (3) The best solution is probably to define 'books' and 'reference-request' to be synonyms physics.stackexchange.com/tags/synonyms $\endgroup$ – Qmechanic Jul 20 '11 at 10:23

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