There seem to be lots of questions asking for ingredient substitutions.

What guidance should we give to make it easier for the askers to give the right information, so that they can get helpful answers?

  • If copy is added it should also make some reference to the guidelines for nutrition / health in question.
    – KatieK
    Commented Dec 19, 2012 at 17:14
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    Changing a site's faq page is exceedingly rare on the network. What you can do is to edit your meta question here to something like "How can we make substitution questions more answerable?" and adding your own propositions as an answer. Then we can leave a link to this question every time somebody posts a substitution question. It can also get a faq here on Meta, although I agree that practically none of the first-time users will find it by themselves. It will still be useful for people accustomed to the stackexchange concept - I do sometimes search the meta of other sites before posting
    – rumtscho Mod
    Commented Dec 19, 2012 at 19:14
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    @rumtscho The problem there is that no one ever finds those pages, unless specifically pointed to them--they are not helpful.
    – SAJ14SAJ
    Commented Dec 19, 2012 at 19:19

3 Answers 3


This isn't terribly different from any other category of questions. New users will often not include all the necessary information in their questions, and in those cases we have to ask them to provide it, and sometimes even edit their questions.

People who write questions with missing information are not generally people who will go out of their way to read FAQ or really anything that's not present on the "ask a question" page. Editing tag wikis is a good way to help with that, since people often do enter correct tags, and the page then pops up an excerpt of that tag's wiki. For example, the "substitutions" tag excerpt just reads "Questions about possible substitutions for an ingredient." It could be a bit more helpful. But beyond that, it's inevitable that sometimes we just have to ask for more information, regardless of the question topic.

It's possible that the stackexchange engine could be even more proactive about this by adapting the help/hint text based on the content of the question. If it were able to infer that "substitutions" was likely a good tag based on the question, it could provide relevant advice. But of course, these things are hard, and it's a balance - if you show too much information, or change it too often, people won't read it. In any case, that's a much more general discussion, and one to have on stackoverflow meta on behalf of all of stackexchange, not just cooking.


When asking a question about ingredient substitutions, please:

  • Say why you need the substitution (allergy, dietary guidelines, simply out of the ingredient, not available where you live, you just don't like the taste), since that may drive different answers.
  • Give some context of the recipe or technique where the ingredient is being used, since the role that ingredient plays in the recipe may indicate different substitutions.

Doing these things will help people who answer you give information that will actually help. After all, if you are allergic to sesame, and we suggest using sesame seeds in place of sesame oil for flavor, that information won't be helpful.


Edit/suggest an edit to the tag wiki.

(Seriously - that is the #1 thing you can do to make questions in any particular tag more helpful. Not everybody will read it, but the more people in the know, the more it will improve.)

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    Your comment illustrates just how poor the FAQ mechanism is on SE sites. I have 1700 rep already, and I have no idea what the tag wiki is or how how to edit it.
    – SAJ14SAJ
    Commented Dec 20, 2012 at 13:44
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    @SAJ14SAJ: Have you seriously never hovered your mouse over a tag? Sorry, but that's PEBKAC.
    – Aaronut
    Commented Dec 21, 2012 at 0:38
  • Even if true, that was rude an inappropriate for you to say, especially as a diamond moderator. There is no affordance in the UI that the tags are interactive.
    – SAJ14SAJ
    Commented Dec 21, 2012 at 0:41
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    @SAJ14SAJ: No affordance? How about the massive autocomplete when you're writing a question, in which all the tag wikis are shown? I'm not trying to be rude, but your contributions here have come across as quite obstinate so far. Like it or not, this just isn't going to go your way; none of this is going to be added to the FAQ, and it's difficult to be cordial about it when we've had the discussion with various others so many times. So let's calmly and quietly explore more realistic alternatives. If you think the tag UI can be improved, suggest that.
    – Aaronut
    Commented Dec 21, 2012 at 0:47
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    I have not made any personal attacks, even if my ideas are not welcome. Your credibility is gone.
    – SAJ14SAJ
    Commented Dec 21, 2012 at 0:50
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    @SAJ14SAJ I believe you are right, the existence of the tag wiki is not obvious to new users. As Aaronut says, this has been discussed before (not here, on the stackoverflow meta). Non of this discussion has resulted in the tag wiki being documented in the place we constantly refer new users: the faq. I have added a feature request on the stackoverflow wiki for this (you'll have to search for the link sorry, l am typing from my mobile). Please contribute answers or comments (or just vote ;) if you think it is a worthy cause. Commented Dec 24, 2012 at 0:43

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