I've created this question to address the intent and purpose of tags. There has been a lot of talk recently on the subject, and I'd like to address each aspect of tagging in one place. This is a CW, so please vote up or down each premise, feel free to comment, and add new premises at will.

  • This can probably be consolidated into the tag wiki for the [tags] tag. See: meta.cooking.stackexchange.com/questions/… – hobodave Aug 2 '10 at 21:55
  • @hobodave, I'm not sure if that's the right place for it just yet. I think having a visible discussion with visible voting on the subject will help express the overall sentiment of the how tagging works; that it's not just some arbitrary ruleset but that each concept has a meaning and a hand in creating an efficient system for getting answers. – Mike Sherov Aug 3 '10 at 12:02
  • I meant once it's all said and done. – hobodave Aug 3 '10 at 15:22
  • @hobodave, got it. I was a bit slow on that. – Mike Sherov Aug 3 '10 at 23:07

10 Answers 10


Try to choose tags that identify a single area of expertise.

Members use the "Interesting Tags" feature to highlight the questions they're most likely to be able to answer. Some members may even subscribe to specific tags and never see any other questions.

When choosing a tag, and especially when creating a new tag, try to imagine that you're sitting in front of a panel of chefs, each with different specialties. You don't know which chefs have which specialties, but tags help direct your questions to the right people. The [pastries] question is for the pastry chef; the [baking] question is for the baker; the [sauce] question is for the saucier.

Common subject areas include:

  • Techniques - [baking], [grilling], [deep-frying], etc.
  • Types of food - [meat], [fruit], [bread]
  • Types of cuisine - [french-cuisine], [chinese-cuisine], [indian-cuisine]
  • Specific ingredients or foods - [chicken], [salt], [butter]
  • Subjects not directly about cooking but considered on-topic - [equipment], [knives], [storage]

Retagging a question should not be used as a flagging system.

Do not tag/retag a question as [delete], [off-topic], [close], etc. to indicate an action that you feel should be taken on a question.

Instead of retagging, if you do not have enough reputation to vote to close, leave your opinion in the form of a comment on the question.

If you believe that you see a serious and urgent problem (other than spam or offensive content), you can also flag the post as "Requires Moderator Attention" and write a short explanation.


Do not use tags to attempt to indicate subjectivity.

Do not tag your own question as [subjective] or [wiki] or [discussion].

If it's too subjective and argumentative or discussiony, the community will close it anyway. If it's answerable as is, the community will leave it open regardless of the subjective tag. The tag is useless.

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    Add [discussion] to this list. Good on meta, terrible on F&C. – Aaronut Aug 2 '10 at 13:02
  • Is there another way to find all posts which are community-wiki? – Ocaasi Aug 2 '10 at 19:16
  • I agree with ditching the [subjective] tag. I'd rather treat [discussion] as a separate issue, if necessary. – Ocaasi Aug 2 '10 at 19:17
  • @Ocaasi: Yes, there is a way to find community wiki posts. Just add wiki:1 to the query. There are several such options; you should have a look at the Search Options. – Aaronut Aug 2 '10 at 19:40
  • @Aaronut My question wasn't implying we should keep the category. – Ocaasi Aug 2 '10 at 19:55
  • @Aaronut. If you were suggesting I'm making points without knowing how the site works, I don't think its relevant. I'm a new user like many new users, and if I have to ask a question about something, chances are others will also. Search Options is not prominently displayed, and users will tend to use the most accessible or intuitive option. – Ocaasi Aug 2 '10 at 21:43
  • @Ocaasi, I think he was just providing a link to the available search options. I think your enthusiasm and participation has been great so far, and with a bit deeper knowledge of how the site works, your contributions would only get better. – Mike Sherov Aug 2 '10 at 21:52
  • @Ocaasi: Can you please try to refrain from reading things in people's statements that are simply not there? You asked a question, Aaronut answered. – hobodave Aug 3 '10 at 21:27
  • @Aaronut: Apparently I'm slow, but I can't figure out how to use a link like that in a comment. The normal markup just gets ignored. What am I missing – hobodave Aug 3 '10 at 22:13
  • @hobodave: It's another undocumented feature. You put the title in square brackets followed immediately by the link in parentheses. As in: [Example](http://example.com). – Aaronut Aug 4 '10 at 0:50

Pay attention to the auto-complete, and whenever possible, use an existing tag instead of creating a new one.

If you pause for a moment during or after typing a single tag, you will see a list of existing tags pop up along with their frequencies. Choose the highest-frequency tag that is still relevant to your question.

Only create a new tag if you are absolutely certain that none of the existing tags cover the same ground. Choosing a pre-existing tag not only helps keep the site clean, it helps get your question answered faster because people will already be subscribed to the tags you choose.

  • It should be said that using existing tags will result in quicker response times considering existing tags have users subscribed to them. – Mike Sherov Aug 2 '10 at 21:31
  • Is that still true once synonyms are active? In other words, don't the synonyms "catch" any child-tags which users may have flagged before? – Ocaasi Aug 3 '10 at 20:02
  • Excellent point @Mike, I've added that to the answer text. – Aaronut Aug 4 '10 at 0:47
  • @Ocaasi: Synonyms simply remap the synonym to the parent tag when the question is asked. They don't affect searches or subscriptions (yet), and obviously they only work if the synonym has been proposed and accepted. Expect many spurious but brand-spankin' new tags to be created that aren't covered by any synonyms. – Aaronut Aug 4 '10 at 0:49
  • How long until the reputation values kick up to 1500 for new tats? Anyone with an inside track on SO developments with synonym search? – Ocaasi Aug 4 '10 at 1:26
  • @Ocaasi: Not until the beta is over. According to Area 51, we have 65 days remaining as of the time of writing - that puts the goal post at October 7th. – Aaronut Aug 4 '10 at 2:07

Avoid vague, ambiguous, or subjective tags.

Tags such as [easy], [cooking], or [delicious] don't help narrow down the target audience for your question. Instead, try to choose tags that are more specific, such as [slow-cooking], or [spices].

  • [easy] might be better phrased [short-cuts], [cooking] is a bad tag (too general), [delicious] is a bad tag. I would be okay with [best] if the question was about users' most successful experiences, resources, or techniques explicitly. – Ocaasi Aug 2 '10 at 19:28
  • @Ocaasi: [short-cuts] is probably okay, and I don't consider it synonymous with [easy]. The 1 question currently tagged [easy] is asking for food that's easy to make, which isn't about [short-cuts] at all. – Aaronut Aug 2 '10 at 19:36
  • [best], on the other hand, is just about the worst tag I can conceive of. By definition it implies a totally subjective question, and exactly zero people are going to follow that tag. – Aaronut Aug 2 '10 at 19:38
  • I'll save [best] for another thread. As I've hinted at, I don't think subjectivity is toxic, so long as the question distinguishes itself as such. There's room for subjectivity on a site filled with humans. – Ocaasi Aug 2 '10 at 20:00
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    @Ocaasi: No, no, sweet Jesus no. This is even highlighted in the official FAQ! Avoid asking questions that are subjective, argumentative, or require extended discussion. Cooking may be a little more subjective than programming, but if a question is even more subjective than a cooking question ought to be, it needs to be closed, not tagged. Anyway, what I'm referring to here is tags that are themselves subjective. The issue of tags being used to indicate subjectivity is an entirely separate one. – Aaronut Aug 2 '10 at 20:20
  • Ok, I won't conflate them. I agree that tags that are themselves subjective should go. – Ocaasi Aug 2 '10 at 20:30
  • As for subjective questions, I'm thinking of an equivalent to "soft-questions" on MathOverflow or Math.stackexchange. They are a separate category of questions which are generally less technical, but they are still allowed. I think they add something to the site, and I think there is a similar function for this site, currently undefined. This holds, provided: technical/definitive questions are the majority, and soft-questions are properly moderated. – Ocaasi Aug 2 '10 at 20:33

Tags should not cross-link to indirectly-related content.

Just because you think onions and garlic are closely related, that doesn't mean you should tag a question about onions with the garlic tag.

The tag system is about users finding question that are specifically about a certain topic; it is NOT about finding questions that the asker thinks are only indirectly related. If I search for [garlic] questions, I don't want a question about onions.

  • I think I need to clarify , since the example you gave is certainly not what I have meant by indirectly-related content. Tagging onions as garlic would just be silly. Tagging both as [garden] if they were about home-growing, or [organic] if the question addressed the issue would make sense. I think you should update this answer, so that the vote isn't on a straw-man/obviously incorrect example. – Ocaasi Aug 2 '10 at 19:21
  • @Ocaasi: Someone sufficiently anal could tag both questions [allium]. It's an indirect relationship, one that's totally valid and totally irrelevant (unless the question itself is about the entire family). – Aaronut Aug 2 '10 at 19:29
  • Just because some "indirectly related" tags will be unhelpful, doesn't mean all will. That's a slippery slope I never advocated. The issue is "usefully related, however indirect. If there are many questions about allium, then it's a good tag. Otherwise not. Case by case. – Ocaasi Aug 2 '10 at 20:03
  • @Ocaasi: If the relationship isn't direct, it's not helpful. I cannot conjure up a single counterexample. If you can, you should point it out and explain it. So far all we've heard is "some people might find it useful." Who would follow it, and why? – Aaronut Aug 2 '10 at 20:18
  • The fact that there aren't many counter-examples is a good sign that there's not much practical disagreement. [Food-differences] is one potential tag. I would use a tag to find related questions about [food-differences], same with [terminology]. I have a short-list of others, I'm going to list them in a separate post. As for why, because I found that collection of questions to be usefully related: it interests me. Why wouldn't that be sufficient? – Ocaasi Aug 2 '10 at 20:36
  • @Ocaasi, I've made this CW so you can edit the premise to clarify what you meant. I'm personally in favor of putting several tags of varying specificity on a question, if that's what you meant. – Mike Sherov Aug 2 '10 at 21:39
  • @Mike. I edited the question to deal with the narrow case of labeling one thing as something else (which is presumed related). This still leaves open the broader kind of "indirectness", which is a meta-category such as recipe-problems, food-differences, or something like them. We probably need another answer to cover those kinds. – Ocaasi Aug 3 '10 at 20:24

Use combined descriptors where appropriate

Sort of like compound words, terms might mean something specific when used together.

'brown' and 'sugar' both refer to 'brown sugar', but they're much less specific; it's most obvious when one of the terms used is effectively useless without modifying something else ... why would I search for 'brown'? It might refer to brown eggs, browning (process), brown butter, anything really.

Tags should be terms that you'd actually use to search for the question.


Avoid tags that describe the format of the question (as opposed to its content).

People who wish to find questions they can answer (via the tags) generally do not care whether your question is a [how-to] question, a [poll], a [definition], or a [comparison]. It is more important to them to know whether or not it's a subject they have expertise on, such as [french-cuisine] or [knives].

  • I think there's room for these, with proper moderation. I'll address it specifically below, but tags are not only for question-answering, and even question-answering is not always limited to easily identifiable areas of expertise. [how-to] is a bad tag in general, [poll] could be worthwhile, [definition] can be merged with several others about [terminology]/[classification], [comparison]/[food-differences] are a good tag and connects a distinct type of question that readers may find useful. – Ocaasi Aug 2 '10 at 19:26
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    @Ocaasi: I really wish you'd stop trying to redefine what the Stack Exchange tag system is all about. Tags are for people to follow, and nobody is going to follow random questions about [comparison] or [food-differences]. Those are nonsense, noise tags that zero people will find "useful" and from now on I am going to remove every single one that I see. – Aaronut Aug 2 '10 at 19:42
  • The StackExchange system is about it's users, at least in part. I'm a user. I think there is a use for tags which exceeds what you have described. Importantly, I would use tags this way. I doubt I'm the only one. I still propose that [Food-differences] is useful because it helps collect areas of common confusion regarding terminology: I am interested in this, plus, I might seek to help readers by clarifying their confusion in this area. – Ocaasi Aug 2 '10 at 20:09
  • Perhaps this is not an ideological or software-purpose issue so much as a pragmatic one. I'm not suggesting all meta-tags are good, only select useful ones. Just like some "direct" tags aren't great. That's my only criterion for a tag: is it useful for readers, askers, or answerers. And secondarily, how can it be implemented most efficiently. – Ocaasi Aug 2 '10 at 20:21
  • I've downvoted this because I personally also find [comparisons] to be useful and interesting. – Mike Sherov Aug 2 '10 at 21:42
  • Just to clarify, is a downvote support of the answer itself or of the type of tag mentioned in it. I mention it, since these answers are negatively phrased, so a downvote would be in support of the tag. – Ocaasi Aug 2 '10 at 22:14
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    @Mike: Can you explain how a [comparisons] tag falls outside the scope of simply linking indirectly-related content? I mean, how is a question comparing cast iron to copper cookware in any way similar to a question comparing onions to shallots? Why should these questions share that tag - is there really some common audience, some group of people who love to go around comparing anything to anything else? – Aaronut Aug 3 '10 at 1:40
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    @Aaronut, I like to look at questions that are comparing two items. I find it useful to know why I should use sea salt over regular salt. I suspect that there may be others who think that knowing how to compare two ingredients is a useful and interesting skill. – Mike Sherov Aug 3 '10 at 3:41
  • @aaronut, after thinking about this one long and hard, maybe I'm wrong. I'm having trouble convincing myself that [comparisons] is different from something like [recipe-problems]. Because of that, I've removed my downvote. – Mike Sherov Aug 3 '10 at 12:06
  • Thanks @Mike. It's not that I don't think comparisons are useful, or even that somebody wouldn't enjoy comparison questions. It's more that I think the "comparison" aspect is largely incidental, and the question could easily be reworded as "When should I use sea salt instead of table salt?" which wouldn't be a comparison at all (but would be just as useful and probably get the same kinds of answers). Now that I have a clear head myself, I would assert that [comparisons], at least in terms of foods, is basically a particularly nebulous superset of [ingredient-selection]. – Aaronut Aug 3 '10 at 18:13
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    Or even a [substitutions] question, come to think of it. After all, the most pertinent and possibly only application of such a question is to know when (if ever) you can use one in place of the other. – Aaronut Aug 3 '10 at 18:19

Don't be overly specific.

If the tag has never been used before, and there isn't a good alternative tag, consider if it might be too specific, and you need to be more general.

As a specific example, there's currently a tag for infrared-thermometers. Would thermometer be specific enough, or is even that too specific and gadgets be general enough? Or should it all be filed under equipment?

If there's only one item in a category and there is unlikely to be more additions, it's functionally useless as it can't be used to find similar items (or for people to filter to avoid similar items)

  • This is good advice so long as it's taken in context. The evaluation cannot only be backward-looking. I think the key question is, "in a few years, once the site has grown considerably, will this category have enough entries to be useful by itself; or, would the broader category be too crowded to be usefully searched/disambiguated. – Ocaasi Aug 2 '10 at 19:34

Avoid terms with more than one meaning.

eg, the tag [seasoning] has been used for both seasoning cast iron pans, and seasoning food.

[orange] might refer to the color orange, or the fruit. (but it was used to refer to the general flavor of oranes)

[coriander] means a different thing if you're American from other english-speaking countries.

If this were a thesaurus, we'd qualify the terms: 'orange (fruit)' vs. 'orange (flavor)'. We can solve this particular problem by using the plural for the fruit, so we can be fairly certain it's not talking about the color. The closest alternative is to use a precombined descriptor -- I've changed the 'orange' flavor item to `[orange-flavor]'.

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