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I noticed today that we now have a tag. Anyone who has been on the site for a while will know that literature recommendations and "list" questions are offtopic.

A lot of the questions are not asking the sorts of things we wanted to avoid when we discussed literature recommendations. Many of them I think added to signify that they wanted answers that were backed up by published material. For example How does identification currently work with the German identity card?. If the question specifically asked "In what book/paper can I find out how the German identity card works?" obviously that would have been offtopic.

At the same time, newer visitors who don't know that literature recommendations are offtopic might see and be led to believe they can ask a question such as "Can anyone suggest a reference for how AES works?"

What should we do with the tag and/or questions?

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    $\begingroup$ "If the question specifically asked "In what book/paper can I find out how the German identity card works?" obviously that would have been offtopic" - Wait, no. That's not off-topic. That would have been perfectly fine. It doesn't hit any of the problem criteria. That's not an open-ended question, it's not a "big list of X", it's not a "what's your favorite book?" question. It's not a question where every answer is equally valid. Asking that would have been fine: that is an objectively answerable question with a correct answer. $\endgroup$ – D.W. Sep 27 '13 at 22:22
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    $\begingroup$ @D.W. on one level I agree with you and on another I don't. That would have been a lot better than many of the types of questions we saw looking for references. On the other hand, I think a question asking for a book on a particular topic could be so much better. Ask about the topic instead of asking for a book. Especially when in 10 years there could be multiple books on the topic. I should have chosen a better example though. $\endgroup$ – mikeazo Sep 28 '13 at 19:16
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I think we have to be careful when we say "reference requests are off-topic". Generally speaking, that's about the right message to send -- but it's a little more subtle than that.

Big list of X questions are certainly off-topic. Open-ended questions are definitely off-topic. For instance, a "can you recommend some papers on block ciphers?" would definitely be off-topic: too broad.

But some narrow questions that happen to include a request for a pointer to the literature might be fine, and some narrowly focused questions where an answer might include a pointer to the literature might be fine, too. For instance, "What is the state of the art scheme to do X?" might be a fine question, depending upon the topic. For instance, "I'm looking for a signature scheme with very short signatures. Which of all the many published signature schemes has the shortest signature? Can you give me a citation to the paper where it was introduced?" would be a fine question.

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    $\begingroup$ This explanation I can definitely agree with. What are your thoughts on the tag though? $\endgroup$ – mikeazo Sep 28 '13 at 19:17
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    $\begingroup$ @mikeazo, I will be happy to trust in your judgement (and that of others). It looks like the tag hasn't been used very much, and only a few of the questions that use the tag do so in a useful way, so if the tag were removed, it would be no great loss, and possibly a net benefit. Personally, I have no opinion. $\endgroup$ – D.W. Sep 28 '13 at 23:36

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