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I find it difficult to understand why we expend so much effort and discussion on tags.

I’ve browsed around other SE sites, and I can see that tags serve a useful, perhaps even essential, purpose in filtering questions related to a specific language or application. But I don’t see a similar purpose served by the tags we employ.

Of the top ten tags at this writing, only one () seems to me useful in trying to discover prior questions relevant to a specific problem; the rest are too general and vague to have any value. None really provides the sort of information found in a good index to a book: some (, ) provide the equivalent of chapter titles, but most (, , , , , ,) speak to nothing more substantive than the motive for the question or the form of answer required.

On the one hand, all of our questions are about and and , at least in the senses people use those tags. On the other hand, looking for previous or or questions seems unlikely to yield me anything relevant to my question nearly as fast as just Searching on my key terms.

I have an awful feeling that tagging on this site is just categorizing for the sake of categorizing; but I’d like to be persuaded otherwise.

So: What purpose are tags supposed to serve, and do the tags we’re using actually serve that purpose?

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  • Tags are nominal on ELL, they are used slightly better on EL&U but the whole concept of tags is really based on how Stack Overflow et al (Superuser, Drupal, etc.) work. – Mari-Lou A Apr 8 '19 at 9:43
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If you're particularly interested in something (e.g. slang) you can mark a tag as a favourite. Such tagged questions are foregrounded and show up with a highlight helping you find interesting questions.

If there's something you really don't care about (e.g. single word requests), you can choose to ignore that tag. Those questions are then backgrounded and given a lighter "highlight" and font.

If there's something you really don't want to miss, you can subscribe to it and get instant or daily email alerts.

They can also be useful to click on to check other questions on the same topic.

Of course, not all tags will be useful for everyone and a balance needs to be struck, but I find some tags useful on EL&U, and expect will do here too.

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The purposes of the tags are:

  • Giving information about the question that is quickly visible without reading the full question
  • Allowing users to find related questions starting from a question
  • Allowing users to get the list of the recently asked questions about a specific topic
  • Allowing users to hide some questions basing on the used tags

Clearly, a tag is helpful when it is used by all users with the same meaning.

The problem is eventually using tags for giving too detailed information that don't deserve a specific tag.
First off, a tag should be used if it gives information that changes the answer, or who answers. For example, c++ is used as tag in Stack Overflow because it says the question is about C++, drupal is used to mean the question is about Drupal CMS. Both the tags influence in some way who answers the question; who doesn't know anything about Drupal will probably avoid to answer it, but would probably read it the same if the question is also tagged php, just to see if it is a question more about PHP than Drupal.

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  • I see the use of language tags. But are tags like meaning and word-request similarly useful here? For instance, I've just answered this question, tagged phrase-usage; is that tag useful to anybody? – StoneyB on hiatus Jan 31 '13 at 13:37
  • If a question is tagged word-request, I know it is a request for a word, and not a question where the OP is asking the meaning of a word/phrase. That tag changes my answer. What I would object is having word-request, and word-choice, since a question tagged with the first tag is always a question about choosing the right word. phrase-usage is telling me the question is about how/when to use a phrase. In my case, it is useful, as I will probably tend to avoid questions about phrase usage. – kiamlaluno Jan 31 '13 at 14:26
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    1. If the tag changes your answer, surely its content should have been in the question? 2. That particular question may be loosely described as involving "phrase usage", but what it's actually about is double negation. – StoneyB on hiatus Jan 31 '13 at 14:32
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    Following your point #1, tags should not exist, as every information can be given directly in the question, even which programming language I am asking the question. The tags give information about the question, and since there is a limit of 5 tags per question, it must be a very relevant information, and the tag should be possibly used for more questions. What information is really so relevant depends from the site: joomla is relevant on Stack Overflow, word-choice is relevant on EL&U, and views is relevant on Drupal Answers. – kiamlaluno Jan 31 '13 at 14:49
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It's a good observation.

Not all the questions are about meaning, grammar, and usage. This one is about pronunciation, for example. I understand the metaphor, however.

I would say that most aspects of tagging here would inherit those from ELU, simply because meaning and role of the tags remains the same: providing with an ability to quickly look up for relevant questions. So if the Q is about pronouns, it is about pronouns at ELL and ELU.

OTOH, relevance by itself is a multi-dimensional thing. And, regarding ELL, there are more dimensions that are irrelevant for ELU, but are important here. These dimensions are primarily about understanding the concepts of English from the point of a native speaker of another language. Indeed, once you belong to a certain socio-linguistic community, your way of thinking retains for all your life.

IMHO, the tags should reflect this very issue. In other words, if an user who belongs, say, to the Slavic-speaking community (like myself), comes here with a certain phonetic question, their questions are most likely about θ/ð vs. s/z, e vs. ə, or so.
Hence, there should be a tool helping them to find existing answers.

I have attempted to raise a similar discussion, but maybe I did it in a wrong way.

What comes to my mind first, is defining a list of socio-linguistic groups, and then tagging each Q with those groups where this very Q is mostly relevant. I don't know, however, how to avoid limitations of how many tags may be associated with a single Q.

Yet another thing is writing a large FAQ question, where each answer would list the most relevant problems for each individual socio-linguistic group.

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  • I read somewhere that 5 is the limit. As for lookup, the Search function is far more useful, except for the stop-word limitation (recently discussed here on ELU). – StoneyB on hiatus Jan 31 '13 at 12:27
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Tags help me find duplicate questions.

If I vaguely remember a similar question, I can:

  • Correctly tag the visible question.
  • Drill into the tag.
  • Optionally add words to the search query. I might remember words from the similar question or its answers.
  • Browse the results until I find the question I remembered.
  • Go back to the question.
  • Either add a "Related question:" comment, or vote to close with the "possible duplicate".
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  • The problem on ELL is that very few newcomers (and regular users) use the right tags for their question. Many use a catch-all, the grammar tag, 6,388 questions, which makes searching a duplicate a Herculean task. And that is the reason for StoneyB's question in the first place. – Mari-Lou A Apr 8 '19 at 9:33
  • What happens if you are like me and you do not visit each and every question that is posted each and every day? There might be hundreds of posts that could be duplicates of each other but because I never visited a certain question, I cannot possibly "remember". – Mari-Lou A Apr 8 '19 at 9:41

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