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We've had a couple of discussions about these tags already:

Consensus in both cases was to keep the tags, but much of the reason boiled down to "it's not bad enough to get rid of", and nobody really addressed the issue of redundancy - if a question is already tagged with the name of a particular poem or short story, why does it need the general tag too?

I propose a default of NOT creating tags for individual short works.

This relates to the discussion at Should we be tagging questions with the names of specific books?, but the answers there are a very mixed bag, presenting a lot of different views and with no clear consensus, while the actual practice on the site has been to use tags for specific books all the time. Here are some of the reasons why I think my more specific proposal won't be so controversial:

  • Shorter works are less likely to be areas of specialist interest. It's possible to be an expert in the Wheel of Time series, or in Animal Farm - even without having read other books by the same author - but it's much less likely anyone is going to be an expert in a single Byron poem or a single Asimov short story, without having experience of a wider collection of them.
  • Shorter works are more numerous with fewer questions each. A long novel or play will have more complexity and be more likely to inspire questions than a short story or poem, and a single author is unlikely to have too many lengthy works to their name. But it's easy for one person to churn out hundreds of poems and short stories, and hundreds of low-use tags isn't ideal.
  • This proposal would resolve the redundancy issue. Using tags for both individual short works and for poems/short stories as a whole, as currently, leads to tagging redundancies, and with only 5 slots we need all the room we can get for tags. Keeping the and tags (per previous consensus) and getting rid of individual-work tags of this type eliminates this problem.

Using the and tags instead of individual-work tags will mean these two are likely to be among our top few tags. But hey, that's already the case. And that's fine: broad but still useful tags such as these give a good impression of a site covering a wide range of topics, better than the top of the list being just whichever author/work tags happen to get the most questions.


TL;DR: here's my suggested tagging guidance.

  • For questions about long works - whether novels, series, or lengthy poems like the Iliad or Mahabharata - use author and work tags, as we've already been doing. These works are likely to inspire more questions, and to be searched for as a specific area of interest. (Collections of short works, e.g. William Blake's Songs of Innocence and Experience, may also count here.)
  • For questions about short works, use the author tag with or . New users will be able to tag their questions appropriately even if there've been no previous questions about precisely the same work, and we won't be overrun by thousands of overly specific tags. (Tags for specific, perhaps especially noteworthy, short works are optional but not encouraged.)

The line between short and long works isn't fully defined, but it's still a line worth drawing, and clear enough to base a policy on. We can use common sense for anything in the grey area (I'd err on the side of creating tags if there's any dispute, since more tags in the system don't really harm anyone).


What do you think?

  • What about novellas? Or the fragment of a novel referenced in my question that I still need to clarify? – amaranth Feb 14 '17 at 21:56
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    I think that this will only lead to fighting over what is poetry and what are short stories, but I also think that there will be some short stories or poems that will have enough questions to warrant their own tag. – Benjamin Feb 14 '17 at 22:01
  • @amaranth The point is to draw a line between short works and long works. Where to draw that line may not be obvious, and there'll probably be a grey area (I would say err on the side of creating tags rather than not, since there's no particular disadvantage in having more tags), but that doesn't mean we shouldn't have a line at all. Does the-red-wheelbarrow, a poem of sixteen words, really need its own tag? – Rand al'Thor Feb 14 '17 at 22:17
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    @Benjamin See my above comment to amaranth. I don't think we need to fight too much over this. If someone really wants to create a tag for, say, "The Raven" (which is quite long and famous), I wouldn't aggressively edit it out. I'm more proposing a default of not creating tags for single poems or short stories. – Rand al'Thor Feb 14 '17 at 22:20
  • I'm not in favor of tags for individual, short works, no. I was just trying to think of short works that are neither poems nor short stories. Perhaps [poem] + [short-stories] + [novellas] would cover most short works. Would that work? Or would novellas be filed under [short-stories]? – amaranth Feb 14 '17 at 22:22
  • @amaranth I believe there's a reasonably well-defined difference between novels, novellas, and short stories (I seem to remember researching and writing about that difference when making tag wikis on SFF). So yes, novellas could make a good tag in addition to poetry and short-stories; or, we could say novellas are long enough to be worth their own tags, like novels. – Rand al'Thor Feb 14 '17 at 22:27
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    If you add in [novellas] and possibly other categories of short works that won't get used much, and allow exceptions for popular works to have their own tags (so [the-raven] alongside [poetry]), this seems very reasonable. +1 Or consider novellas to be "long", like you said. – amaranth Feb 14 '17 at 22:33
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    @amaranth I don't like the idea of distinguishing 'popular' works, unless we draw a hard line. – Benjamin Feb 15 '17 at 0:51
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    @Benjamin It breaks the consistency of the tagging system, but it might be worthwhile if the site gains a lot of questions about a particular short work. If we want a hard line, we could go with something arbitrary like a minimum of ten questions on the site. Or we could just forget about exceptions and go with Rand's general idea. – amaranth Feb 15 '17 at 1:07
  • @Benjamin, amaranth: I edited in response to your comments. Remember, we don't necessarily need to "draw a hard line" for every site policy; many things can be decided by common sense or even "I know it when I see it", if that's what makes sense in practice. – Rand al'Thor Feb 15 '17 at 3:04
  • Just as a note, It is going to be hard to add all of these in to current questions because they don't all mention the work in the body. – Benjamin Feb 15 '17 at 10:35
  • @amaranth : This might be worth its own question, but I'd hesitate to introduce a "novella" tag. I'd just put them in with "short-stories" (or maybe unite them under "short-fiction"). There are nuances of form between novellas and short stories, but the only concrete distinction is wordcount, and that's often nontrivial to find. (Oy; don't even talk to me about novelettes :-/ ) – Standback Feb 15 '17 at 10:59
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    @Benjamin, amaranth, Standback: I just realised that there's already a system for distinguishing between 'long' and 'short' works in this way: whether their titles appear in italics or quotation marks. We can apply the same rule when deciding where to draw the line: long works such as novels or series whose titles are in italics get tags; short works such as poems or short stories whose titles are in quotation marks don't. – Rand al'Thor Feb 15 '17 at 12:44
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    @Randal'Thor Hmmm. Appear in italics/quotation where? I'm familiar with the convention, but I'm not sure precisely what authority/arbitrator you're pointing at here :) – Standback Feb 15 '17 at 13:20
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    @Randal'Thor No, I literally don't understand what you're suggesting here. (1) At what point in use of the site are you suggesting we refer to how a work's name is used? (2) When we refer to how a work's title is used, how do we actually perform that check? – Standback Feb 15 '17 at 13:27
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I agree, I think this is a good idea.

As Rand points out in the comments, there already is a system for determining whether a poem/short story should get its own tag. We can use the MLA guidelines for whether a title should be italicised or in quotes. Note that the MLA guidelines, unlike Chicago, APA, or the AP style guide, is the style guide used for academic writing about literature.

Place the title in quotation marks if it's a short work (such as an article) or italicize it if it's a longer work (e.g. plays, books, television shows, entire Web sites)

Essentially, if a poem is published as a book or as a stand alone work (e.g. The Waste Land), it gets its own tag. If a poem is published in a collection of other poems (e.g. in a magazine), it doesn't.

If a title should be italicized according to MLA it gets its own tag. If it's in quotes it doesn't get a tag, and we should use a author tag, and the poetry and short-stories tag instead.

We can generalize these guidelines for other types of texts as well, e.g. comic books.

  • I only have one issue with this: what makes the MLA better for Lit.SE to use than any other authorities? Of course, if we don't choose a single authority to follow, we won't have hard-and-fast rules on where to draw the line between "needs an individual work tag" and "doesn't", but we don't always need hard-and-fast rules. IMO, my proposal will work perfectly well as a rule of thumb without having to nail down the boundary precisely. If people start to get into fights over whether or not a particular work merits its own tag, we can come back to this then. – Rand al'Thor Mar 18 '17 at 17:06
  • @Randal'Thor I mean, the MLA guidelines, unlike any other guidelines, are the standard guidelines for all academic writing about literature. – user111 Mar 18 '17 at 17:09
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I think that genre-based tags such as , , , etc. should be used for general questions about those forms, rather than individual works in those genres. For example, a question like:

Can any long narrative poem be called an epic poem? If not, what are the special characteristics it needs to have to be considered an epic?

...is not about any specific poem, but about poetry in general.

If we follow the suggestion of using for any short work, then we have no way of distinguishing between these two sorts of questions:

Why does "La Figlia Che Piange" change from second, to first, to third person so confusingly? What is the reason for these shifts?

Is T.S. Eliot's poetry considered more influential than his criticism, orice-versa? Or are they about the same?

These are two very different sorts of questions. Having them both tagged and is unhelpful. I agree that "La Figlia Che Piange" doesn't need its own tag, but I propose that we use a different tag like .

This is the same sort of use we make of the tag. The tag is used for questions about literary analysis in general, not analysis of individual works.

  • We've got separate discussions for those, which Rand al'Thor linked above. Being able to see recent questions about all poems is helpful, in way that's different from being able to search for individual poets. That's not the issue under discussion here. – Standback Feb 15 '17 at 10:55
  • @Standback I did read those discussions before posting my answer; and I think my answer is a perfectly reasonable alternative proposal to the Rand al'Thor's for how the poetry or short-story or other genre-based tags should be used. You're free to disagree, but your comment that it is "not the issue" here is unwarranted and inaccurate. – verbose Feb 15 '17 at 11:03
  • OK, that makes sense. :) The way I see it, this question is accepting current consensus on what the existing "poetry" and "short-stories" tags mean, and is focused on how they interact with other tags, and with site tagging conventions. Whereas you're reopening the question of "what do these tags signify in the first place," which IMHO is a different discussion. That's what I meant by that. – Standback Feb 15 '17 at 11:18
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    Your first example question is about poetry in general, and would be tagged poetry without any author/work tags. Your second and third example questions both relate to a specific author, and therefore require expertise on the works of T.S. Eliot, so tagging them poetry and t-s-eliot makes sense. Is there anyone who's an expert specifically on "La Figlia Che Piange", and likely to search for questions about that poem and no others? Honestly, I doubt it. – Rand al'Thor Feb 15 '17 at 12:39
  • should be used for general questions about those forms I think that's a bad idea, because questions about poetry/short stories in general tend to be broad, not very well thought out, and not expert-level questions. – user111 Feb 15 '17 at 14:29
  • @Randal'Thor There may be no experts in that field, but it will make it easier for askers to see if a question has already been asked because I don't believe there is a way to see only the overlap between two tags. – Benjamin Feb 22 '17 at 11:54
  • @Benjamin By the overlap between two tags, do you mean a list of questions tagged with both? – Rand al'Thor Feb 22 '17 at 13:54
  • @Randal'Thor Yes, and I learned from Mithrandir it was possible. – Benjamin Feb 22 '17 at 20:21

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