I can't remember a particular story, and I would like to ask a question to get help finding it. What can I do to make my question a successful and high-quality one?

When answering, it would be helpful to include examples of good and bad story-id questions.

  • 2
    This meta post from Scifi may be useful.
    – Mithical Mod
    Commented Jun 28, 2017 at 3:59
  • 1
    I had added some guidance to the tag info page, which was mostly adapted (read: copied) from the SFF meta discussion Mithrandir linked. Commented Jun 28, 2017 at 7:54
  • This post is for guidelines on improving story-ID questions. To discuss whether or not they should be on-topic at all, please visit this older discussion instead.
    – Rand al'Thor Mod
    Commented Jun 30, 2017 at 12:01
  • This seems mostly focused on the contents of the questions themselves; that's all well and good, but guidelines for effectively answering these questions would be good to have as well!
    – Shog9
    Commented Jul 7, 2017 at 5:16
  • @Shog9 Agreed, but since asking well and answering well are quite different skills, the issue of good story-ID answers might be worth a separate meta discussion of its own. (That's how we did it on SFF too.)
    – Rand al'Thor Mod
    Commented Jul 7, 2017 at 9:37
  • @Shog9 Hot off the press: Guidelines for good story-ID answers
    – Rand al'Thor Mod
    Commented Aug 16, 2017 at 11:50

1 Answer 1


Below is the guidance I propose; it already appears on the tag info page for since April, but the version below has some minor additions that I did not yet add, now that we have a discussion here.

It was shamelessly copied adapted from the relevant discussion on Science Fiction and Fantasy (most heavily from Valorum's answer). I think it covers all the basics, or at least everything that can be covered without seeing the actual question.

This tag should be used by people who have read/heard of a story, and can no longer remember the title of that story. People using this tag should provide detailed descriptions of everything they can remember about the story, to help those answering identify it correctly. Please do NOT use this tag to ask for literature recommendations - it is meant to find stories you have forgotten.

A list of details one should add to their question includes, but is not limited to:

  • A meaningful title

    The title, ideally, should mention the key points that would make the people who see the title and have read the story identify it immediately, or make the people who have not read the story become interested in it. Because of that, titles like Looking for a short story I read as a kid are not helpful at all. A title like Overpopulated world, where volunteers are being taken to be converted to food, on the other hand, seems to have at least some connotations, so it has attracted comments and an answer with guesses.

  • The age of the story

    Was it an old crumbling book or a fresh one? Did you see it in a magazine from the 1980s or on a website yesterday?

  • Time when the story was read

    10 years ago? Last summer? "When I was in high school" is not descriptive (we don't know when you were in high school) - try to provide a year range instead.

  • Medium

    Magazine? Short story collection? Was it a novel? Maybe printed in a textbook? Was it an online story? If it was a story found on the Internet, mentioning the websites you used to frequent is a good idea. For print sources, a publisher or a book series may be of help.

  • Language of the story (i.e. culture of origin)

    In case you read the translation, try to provide the language the book was originally written in - this will narrow down the search area significantly.

  • Language the story was read in

    If it was a translated work, provide the language you read it in. This also helps to narrow down the area of search significantly.

  • Location (where was this story read?)

    Public library? Airport book shop? USA? Italy? Any of these will help.

  • The appearance of the book

    What did the cover look like? Some questions on Science Fiction & Fantasy have been answered through the askers describing the appearance of the cover of books or through rough sketches of the work they are describing, such as this one.

  • What have you ruled out?

    What stories is it definitely not?

  • Anything else

    Every little detail will help - do not omit anything just because you think it is insignificant.

This text was partly adapted from How to ask a good story-ID question? on Science Fiction and Fantasy Stack Exchange Meta.

For examples of good story identification questions, one can look at the questions with highest scores. While score is not always indicative of quality, I find those questions very well worded, and I think the fact that most of them (and over a half of all story-ID questions) have an accepted answer is indicative of their high quality. As examples, those 3 questions - Short story in Russian about time travel and changing the history of WW2, Sci-Fi Short Story - Life Saving Weight Loss, and Overpopulated world, where volunteers are being taken to be converted to food - are definitely good enough, and even great, as example questions.

  • Very nice! It's good that you linked to the highest scored ID questions; I think it might be better to link to 2+ questions that you think are good. After all, the highest scored questions are likely to change over time.
    – Shokhet
    Commented Jun 28, 2017 at 13:42
  • Agreed with @Shokhet. Even if the highest-scored ones are among the best now, that's not always going to be the case, what with the HNQ effect.
    – Rand al'Thor Mod
    Commented Jun 28, 2017 at 13:56
  • 1
    The reason why I asked for examples of good and bad questions is that while the sci-fi guidelines are a good starting point, it's important for us to come up with our own guidelines based on what works for us.
    – user111
    Commented Jun 28, 2017 at 15:52
  • 1
    Thanks for the examples. I haven't taken a good look at the question bodies yet, but I don't love the example titles -- I think they all fall short of a clear and concise description of the question, especially the third one.
    – Shokhet
    Commented Jun 28, 2017 at 19:18
  • @Shokhet That's a great point about the titles, and I've added it to the answer. I disagree with your choice, though, as I think the third question has exactly the kind of title that we want. Maybe add a year and novel/short story, though. Commented Jun 28, 2017 at 19:31
  • 1
    @Hamlet I'm not sure if it's a good idea to highlight specific questions on the site as being bad - that would be kind of naming and shaming the people who posted those questions, and attracting them downvotes. For examples of bad ID questions, it might be better to use hypothetical ones.
    – Rand al'Thor Mod
    Commented Jun 29, 2017 at 0:13
  • @Gallifreyan If I edit the tag wiki, should I also edit this answer? I think some of your bullet points could be merged together, streamlining the list a little and making it read more smoothly.
    – Rand al'Thor Mod
    Commented Jun 29, 2017 at 0:16
  • Also, @Hamlet, hopefully, questions are improved (or deleted). I'm not sure that a bad example list would always be up to date.
    – Shokhet
    Commented Jun 29, 2017 at 1:00
  • @Randal'Thor Not necessarily, but I won't object to improvements :) In my opinion, once we have a good tag wiki, we don't need this answer. Commented Jun 29, 2017 at 18:25
  • @Gallifreyan (oops, should have commented this earlier) For the record, I went ahead and made changes to the story-identification tag wiki, merging some of your bullet points and rewriting the section on titles, but without editing this answer.
    – Rand al'Thor Mod
    Commented Jul 6, 2017 at 23:02
  • 1
    I recommend avoiding subjective terms like "old" or "new". An "old" book to a 15-year-old could be "new" to many others. You make this clear in "when did you read it" but not in the "age of the story" section. Also, this list says nothing of the plot... probably the most important part of the ID question! The details are valuable but the story is also important.
    – Catija
    Commented Jul 6, 2017 at 23:03
  • 3
    Thank you for putting titles front and center: if these can't be found by the next person looking for them, then there's no advantage to using this site over any other forum on the 'net. Hat-tip, @Shokhet!
    – Shog9
    Commented Jul 7, 2017 at 5:15
  • Should this be CW so not just 1K+ users can add suggestions? Commented Aug 4, 2019 at 14:48
  • @Stormblessed Everyone can suggest an edit, can't they? I'm here every day to approve them. I'm reluctant to turn this into CW because I'd like a degree of control and prior notice over what goes into this post. Commented Aug 4, 2019 at 18:28
  • @Gallifreyan can’t suggest edits on per site metas :-/. Writing feature request for something related right now. Commented Aug 4, 2019 at 19:15

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