Today we got the question What type of pen is being used here?, which asks what type of pen is shown in a wikihow tutorial. I couldn't find anything on writing tool identification requests on Meta and the existing on-topic questions with the tag are generic questions about the tools.

Some other sites have identification requests, too, for example SFF's story-identification or RPG with their product-identification and content-identification. Others have banned them after some experiments like Anime&Manga. What's our stance?

And if we want to allow such questions: what guidelines do we need?

For example the linked question here on Writing.SE only gives a link to the other sites. I'll copy my comment here with additional emphasis because I think that at a minimum there should be a picture directly in the question:

Welcome to Writing.SE! Is it possible to show the image here (with proper attribution of course) so that we can have a look at it without going to a different website? The goal of StackExchange is to build a repository of questions and answers that will help others with the same question in the future, so in case the website goes down that you are linking to right now or changes their links the question as it stands now is useless for future readers. Questions and answers should always stay on their own. If you have a moment please take the tour and visit the help center to learn more. Have fun!

I wrote that comment without any remark about identification requests because I couldn't find a specific stance on such identification requests - neither a "yes" nor a "no".

The help center mentions (original emphasis):

Questions about specialized writing tools.

A pen is a specialized writing tool. It's also not in any of the no-no categories like literary analysis, "What should I write?" or shopping requests - the author doesn't want to get a comparison with other pens, they just want to know which pen is shown in a picture.

It's a pretty clear and objectively answerable question for people that know a lot about this stuff. I think this type of question is okay, but we should define our stance about this as a community. I could imagine some people fearing that we will be overrun with simple "What is this pen?" type questions, but other communities are sometimes doing fine with it and as long as we keep an eye on users trying to abuse the system by spamming dozens of easy and unnecessary questions it seems like this could be a helpful category of questions for people. This is also the first question like this on the site ever as far as I can tell, so it doesn't look like we are opening the gates to a flood of low quality questions. To me it looks like we should at least try to allow this sort of question and see if it works.

What do you think? Do we want identification requests? If so, what criteria are necessary to make them useful and if not, what are the reasons for not allowing them?

  • We should be willing to reverse course if they do become a problem and too pervasive, because identify this thing in a movie is maybe sort of related to writing, but not in a very clear way beneficial if it's not to serve the mission of writing professionally. Don't have a problem trying it out. Also don't think we're likely to get many of these
    – Kirk
    Apr 21, 2019 at 2:36
  • @Kirk We can always reverse a policy when something becomes a problem. You can just create a new post and ask for the policy to be revisited by listing problematic posts and stating the experience with the current policy. When it gets reversed we can simply make this post a "duplicate" or add a link to the start that refers to the new policy. Like with Writing critique for example.
    – Secespitus
    Apr 21, 2019 at 9:30
  • @Kirk This site has never just been about professional writing, anyway.
    – Weckar E.
    Oct 13, 2019 at 20:47
  • 1
    @WeckarE. writing.stackexchange.com/tour It's right in the mission statement: "Writing Stack Exchange is a Q&A site for anybody interested in the craft of professional writing, editing, and publishing. We cover a wide variety of topics, including fiction, technical documentation, scholarly articles, business writing, non-fiction, scripts, and blogs. Writers Stack Exchange is built and run by you as part of the Stack Exchange network of Q&A sites. With your help, we're working together to build a library of detailed answers to every question about professional writing."
    – Kirk
    Oct 16, 2019 at 1:35
  • @Kirk Huh. So it is. Maybe that should be amended...
    – Weckar E.
    Oct 16, 2019 at 2:39

2 Answers 2


I think tool ID questions should be perfectly okay here on one condition: the person posts an image of the tool they want us to identify. Anime&Manga does actually allow ID questions for specific characters or merchandise, as long as you have an image of said character/merchandise. Here's one I made earlier.

As you yourself said, the fact that Writing.SE has been around for nearly a decade and we've only just received a tool ID question suggests that we're not exactly going to be swamped with them, so I don't think we need to worry about that. I can't think of another other SE where these questions would be on-topic, and I can't think of an existing close reason that covers them.

Tool ID questions with no image for us to identify should be closed as too broad, but ID questions with an image, like this one, can stay.


Talking about it now is a good thing. These things can snowball.

For example, on Genealogy, something like 1/3 of the questions are basically one of the following two questions:

  1. I did a DNA test and found a close relative with X match amount. What relationship can this person be to me?
  2. I did a DNA test and found that one of my close family member's DNA does not match me as we expected.

5 years ago...even 2 years ago, these questions were uncommon. But now we are getting the same questions over and over again with just a bit of variation. That's because the question isn't "how do I evaluate a close family DNA match?" but "how do I evaluate my specific situation?"

That SE has decided not to close these questions as duplicates but to work on a canonical set of answers.

In our case, no, we don't need a canonical "how do I identify a writing instrument from a picture?" But the fact that there is one question like this so far doesn't mean there won't be 10 next month.

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