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I think the "technique" tag deserves some attention and polishing; it can be a useful tag, but it's also difficult to pin down to a clear definition.

For example, here's a couple of questions which I personally feel misuse the tag somewhat:

Here's my proposed entry for the Technique tag:

Short tagline:

Common, repeatable methods of achieving particular storytelling effects or of avoiding narrative pitfalls.

Full entry:

"Technique" is literally a method, a way of doing something. "Writing techniques" refers to the methods, tricks of trade, conventions and guidelines that writers use to solve specific problems while plotting a story or writing a scene.

This tag is appropriate for questions seeking a general solution to a specific, common issue concerning the content of the story (or the planning and construction of it), or questions examining a specific solution in greater detail. It is less appropriate for broad issues ("Where can I look for story ideas?"; "How do I improve my prose?"), or issues that deal with anything other than the actual story content ("What are good techniques for finding an agent?" or "What are good techniques to encourage myself to write?" may seem appropriate, but do not strictly fall under the category of "writing technique").

I'm pretty pleased with that, but I'm not sure it's entirely accurate, and I don't know what others consider to be "technique." Also, my definition refers only to technique in creative writing - I don't know what it would mean in other fields of writing that Writers.SE addresses.

What do y'all think? What kind of questions should be tagged "technique," and which shouldn't be?

Addendum: Am I allowed to start un-tagging "technique" questions as I see fit? Because that'd be fun. I mean, useful-ish.

  • In response to your addendum, can you define the criteria for use on un-tagging. Also, the mods have access to some tools for tagging that we can use as necessary. In general, I think we also need to go after "style" a bit. – justkt Mar 7 '11 at 17:11
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I'd say the "technique" tag is appropriate for the following types of questions:

  • I am looking for a literary technique to help me solve the following problem.
  • I have a question about the following literary technique.

And these would be the type of questions I'd want to untag "technique" from:

  • Questions which do not concern the CONTENT of the final piece. So questions concerning: inspiration, brainstorming, editing, publishing, software: not technique.
  • Questions which focus on a particular piece, story, character: not a recurring issue; that's a specific solution - not a repeatable technique.
  • Questions asking for feedback on a piece or an idea (unless the request specifically relates to a particular technique, e.g. "Is this a good place for a flashback?").

I don't think this is comprehensive, though - I don't think every "help me solve this recurring problem" question is technique-oriented (e.g. my latest question - "I find this difficult, how do I solve that?", but it's not a question about techniques for creating characters or portraying religion).

The more I think about it, the less well-defined I feel the term "technique" is. Google failed me on this, save for the inevitable Wikipedia result which I don't feel defines "technique" very clearly at all. Maybe that means the tag wouldn't be very useful. Unclear definition + prone to be misapplied to irrelevant questions == possibly not a good tag?

Let me throw out another thought: can we come up with a question or two which it would be appropriate to tag only with "technique," and nothing else?

  • Is "I am looking for a literary technique to help me solve this problem" a good question? Wouldn't "how do I solve this problem" be a better formulation? If people ask questions about techniques ("when doing X how do I Y") then the tag seems useful for that, which is rather more specific than our current usage. – Monica Cellio Jun 19 '13 at 13:23
  • @MonicaCellio: I've very much come to agree with this sentiment. Problem is, I don't think we've got much of a handle on what techniques exist in order to ask questions about technique. "When doing X how do I Y" is a fine formulation, but can we think of any concrete examples that fill in the variables? – Standback Jun 19 '13 at 14:07
  • Yeah, I think if those kinds of questions show up people will reach for more-specific tags -- "when outlining how do I..." or "what are best practices for indexing" or the like suggest "outlining" and "indexing" tags, but "technique" feels too general. Tags should help the person who wants to find information on the site; they aren't just annotations for the asker to use. On Hermeneutics we just killed "exegesis" for a similar reason -- almost everything on the site is exegesis in some way, so the tag was useless. – Monica Cellio Jun 19 '13 at 14:13
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Looks good to me:

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As for retagging, if you have strong feelings about it that you can defend, I say go for it!

  • Follow up question: is there anywhere good to discuss retagging of a specific question? I retagged a question and was rolled back. I can defend the retag, but I don't see a good place to do so :-/ – Standback Mar 7 '11 at 8:56
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    @Standback: You are already on the right battleground. – John Smithers Mar 7 '11 at 9:30

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