I been on this Q&A site every day for the past six months. I have seen OP's include the word "professional" in what it seems every single question.

The word "professional" tends to be most used by those who least have a clue what it means, and it grates on me when they do that. I have 25 years of experience as a professional, I have 16000 rep points and the number of times I have used the word "professional" on this site is less than the number of fingers in your hands. And in real life? I used that word maybe five times, if that, in the course of a 25+ year career.

As a professional, I don't need to remind everybody that I am a professional. But at the same time, I am not thrilled at the air being filled with the word "professional", especially in what seems to be the most trivial contexts.

Could we do something about it to mitigate or manage the overuse of this word, or do I have to live with it and consider it as a price we all have to pay for participating in the Workplace?

Example 1: what is a professional way to stay in touch? Translation: How do I stay in touch with a manager?

Example 2: professionalism-and-rejecting-job-offers Translation: How do I decline job offers?

And there is this prize winner - Example 3: how-to-professionally-leave-an-internship Translation: how do I say I am quitting my internship?

Update: I just looked at the list of the all-time top users: EVERY single one of them has the "professionalism" tag attached to their thumbnail picture. I also looked at the list of the top users for the year so far - Only one of the top 12 does not have "professionalism" attached to their thumbnail picture, and that person is No. 12. This may be an indication that we are using "professionalism" as a catch-all tag category.

  • Hi Vietnhi, it might help if you can cite some examples of where you think this term is used incorrectly, as well as proposing a viable substitute. If you don't want to link to specific posts, you could simply quote a sentence or two. Hope this helps. – jmort253 Aug 24 '14 at 0:39
  • Thanks for clarifying. Would it still look out of place if the question was "What is a professional way to keep in touch with a manager?". Just so it's clear, what do you feel is incorrect about the use of the term "professional"? As an aside, I think your proposed edit would actually make it more clear what the asker is asking... as the existing title doesn't make it clear who the subject is. – jmort253 Aug 24 '14 at 0:58
  • "How do I stay in touch with a manager?" would convey the same connotation. Because the context is clearly keeping in touch in a purely professional capacity. The manager in this case is very interested in the OP as a potential employee and could use knowing about the OP's progress toward finishing his degree on schedule and that the OP may be doing on-campus interviews. The manager is most likely not interested in how the OP's pet rock is doing :) – Vietnhi Phuvan Aug 24 '14 at 1:20
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    Hmm, I have to think about this some but I'm having a hard time finding any reason to disagree with this. Most questions asking "is it professional to..." are not good fits for the site anyways. – enderland Aug 24 '14 at 2:41
  • How do I stay in touch is easy. How do I do so in a way that is professional rather than personal is not. I am not surprised you have difficulty understanding the difference. Being a professional is as much about how you compose yourself while doing your job as it is about the work you do. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Aug 26 '14 at 15:56
  • Hey Vietnhi, if you think it's overused, what do you think we can do to solve this? What is the alternative? It is really easy to find things that aren't right, and we do appreciate you pointing that out, but you are far more likely to get the support/backing of the community if you can explain not only what the issue is, but what you think is a good way to fix it. – jmac Aug 31 '14 at 16:08

Definition of "Professional":

From the Merriam-Webster dictionary, we find the following subdefinition:

c (1) : characterized by or conforming to the technical or ethical standards of a profession (2) : exhibiting a courteous, conscientious, and generally businesslike manner in the workplace

It seems that the people asking these questions are essentially asking how to get from point A to point B in a manner that's courteous, respectful, and conscientious. In essence, asking how to quit one's job professionally implies one may want to do so in a manner where that person exhibits the above traits, as outlined in section c(2).

The dictionary outlines several subdefinitions of the word "professional", both as nouns as well as adjectives. Thus, it's quite possible that, while these folks are using the term correctly, the default definition that comes to mind for one person may very well differ for another. However, both definitions may be correct.

Editing Guidelines:

While it doesn't appear that the word is being used incorrectly, your proposed title edits do in fact make the goal more clear, which is what we're looking for on Stack Exchange. What helps clarify the goal is that you've transformed the title from a partial phrase into an actual, simplified question.

I'd say it would be fine to edit these titles with the goal of making them more clear, but I wouldn't suggest launching an all-out war on the term itself. If I were editing those titles, I'd be subtle about it. I'd leave an edit message along the lines of "fixing title" or "edited title to make it clear what your question is". I can see some edit wars possibly brewing if someone were to say "your use of professionalism is incorrect!" or "removing professionalism as it's overused!". Thus, it's helpful to wrap up such edits within the broader context of simply clarifying for the reader. Understanding the psychology of how people perceive edits to their posts can help make those edits more successful.

Additionally, title edits which clarify a post are considered substantial edits, since titles are what grab the reader's attention from the main page. If editing the post body alone, I'd strongly suggest fixing any other issues that exist in that post. Hope this helps!

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    when "professional" in title acts as meta tag, it's better to edit it out. If such an edit makes title too vague, it should be clarified from question text. Example: 1) meta-tag: "What is a professional way to stay in touch?" -> 2) too vague after cleanup: "What is a way to stay in touch?" -> 3) clarified from question text: "How to stay in touch after finishing under graduate work placement?" – gnat Aug 24 '14 at 6:47
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    The thing is, @gnat, it's not a tag in this case, it's an adjective used to identify the methodology the asker would like to use to stay in touch. Adjectives add more descriptive context to a subject; hence, adjectives can be valuable. With that said, the discussion of whether or not professional|ism is a meta tag is interesting, but I suspect that could be its own Meta Workplace question, as that's different than "Are we using the term 'professionalism' correctly". – jmort253 Aug 24 '14 at 6:53
  • I want to add that I like your last version of the proposed edit on that title. The more specific version does give more context. As long as we're not removing "professionalism" in titles simply for the sake of removing it, I support title edits that increase the clarity of a question. – jmort253 Aug 24 '14 at 6:56
  • you certainly have a point wrt adjective, however its use in this case still sounds much of a tag for me - to categorize that question is not about personal relationship / friendship. And, no matter if we interpret it as tag or adjective, since Workplace is limited to professional context, this word in both cases sounds superfluous doesn't it? – gnat Aug 24 '14 at 7:00
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    @gnat, If I think of something tagged "workplace", I can say that would definitely shout obvious meta tag. With professionalism, I can see how it could be a meta tag. I feel like the first step would be to nail down exactly what we mean on Workplace SE when we say "professionalism". Depending on what definition we as a community agree on, it may or may not be a meta tag. I believe it warrants further discussion. Thank you both for bringing these issues up. Tagging and editing are both important components of what keeps our content looking sharp and organized. – jmort253 Aug 24 '14 at 7:07
  • For reference, there are 724 questions currently tagged "professionalism". This also shows the current tag wiki description. – jmort253 Aug 24 '14 at 7:13
  • @gnat, actually, the two issues might be related and worth keeping on this thread. After reading that tag wiki description for "professionalism" it could very well be a meta tag. You should consider posting a more in-depth answer, with the goal of more clearly outlining your thought-process on this issue for others who may not 100% understand how to identify a meta tag. – jmort253 Aug 24 '14 at 7:17
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    FWIW we have a discussion about this tag already: Avoid and remove the “professionalism” tag (I plan to post there) – gnat Aug 24 '14 at 7:22
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    1. I'll point out that a US Marine would be very business-like and conscientious about obliterating the opposition while not necessarily courteous about it. I am pretty aggressive and merciless when it comes to getting things done and I swear like a sailor when I am working through something that should work, must work and does not work, so the word "business-like" covers a range of behaviors that are anything but corteous :); 3. This is a professionals' site and everything we do is infused with professionalism anyway, so the word "professionalism" is almost redundant; – Vietnhi Phuvan Aug 24 '14 at 7:23
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    I definitely agree it goes beyond just courteous, @VietnhiPhuvanmail, and professionalism can certainly exclude niceness. The biggest problem I see is the breadth in the definitions of the term. It doesn't necessarily mean the same thing in every context. I suspect if we look through those 724 questions, we may find that there's actually 2 or 3 better tags than professionalism. A good counterargument to keeping the professionalism tag exactly as is might be to a) find out what those better tags are, and b) clarify that tag wiki definition so we get more people on the same page. – jmort253 Aug 24 '14 at 7:32
  • 4. I define "professionalism" as an attitude and ability to do the job and stay on the job despite some very adverse circumstances. As an example, I'll refer to the professionalism of the German Army in 1944-1945, which held together despite the brutal beatings it was getting on both East and West fronts and counter-attacked us the first chance in got at the Battle of the Bulge in Dec 1944, and held on despite the fact that it was stuck with leadership of a megalomaniacal and incompetent Hitler during the entire WWII; – Vietnhi Phuvan Aug 24 '14 at 7:34
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    Another interesting thing to note is that we made the etiquette tag a synonym of professionalism. So at some point the questions from the two tags were merged. – jmort253 Aug 24 '14 at 7:35
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    5. Another example of professionalism is a surgical team losing its patients despite its best efforts - It knows it's losing the patient but it still goes down fighting for the patient, throwing everything it's got into the fight. And you know what? Fighting just as hard for the next patient, even though it just lost this patient. – Vietnhi Phuvan Aug 24 '14 at 7:35
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    It's almost like those types of questions would better be served by a tag "courteousness" or "manners". "behavior" might be too broad, considering "professionalism" is a series of behaviors. Maybe renaming professionalism to etiquette would be better. – jmort253 Aug 24 '14 at 7:42
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    @jmort253 wrt retagging to etiquette, worth noting this was also discussed: Etiquette and Professionalism. :) Time to shake the dust off from these older questions now that our understanding has improved? – gnat Aug 24 '14 at 8:10

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