This is a question to be answered by wannabe moderators (per Announcing a Pro Tempore election).

What are your thoughts on the current consensus on "homework" questions? This has been discussed in the past, but most of the comments are from 3 years ago. In your opinion, how well are these questions handled by the site and what (if anything) might be changed?


1 Answer 1


RE: Engineering.SE's position on "homework" questions

I am still very much in favor of the site's current standards for homework questions: basically, show what you've tried so far so that we can understand what it is that you don't understand.

Note that this isn't just "show your work" by itself since the current consensus on the issue is that "insufficient effort" alone shouldn't be a reason to VTC. Instead, the effort is needed to help us understand what the user's problem really is, and (when possible) to try to write answers which don't only answer that specific question, but other similar questions as well. Many of the questions I've answered haven't shown any actual work, but successfully described "I tried doing X, but haven't figured out [how to/why I should] do step Y".

Indeed, I've been applying this position even to questions where the OP explicitly states it's not a homework problem but something they're facing at work. That's because the problem here isn't whether or not the question comes from a textbook but whether we can diagnose the OP's actual problem, and whether that question can be answered completely and valuably (not only to the OP, but future viewers).

RE: Engineering.SE's handling of "homework" questions

Personally, whenever I've VTC a homeworky question, I've added the following comment:

This looks like a "homework question" (even if it isn't homework). In order for such questions to be answered in this site, we need you to add details describing the precise problem you're having. What have you tried to solve this yourself? Please [edit] your question to include this information.

The link points to What should our position be on homework-type questions?, and [edit] in a comment automagically becomes a link to edit the question/answer commented upon. I also use the recommended vote of "unclear what you're asking".

I've developed this standard comment somewhat in response to the discussion in Proposal: Add a custom close reason for homework questions that don't show effort. While I do now agree with Air's answer (which originated the recommendation to VTC as unclear), the lack of a dedicated VTC for such questions means that the OP does not get sufficient information to understand what's actually wrong with the question.

After all, if the OP does a blatant textbook question dump and basically says "solve this", it is perfectly clear what they're asking. It's just a question the site doesn't deem valuable enough to answer. A simple "Unclear what you're asking" closure probably seems odd to the OP, though. So I use this comment to try to help them better understand what we mean.

(Note that the "Unclear what you're asking" closure banner points the OP to the Help Center's How do I ask a good question? page, which does itself inform the OP that good questions should show research, etc. But then it's still a matter of the user following the small link under the banner instead of being "frightened off" by the banner itself)

Unfortunately, I see a lot of active members VTC'ing homework questions not as "unclear", but as off-topic (hell, I used to do the same before this meta debate), which isn't as helpful for users. And when I look at Close Vote Review cases, homeworky questions are frequently denounced with "this isn't a do-my-homework-for-me service" comments. While I wholeheartedly empathize with that reaction, I don't think it's very friendly to or useful for new users (especially given the new Code of Conduct).

However, that kind of comment is natural because it's quick to write, while mine certainly isn't.

Which is why I've only written that comment once. I just installed the AutoReviewComments StackApp which allows me to send my default comment with just three mouse clicks directly on the question page.

My hope would be that more of our active users use this StackApp (or some other method) to easily give better feedback to users' lousy questions.

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    $\begingroup$ I would echo this sentiment. There is a lot of the active members of this community who simply start with "I can't really be bothered to fix this bad question". I like this because it helps new users understand what we can and cannot do on this site. $\endgroup$
    – Mark
    Commented Aug 26, 2018 at 3:39

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