It's pretty common for us to get homework questions here. I don't see anything automatically wrong with that per se.

But sometimes there's no demonstrated effort whatsoever.

I think we should add a close reason for this so we can normalize the text and point to a meta post explaining our homework policy.

  • 2
    These posts deserve downvotes for the little effort, but I think closing should be reserved for things that can't be reasonably answered. If the question asks us to write a whole essay, it is still too broad of course.
    – user2953
    Dec 14, 2015 at 0:21
  • It seems like a sensible idea to me; I don't know if there's much difference between down-voting and closure though. Dec 14, 2015 at 1:01
  • I thought there was a "close reason for no effort" on SO -- apparently not ( meta.stackoverflow.com/questions/253069/… ). The accepted answer there advocates down-votes, not closing.
    – Dave
    Dec 17, 2015 at 18:15
  • 1
    @virmaior I've gone ahead and added the new close-reason since we seem to have consensus, but need another mod to approve it -- maybe take a look whenever you have bandwidth and see what you think of the wording? ("This question is missing context or other details...")
    – Joseph Weissman Mod
    Apr 22, 2016 at 15:00
  • If only I could remember how to do the add close ... will look at it again in about 48 hours.
    – virmaior
    Apr 23, 2016 at 0:26

5 Answers 5


Note: See this as a perspective from a relatively active user at the Biology-SE site

Several science-oriented SE-sites has some sort of "homework" close reason, for instance Bio-SE, Chemistry-SE and Physics-SE. At Bio-SE (where I'm most active) it is controversial within the community (see e.g. this meta post), and some feel that different users read different things into the homework close reason (so that it is used inconsistently). Personally, I think it is really useful to maintain the quality of the site, and it serves as a strong signal that the community isn't there to solve the homework of posters. It is also possible that such a homework close reason can make some new visitors that work in academia more positive towards the site (speculation on my part, and should be a minor issue though). It is true that poor questions in general and no-effort questions in particular should be downvoted as well. However, in my experience, most users rarely downvote (both Qs and As), which means that many poor, no-effort questions will still remain highly visible at the main page. To me, that can really drag down the apperance of the start/main page, and it can make the site look amateurish (in the negative sense of the word). In the long run that can make it harder to build a knowledgeable community, since some might find a site filled with poor homework questions off-putting. It is a tradeoff though, since closing poor homework questions will also alienate the users that post these questions. Basically, you have to decide what type of community you want to build. Personally, I prefer a community based on knowledgeable users (students, amateur and professionals) that invest time and effort in their posts over a community of random drive-by posters that try to dump their homework on others. Also rememeber that questions that are closed as homework can always be reopened after the OP has tried to rectify the problems with their post.

The exact wording of the close-reason is also an issue. For the record, the close reason at Bio-SE reads:

"Homework questions are off-topic on Biology unless you have shown your attempt at an answer. For more information see our homework policy."

I think it would be better to have an even clearer "no-effort" close reason, rather than a "homework" close reason, since the no-effort part is in my eyes most problematic. One of the arguments by opponents of the homework close at Bio-SE is exactly that it is hard to define what counts as homework, and the close reason is often used on questions that are hardly homework in the strict sense of the word. Some OPs are also left wondering why their question was closed as "homework", when it was not part of actual homework or course work. What is targetted in practice are poor, no-effort questions, and "homework" in the broader sense of the word (~"..you should have done your homework and some background research before posting here..."). To me, the trickiest questions are some curiosity-based questions that completly lack background, research or attempts by the OP, but might still have an interesting core. At least at Bio-SE (where we get quite a few of these), they are sometimes tricky borderline cases.

For comparison, this is the no-effort/poor homework close reason at Math-SE:

"This question is missing context or other details: Please improve the question by providing additional context, which ideally includes your thoughts on the problem and any attempts you have made to solve it. This information helps others identify where you have difficulties and helps them write answers appropriate to your experience level."

Bio-SE (along with Physics-SE and Chemistry-SE) also has a tag to label "legitimate" homework questions, i.e. ones with a good background, that contains either a clear description of there the OP is stuck or an attempt at a solution. However, some users dislike the tag as well.

  • 1
    Thanks for your input. This is very helpful. I personally don't mind helping with homework as long as some effort is demonstrated. The question that the prompted this was an individual posting 4 questions in succession that clearly were cut and paste from the questions her instructor gave her (little chance an undergraduate student would randomly pick spot-on wordings for philosophy of mind questions -- especially when joined with no narrowing of scope or request to check something)
    – virmaior
    Dec 15, 2015 at 0:37
  • I think the 'no-effort' tag is a great idea, as it has exactly the right emphasis on why the question was deemed unsuitable. Dec 15, 2015 at 1:47
  • On your point that closing bad questions (whether homework-specific or not) puts off those users - I say that should not be a consideration. How else are you going to train new users the correct way to use the site? I think especially if you provide a link to a meta-post that informs them how to correct the question, then you have the best possible combination - you put off only users who refuse to modify they way they ask questions, and help others who are willing to improve the quality of their posts for everyone's benefit.
    – LightCC
    Dec 15, 2015 at 17:09
  • Meta-tags are a terrible idea and officially discouraged by SO; see my answer for more context (@MoziburUllah).
    – user2953
    Dec 15, 2015 at 21:26
  • @Keelan Well, we disagree there, and the homework tag is one of the most used tags at several well-established, Science-oriented SE-sites (Chem-SE, Bio-SE, Physics-SE). I think the homework tag is informative and can serve a purpose. It can e.g. be used for filtering, and indicates what kind of answers that are suitable. Just because they didn't work at SO doesn't mean that they cannot be useful at other sites. And Atwood's words aren't God-given. Dec 15, 2015 at 21:34
  • @fileunderwater true, and it's fine to disagree. But, if you read the discussion more carefully, you see that it involved more communities than SO alone. Furthermore, some of the communities you mention are still quite young and might encounter the problems with meta-tags later on (I believe they will).
    – user2953
    Dec 15, 2015 at 21:49
  • @Keelan From what I understand, one of the big problems with the homework tag at SO was that it was sometimes used as a pejorative, and often added by others than the OP. At the science sites I've encountered, it is often used by the OP, and it's attached to "good" homework questions that are on-topic and belong at the site. That's a difference. Dec 15, 2015 at 22:56
  • @fileunderwater the blog post I'm referring to is actually about the tags subjective, best-practices and beginner. I make the link with homework. Let's agree to disagree.
    – user2953
    Dec 15, 2015 at 22:58
  • @Keelan: ok, I was thinking of a tag when it came to closing a question as no-effort; not actually naming the question; naming tag proliferation is a problem any way - I have noticed it. Dec 16, 2015 at 8:49
  • @LightCC I agree with you that it shouldn't be an issue, but just wanted to clarify the point that you/we need to choose what kind of community we want to build. I also think that poor content should be rapidly closed, to maintain the quality of the site and to clearly indicate what kind of content that is encouraged. Dec 16, 2015 at 11:39
  • @MoziburUllah In my post I'm mentioning two separate issues; 1) closing poor homework questions/no-effort questions, and 2) having a homework tag to use on "good" homework questions that are on-topic for the site (e.g. to indicate the knowledge level or the poster, or what kind of answers that are suitable). To clearly indicate the difference it is probably best to to close as "no-effort or unresearched homework", and not as "homework", since good homework questions are encouraged. Dec 16, 2015 at 11:43

There is nothing wrong with homework an sich. I have never understood why anyone would want to treat homework questions different from 'other' questions.

Many homework questions actually already meet the criteria for another close reason; mostly too broad or primarily opinion based.

There are some homework questions that don't show any effort, but aren't strictly speaking off topic. In my opinion, we should just downvote them. New users will understand that that's not the way to ask a question. However, if someone has the time and energy to write an answer, why not? It is not that the question is unanswerable within our scope that we should close it.

As I see it, closure is a method to prevent Evil from spreading through the site (i.e., to prevent to get bad answers because of one bad question). It is not primarily a method to show to new users what our scope is - that should be clear from the help center, and more importantly perhaps vote counts.

Creating a tag is a bad idea. Some years ago already, Jeff Atwood wrote a blog post on "meta tags" (subjective, best-practices, beginner). Let me quote a bit of something he quoted:

There's been a major uptick recently in tags that are not useful and just add noise. [...] this particular category of tags is one that has been historically referred to as meta-tags on MSO, and these tags cause a lot of problems.

The reason meta-tags are a problem is that they do not describe the content of the question. They describe some other aspect of the question, like the author's skill level, or the author's motivation for asking it, or generally what "kind" of question it is (poll, how-to, etc.).

Meta-tags are actually a subset of a larger problem that I usually call dependent tags. These are tags that don't say anything by themselves - you can't tell what the question is about unless they're paired with some other tag (or several of them). These tags are a problem because people don't realize this and will often use that as the question's only tag.

And since then, meta-tagging is 'explicitly discouraged'.

I have seen meta-tags in practice on EE.SE some time ago, and you really don't want to go down that road. People use "homework", "beginner", etc. as the only tag, which makes the site so much harder to search. Furthermore, these tags are redundant, because they don't say anything about the question itself (rarely will it happen that someone adds the "homework" tag to his list of favourite tags).

A separate point would be if we should have a homework policy and what should be in it. I think this would be a great idea, but something for a separate question. The main point should be (as has been mentioned in another answer here already) to never give a direct answer, rather give hints and help the OP to find the answer himself.

On the other hand, if people are going to commit plagiarism that isn't our responsibility. Almost all my homework for university is publicly available, also before deadlines. What people do with it is their business. My website is searchable, so if they hand in the exact same thing, a teacher (or automated plagiarism checker) will find it with basic searching skills.

  • So to understand, you are advocating down vote only due to no effort, vs. closing the post? Completely agree on meta tagging problems. Perhaps in addition to downvotes, a short standardized comment from a moderator would help explain the "no effort" concern? Might not be obvious to new users, who might not know to check meta for guidance.
    – sourcepov
    Dec 15, 2015 at 16:59
  • @sourcepov yes. I think the system with its close reasons we have now is sufficient to deal with homework questions. I only feel that we need to get the community on one line concerning what's acceptable and what's not, and indeed how to deal with unacceptable issues. If an already small community is divided, there is not enough body to close questions quickly enough, before the problem spreads.
    – user2953
    Dec 15, 2015 at 21:26
  • Your answer makes no sense. You start well, saying that homework is not a criteria for the bad question, that we should not treat a good question because there is no sign of effort. But, you defeat it saying that we should downvote it. If it is bad, you can close it, you can downvote it. Why to shoot your own leg saying that we should downvote a not bad question? Apr 1, 2016 at 23:57
  • @ValentinTihomirov I wrote that homework by itself doesn't make a question bad, but that many homework question already meet the criteria for some other close reason.
    – user2953
    Apr 2, 2016 at 6:29
  • @Keelan Yet, you contradict yourself. You say that meta-tags are not information but "not showing effort" and "home work" are the meta tags (yes, "not showing effort" is a qualification, which is not related to the content, as I prove in my answer) and, after that, say that these qualifiers much be used to downvote. You say that we should downvote based on the Artwood noise. I therefore make an effort to explain what does it mean "no effort" because it is used too literally by ELU and Gadgets owners. Apr 2, 2016 at 8:27
  • @ValentinTihomirov sorry, I don't see the contradiction.
    – user2953
    Apr 2, 2016 at 8:42

I don't think so. StackOverflow, Cross Validated and the Math SE routinely provide ansewrs for zero effort questions (other than having put effort into clearly stating the problem to be solved). Why should we be any different?

  • 1
    interesting thought.
    – virmaior
    Dec 14, 2015 at 2:08
  • 2
    I tend to agree - if you think of a Q&A site as more simply attempting to create searchable content for the entire universe of internet users. In that case, if a homework question is a legitimate area of inquiry into the scope of this site, then people who are searching for answers to that question should be able to find the (possible) answer(s) here, right? I'm assuming here there is likely some value outside of the immediate one of answering the homework.
    – LightCC
    Dec 15, 2015 at 17:15
  • I disagree - we're usually pretty fast at closing "gimme teh codez" questions on Stack Overflow. Jul 28, 2017 at 20:11

A judgement call for Phil.SE moderators for certain .. but I find the best mentors, TA's and instructors are the ones who help students find an answer, vs. giving it to them outright. You can teach someone to fish, and advise where they've had success fishing .. and the student gains needed skills. That to me is the essence of education in the humanities.

Freely dispensing answers to homework becomes an epitaph of sorts. Word gets out, and the site becomes a place to get quick handouts. A free fish stand, to complete the metaphor ..

I'm a student. I expect to work a little. If I show my work and my thinking, I tend to look for a more in depth response.


No. English users has it. It pisses me off. I often have questions of etymology if I cannot find it in the internet. Seems reasonable? Not at ELU. Your question is blocked if you cannot find it anywhere else. It defeats the whole purpose of Q&A sites. You do not post a question if you have found the answer. You post it only if you don't. So, every question that appears in the discussion, is obviously was not found anywhere else. It comes without saying. At least from honest people. But, you say. We should punish the honest people. Let them poizon their question with their search. What is the point? What is the advantage of demonstrating how did you fail? It is legitimate, answerable question. But, it is not allowed for unrelated reasons. Just because it was not "improved" by the garbage. Why should people listen my rant and inability to find he answer myself? Other people will have the same problem. They won't find the etymology easily. They will resort to the ELU. Why cannot we have the question answered there?

I also remember my request for a gadget was closed at gadgets.SE. I was looking for a specific mobile audio player which is not interrupted when charging. Reasonable, yes? It is very difficult to find one. I spend 1 year looking for that. I have visited every electronics shop in our city. No luck. I also wanted variable playback speed and restored playback position at power-on. None of these features is published in the Internet shops. Is it legitimate to ask for such gadget? "You have made no effort, it is 1 second to find such gizmo in the Google" told me they. They closed my question when I asked them to demonstrate me "how to use google for that". So, I consider the "effort" just as irrelevan quality criteria to complicate the question qualification and closing the questions and defeating the purpose of the site.

I should not ask for excuses when asking the questions here. Frankly, you have to downvote the question only if it is really easy to answer the question without asking here. It is non-fair to do if the question is really not answered anywhere else, regardless you show any effort or not. It is like you can call a person "idiot" if she is really an idiot, not proactively.

Moreover, if I made a huge effort and finally got the answer, you will close it because answered question is not a question anymore. A huge effort, useful for the others, is wasted. That is, you can post the answered question. But, not in the case you demand the stupid idiotic "effort", which defeats the whole purpose of Q&A sites.

Probably we need some more stupid reasons to close the questions because closing the questions is what improves the quality of the site.

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