Mainly copied from https://physics.meta.stackexchange.com/q/714/7433

What is the policy on asking homework questions on Chemistry Stack Exchange?

  • What kinds of questions are considered homework questions?
  • Are homework questions allowed?
  • What should I include in a homework question?
  • As a community member, what should I know?

1 Answer 1


1. What kinds of questions are considered homework questions?

A “homework question” is any question whose value lies in helping you understand the method by which the question can be solved, rather than getting the answer itself. This includes not just questions from actual homework assignments, but also self-study problems, puzzles, etc.

On the other hand, questions that come up in the course of doing a homework problem, but are separate from the main point of the problem, might not be considered homework questions. There’s a bit of a judgment call to be made, depending on the context of the problem. If you’re not sure, it’s probably safer to treat your question as a homework question and later find out that it isn’t than the other way around.

2. Can I ask a homework question here?

Yes, but there are a couple of things you need to make sure of first.

As a general rule, we do not discourage homework questions, as long as they are related to chemistry. But do keep in mind that Chemistry Stack Exchange is not primarily a homework help site; it’s a place to get specific conceptual chemistry questions answered. The list in the following section will help you ask questions about your homework in a way that fits in with the site’s philosophy.

Also, make sure you know whether your learning institution (middle school, high school, college, etc.) and your teacher or professor allow you to consult other people, or to post the exact question on the internet. This is usually addressed by your institution’s honor code or rules and regulations, and any specific class policies. You should ask your teacher whether asking a homework question here is appropriate before posting your question.

3. How should I ask a homework question on this website?

  • See if an existing question helps you.

    Check and see if someone has already asked a question that gives you the information you need. The search box at the top right corner of the page will be pretty useful here, but you can also try looking at tags that are relevant to your question.

    If you find a prior question that seems relevant but doesn’t clear up your confusion, mention it when you write your own question. That gives the people answering a better idea of what kinds of explanations don’t work for you, and what might be more effective.

  • Show your work and ask about the specific concept that gives you trouble.

    We expect you to narrow down the problem to the particular concept that’s giving you trouble and ask about that specifically. That produces a question that is more relevant to others who might be having the same problem, as well as probably more interesting to answer. As a side effect it shows that you’re not just being lazy and trying to get us to do your work for you.

    The best way to produce a focused, specific question is to show your work. Explain what you’ve been able to figure out so far and how you did it. Showing your work will help us gauge where you are having problems: if it is a technical thing near the end, a short to the point answer will suffice; if it is some fundamental problem with understanding the subject, somebody will then write a longer, more detailed response. It will also prevent people from spending a lot of time going over ground that you have already covered or understand well already. Something like “I already tried X, but it didn’t work”, is a good addition to a homework post.

    It’s not enough to just show your work and ask where you went wrong. If you just need someone to check your work, you can always seek out a friend, classmate, or teacher. As a rule of thumb, a good conceptual question should be useful even to someone who isn’t looking at the same problem you happen to be working on. Of course, it’s still good to include the text of your problem, just in case (more on that a few paragraphs down).

    Don’t just copy the exact problem from your homework assignment or textbook. In particular, when you are asking for help, writing in imperative mode (“Show that …”, “Compute …”, or “Prove or find a counterexample: …”) is at the very least impolite: you are, after all, trying to ask a question, not give an assignment. It also turns many people off.

  • Write down your question.

    Write your question in the Body box. Your question should be clear even without the title. (Especially, do not write your whole question in the title and then put “title says it all” in the body.)

    Write your question out in full; do not post a picture of the question or your handwritten notes. If you really need a picture in your question (e.g. a diagram), make sure that the picture is clear and rotated correctly and has a reasonable size.

  • Write a descriptive title.

    The title should indicate the topic of the question in such a way as to distinguish it from other questions, without going into unnecessary detail (e.g. do not write “Organic chemistry question” but also do not try to put the entire homework problem into the title). Do not use a clickbait title.

  • Reference the source.

    If you’re asking about a specific homework problem from a textbook, include the book and the problem number, so that someone trying to answer the question can go look it up themselves if they need to. If you’re asking about a specific problem from a custom assignment prepared by the instructor, it helps if you quote the complete text of the problem in your post. Again, this shouldn’t be the entire content of the post – you still need to ask about the specific issue that’s confusing you, in addition to quoting the problem – but you never know when the person answering might need additional information from the original problem.

4. Examples

The rules for how to properly post homework questions can be a bit confusing, so here are some examples:

5. As a community member, what should I know?

  • Watch out for long comment discussions. Conceptual ones are OK, but advise the users to take it to chat. Homework posts are quite prone to a lot of back-and-forth clarification in the comments.
  • Downvote/comment on/vote to close (as off-topic) questions which are “bad” homework questions.
  • When answering on-topic homework questions, we prefer that your answer includes a full explanation of the thought process required to obtain the final answer. In particular, hints should not be posted as answers. The rationale for this may be found here.

Parts adapted from How to ask a homework question? (Mathematics Stack Exchange), whole post pretty much copied from How do I ask homework questions on Physics Stack Exchange?

  • 10
    $\begingroup$ 'A "homework question" is any question whose value lies in helping you understand the method by which the question can be solved, rather than getting the answer itself.' Shouldn't it be the other way around? It seems to contradict the rest of the post, from what I can tell. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 26, 2016 at 21:16
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ I had to think twice about that definition as well. I accept it now, but I think it is potentially misleading. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 27, 2017 at 20:24
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ I agree, it is confusing. My interpretation is that the true value of doing a homework question is the learning process, rather than having the end result. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 29, 2017 at 20:20
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ I'm not sure about "as a general rule, we do not discourage homework questions", given that the "tour" page says "Don't ask about... Homework (read the homework policy if you have such a question)" $\endgroup$
    – Andrew
    Commented Jan 12, 2020 at 16:34
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ I swear, this is the one post on chem.meta.SE that I hate the most. And yes, I downvoted it. $\endgroup$ Commented May 30, 2020 at 15:12
  • $\begingroup$ @orthocresol I mean y'all are free to discuss and come up with a new policy, this one is pretty old and was not fully thought out when written $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 3, 2020 at 2:04
  • $\begingroup$ @ManishEarth, we've tried a lot, but not gotten anywhere, really. As far as I can tell, it is still reasonably popular. I am part of a very tiny minority here! $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 3, 2020 at 3:28
  • $\begingroup$ I think the short paragraph about answering homework questions would deserve an independent chapter, as a guidence for responders. Including the moot point if the answer should include the enumeration of the formulas to obtain the literal results. ( = spoon-feeding until the plate is empty ) $\endgroup$
    – Poutnik
    Commented Feb 1, 2021 at 15:00

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