Could we let low rep users (presumably budding young chemists...) answer homework questions? If they can teach, then they are reinforcing their knowledge.

Let's say that after 500 reputation a user becomes a "real chemist" and should refrain from answering homework questions.

You could implement this in code of course, but that is probably too complicated for this site alone. It would seem that all the Stack Exchange sites have this problem.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ The other side of this coin is that I'm not a chemist at all and I have more than 500 rep. That said, the very reason we close homework questions is to prevent the bad answers that will follow. Sure, someone might go the extra line and write a really nice answer to a bad question, but we're talking statistically here. Statistically, it's proven that bad questions get bad answers. +1 though since this is a useful discussion. $\endgroup$
    – M.A.R.
    Mar 1, 2017 at 6:04
  • $\begingroup$ The point is to get neophyte chemists to try to answer the homework questions. A bad answer can always be down-voted. I am a chemist, or at least I was, and I still have given wrong answers. // I'd guess you'd need a different penalty for bad answers too. So a user with a low rep doesn't get dinged for trying to answer a question that is tagged homework. $\endgroup$
    – MaxW
    Mar 1, 2017 at 6:21
  • $\begingroup$ Then your proposal would be the same as not closing the bad questions. Also the newer users usually get angry at a simple downvote (the train of thought is that "u bloody hi-rep user haz lotz rep but i no do") so I'm not sure how much your proposal helps improve the situation currently. $\endgroup$
    – M.A.R.
    Mar 1, 2017 at 6:29
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I'm not a real chemist either. But, regardless, I have no desire to wade through bad answers to bad questions to find one to upvote because it might be right. So, I'd have to do the bad homework problem myself to see which answer is right (ugh!). Then, we become the homework help site, and I stop coming by... $\endgroup$
    – Jon Custer
    Mar 1, 2017 at 14:12
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ I am a "real chemist" who got to be in the top five users almost exclusively by providing high quality answers to the good and borderline homework questions. I approach the site in this way because I teach chemistry for a living, and this is the way I feel motivated to contribute to the community. I want to improve the homework questions by providing good answers to to them (and by editing borderline questions to improve them). $\endgroup$
    – Ben Norris
    Mar 2, 2017 at 3:08
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @M.A.R. chemistry.stackexchange.com/questions/69646/… $\endgroup$ Mar 2, 2017 at 18:55
  • $\begingroup$ Hmm, that reminds me @Ortho . . . Do we have a comment template for users posting (bad) answers to off-topic questions? $\endgroup$
    – M.A.R.
    Mar 2, 2017 at 19:13
  • $\begingroup$ @M.A.R. Not that I know of. $\endgroup$ Mar 2, 2017 at 19:16
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Ben you're awesome! This site does need a fair share of users of all types, and when you're providing a stellar answer, nothing should ideally prevent you from doing so. I even remember a few cases where a bad question was reopened or left open so a good answer would be provided. The problem here is that it's not obvious whether the answer the 1-rep user will post will actually be better than if it doesn't exist, and that's exactly why we close questions. We do know and expect users like you to provide answers like this guy. $\endgroup$
    – M.A.R.
    Mar 2, 2017 at 19:17

4 Answers 4


I upvoted the question because it is a good question. However, I do not agree with the suggested proposal.

Stack Exchange’s policy is to attract high-quality questions by delivering high-quality answers. It is a key part of that policy to require questions to have a certain standard. This is one of the reasons why the upvote arrow’s tooltip reads:

This question shows research effort; it is useful and clear.

Area 51 denotes the type of question that a fictional plumbing.SE site should get:

Ask real, expert questions
We want you to capture the moment that plumbers feel when they look at Plumber Overflow and say, "Whoa! That's my kinda site!" On a site about plumbing, there are 200 easy plumbing questions, and they've all been asked 100 times on other sites. Don't suggest questions like "How do I unclog a drain?" Instead ask, "If you run 2.5 GPM through 50 feet of 1/2" galv pipe, how many psi will be lost to friction loss?" Remember, pro sites WILL attract the enthusiasts, but not the other way around!

This is the real reason behind the homework close reason: They are bad questions, they do not show research effort, and they repel professionals — professionals in teaching already typically sigh when they have to explain a simple concept twice. It is also the reason behind the wording and the ‘effort requirement’ — we are much more happy to accept questions where OP showed thought.

Thus, all homework questions should be considered with the same scrutiny. It would go against this site’s model to leave bad homework questions as a practice playground for inexperienced users. We should enforce our community’s rules on all questions regardless. And we should notify users that (accidentally?) answer bad homework questions why they are unlikely to get much recognition.

Note that answering homework questions has never been forbidden. If you manage to answer between posting and closing, that’s good. If the answer is correct, one or two users will upvote it. But we shouldn’t encourage it.

  • 4
    $\begingroup$ Agreed. Close bad homework questions. Rescue borderline questions. Provide high quality answers no matter who you are. Try to convert homework questions into non-homework questions. Do not leave our weakest questions to our users with the least experience on the site. $\endgroup$
    – Ben Norris
    Mar 2, 2017 at 3:10

Please note that I took the liberty to downvote your question, because I think that

  1. the implementation of the 500 rep suggestion isn't worth the result
  2. everybody should have the right to answer homework questions and should make use of it

Like most of the regulars, I do help to close homework dumps. The decision usually comes very fast and no, it doesn't bother me.

But I do like to answer the good ones and it is fun, using hints, analogies, some drawings and the obligatory

spoiler :)

About 17% of my answers are on homework questions.

As Jan, Ben, and orthocresol have already agreed upon, this site is about quality, in questions and answers. I'm strictly against a low quality homework ghetto, or as Jan kindly called it, a playground for inexperienced users.

Users with less experience are welcome to give answers on whatever topic they chose. If somebody has just done a lab, he might very well be able provide useful hints on experimental procedures and their pitfalls.

However, in terms of quality, the same standards should apply to all answers.

As far as the homework topic is concerned, we often make use of the obligatory link on how to ask a good homework question. Do we need a similar guide on how to give a good answer to a homework question?

I think that common sense and the vault of editing wisdom are sufficient.


I am (as of this post) the fourth highest reputation user and I do not care for this suggestion. Jan is correct in noting that often homework questions are low quality and a poor fit for our model. However, I teach chemistry for a living and I generally enjoy answering those homework questions that are of reasonable quality. In fact, you want users like me to answer these questions so that they get high quality answers, which attracts more and better questions. I have a special soft spot for borderline homework questions that I think I can save, but that is another topic for an older meta post.

A move like this would alienate me and those like me.


From the point of view of somebody who would potentially be enforcing this: My apologies but I don't entirely understand what is going on here and how such a policy might be implemented.

As long as the question is not closed, there is actually nothing stopping low-rep users from answering them. As others have mentioned, if the answer is good, it will be recognised appropriately. This holds true regardless of the reputation of the answerer.

The only way we are actually preventing people from answering homework questions is by closing them. So, would you want us to refrain from closing questions in order to specifically let low-rep users answer them? If this is really about closing questions, then you may wish to drop a line on this meta discussion: A new policy of closure: November 2016 All comments are welcome regardless of whether we actually end up implementing them or not. We do want to hear from the community.

And should we automatically delete any answers to homework questions by >500 rep users? For reasons that are obvious enough, I cannot agree with this, so I hope that this is not under consideration.


You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .