This question on spectrometry, asked a few days ago, was closed as being a homework question.

Determining Structure of molecule based on IR Spectra and HNMR data

I will be the first to agree that it is a really bad fit for our site. So, I don't even mind it being closed. In fact, the single downvote on the question is from me.

However, I don't understand why it is closed specifically as homework. The homework close reason reads

Homework questions must demonstrate some effort to understand the underlying concepts...

Personally, I think there is enough "effort" in this question to not warrant closure. I know that you may or may not agree with my assessment, as this is a subjective matter; in fact, this is why I did not use my moderator close vote, and it is also one reason why I am not going to use my moderator reopen vote now.

The other reason why I am not reopening it is simply because I still think it is a bad fit for the site. (I don't mean to blame the OP him/herself; I am just talking about the question.) I think that an answer that addresses the OP's queries is almost impossible to write. An answerer would have to explain, at the very least:

  1. The usefulness of the IR peaks
  2. Where to start from in determining the molecular structure (OP seems to have started from the IR data, which is imo almost useless in this case)
  3. What the 5H integral at 7.2 ppm means
  4. 5+1+2+2 = 10 protons in total, not 11, as the OP seems to think. Probably a careless mistake, but still.
  5. Why OP's proposed structure does not fit the spectrometric data given
  6. What the actual answer is (it's 2-phenylethanol, in case you're lazy to work it out)

I am slightly frustrated at this entire scenario. I understand that users do not want to write such an answer. However, the close reason given is inapplicable. If the OP had gone to read the homework meta post, it would not help him/her at all. The way I see it, the issue is that this OP has far too many misconceptions, which makes the question a very poor fit for Stack Exchange.

My question, therefore, is twofold:

(1) Should we be closing such questions? (Note that closure still allows you to engage with the OP in the comment section, or chat, for example, if you want to help.)

(2) If so, do we need a new close reason to cover such cases, instead of using homework as a catch-all?

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I'm a little concerned about our zeal to close stuff, yeah. I'm eagerly waiting for your policy post. (TRE's next event is waiting for your policy post too) $\endgroup$
    – M.A.R.
    Apr 12, 2017 at 6:09
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I'm still fuzzy on the reasons to close the question - it sounds like ortho & Todd have rather different reasons. -- Ortho doesn't like it as there's too many things to address, so perhaps that's "too broad" (or good answers would be too long for a Q&A format.). Todd apparently doesn't like it due to the lack of effort. But a "lack of effort" close is problematic and the argument is that we shouldn't be using closure to deal with it. $\endgroup$
    – R.M.
    Apr 12, 2017 at 21:01
  • $\begingroup$ Indeed, I am not sure about the reasons too. Hence this question. $\endgroup$ Apr 12, 2017 at 21:13
  • $\begingroup$ I am on the do not close side of the fence in most cases, especially when a question has merit, and even more so if an answer is feasible. I would rather see homework questions have a waiting period of 2 weeks before answers will display or be closed, subject to unblocking if OP shows required work product. It is not about resources. The search algorithms could be tuned to not expose them to robots until there is an answer. $\endgroup$
    – KalleMP
    Apr 14, 2017 at 17:52
  • $\begingroup$ @KalleMP (1) That is literally impossible, in the sense that we simply do not have the ability to implement such measures. (2) The idea of a waiting period for homework questions has been debated before. My view is: if a question is good, then answer it, and if it is bad, then close it. The aim of the site is not to be homework help, it is a Q&A website; and therefore, we are not under any obligation to ensure that OP only receives help after they have submitted their homework. The only requirement is to answer the question. $\endgroup$ Apr 14, 2017 at 18:01
  • $\begingroup$ @orthocresol My point exactly, homework questions are penalised because they help lazy people not because the questions are inherently bad (though research may be lacking), I would rather any good question stay if it had an answer as this is what SE is about. If the homework issue bothers you then don't answer the question, if it could be automated to pause results to suspected homework then it should no longer bother anyone. All people with high points 2k+ could see answers immediately in the interest of moderation. Anyone with 2k+ points deserves to have help with his homework anyway. $\endgroup$
    – KalleMP
    Apr 14, 2017 at 18:10
  • $\begingroup$ @orthocresol Which measure did you mean was impossible to achieve? Or do you just believe it will require some development that may not be forthcoming from the developers who have a vested interest in having a smoothly operating system that makes the most people happy. $\endgroup$
    – KalleMP
    Apr 14, 2017 at 18:11
  • $\begingroup$ @KalleMP any of the automated bits - e.g. hiding answers before a certain period of time, or modifying how the site is indexed by search engines - is not possible. We could propose them on meta.se, but 99.99% chance they get shot down immediately. In general I do not think that effort should be a criterion to determine whether a question is good or bad. (see also discussion here) So, I agree with what you are saying. However, nobody here likes being asked - no, not even asked, more like told - to do somebody else's homework for them. $\endgroup$ Apr 14, 2017 at 18:26
  • $\begingroup$ so that is something that we have to take into consideration when deciding what is on- or off-topic. Ultimately, it is the entire community that should decide. Feel free to chip in on that linked thread (in my previous comment) if you have something to say! $\endgroup$ Apr 14, 2017 at 18:30

1 Answer 1


I voted to close this question for several reasons. None of them on their own warranted closure, but in sum I felt that they were enough to justify pulling the trigger. Here are my reasons.

(1) I have a personal aversion to posts that are comprised of images from textbooks or homework assignments or (worse) handwritten notes and pictures. While I understand that in many cases a picture is worth a thousand words (or, in the case of a chemical structure, a picture is the only viable option sometimes), the words themselves ought to be included in the text of the post, if only to make it searchable on the Web. That's strike one.

(2) The phrase "Any chance I can get help with this?" overshadows what work has been done by the OP and, to me as in (1), prompts a knee-jerk reaction to close. I'm not saying my reaction is warranted, it's just that similarly-worded posts have usually ended up being indicative of homework dumps (in my experience). The OP did not really get into the business of the ratios of the areas of the peaks, the use of the mass spec data, the carbon-13 NMR data, or demonstrate the ability to add correctly. That's strike two.

(3) The coup de grâce was/is the lack of effort to tabulate in greater detail which IR data corresponded to which functional groups and which proton/carbon-13 NMR peaks/chemical shifts corresponded to which protons/carbons, respectively. In the interest of curating our site's collection of useful questions and answers, this one falls short: I don't see how this question contributes to chem.SE (although the answer is a fine one).

In answer to Orthocresol's queries:

(1) Yes. They are simply sub-par in terms of quality.

(2) Yes. Simply remove the word "Homework" from the description and retag or otherwise identify queries such as this as "problem-solving" or some other euphemism, so the phrase becomes:

Questions in which the poster requests assistance in solving a stated problem must demonstrate some effort to understand the underlying concepts...

My $0.02.

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ You presented a good case for why this question should have been down-voted to oblivion. I disagree that it qualifies for closure according to any of our current customs. Also note that some effort was shown. We have discussed the matter of enough effort previously and I personally think it's a poor qualifier/quantifier to justify closure. $\endgroup$ Apr 12, 2017 at 5:29

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