As of this writing, this question has three close votes. As what? Of course as homework.

I'm also seeing myself leaving questions open more often in the Reopen queue, and I'm one of the perpetrators of zealous homework closure for something that's not obviously homework.

If lack of research isn't enough reason for closure in itself, and neither is being basic, why would they be enough reason together to close something? It seems we're more inclined to send a "I don't like this question and I don't want it answered" message across than guide users, which is unfortunate.

It seems this has at least one unwanted side effect: I'm upvoting questions in the First Post review queue that contain some thought process on the OP's side, which are obviously different from no-effort homework posts, that I otherwise wouldn't upvote.

Or maybe it's just me, and I've finally given in to insanity, and I've just sit around in the Close Vote queue for too long. Maybe I just need some fresh air.

Are we a bit overzealous in closing things, especially as homework, and we should we tone it down?


3 Answers 3


I think part of the issue is that the "Homework" close is being double-dipped as a "this question is too basic" close reason. (For the rest of this discussion, I exclude the obvious copy-and-pasted-from-a-book questions.)

People tend to bring "effort" up routinely with homework closes, but I think that's a bit of a red herring. Questions with a similar level of "effort" (or lack thereof) are posted, up-voted, and answered by Chemistry SE luminaries all the time, with nary a discussion of "homework". Effort per se doesn't factor into the key thing that's tipping these toward a "homework" close.

I'd say that the reason these types of questions get the homework close is that they're viewed as being too simplistic. People see the question and roll their eyes at the level of question. It's a question whose answer "should be obvious" to anyone with a moderate level of skill and knowledge at chemistry. The only people who would typically struggle with it are those who haven't successfully completed a typical High School/Undergraduate chemistry course. -- Which is why people reach for "homework": only people encountering this as a classroom exercise would be the ones who would bother to post it.

It's a trend I've seen in a number of these sorts of cases. Whether a question is viewed as "homework" or not depends on the perceived level of the question.

Have a question perceived as "advanced"/"difficult"? You probably don't need to post much background or evidence of "effort" in finding a solution. Simply state the problem and request an answer, and we'll trip over ourselves trying to answer it. -- That's the case even if the answer can actually be found in the go-to reference book for that sub-discipline. No recrimination about "not putting in sufficient effort" for not looking at the CRC handbook first ... provided the question sounds advanced.

In contrast, if you post a question whose answer "should be" obvious, you'll get hammered with "homework" close votes, and terse comments about "showing your effort" (as if adding "I looked at references A, B & C, and they didn't have anything to say about the topic" somehow improves the answer ...). -- If someone comes along and points out the answer actually isn't obvious at all, then suddenly everyone reverses track, rescinds the close votes, deletes the comments and up-votes the question for being thought-provoking, even without a substantial edits to the question.

I think that's the main issue with the (non-copy/paste) "homework" closes. The people doing the closing think the question is too basic (e.g. could be answered by your average undergraduate solely by consulting standard reference works). There's a general concern about questioners wasting answers' time and the whole "help vampire" thing, and people here (rightly) don't want to waste their time if a little more effort on the questioner's part could solve things. Basic questions are seen as wasting people's time, as the answer "should be" obvious. People then reach toward "homework" as the close reason, as the copy-paste-from-book style homework question is the purest expression of this "help vampire" issue, and the lack of a bright line on what constitutes "homework" questions lends itself to scope creep.

The solution to this is likely two-fold:

  • First, we have to decide (or re-confirm the decision) about the scope of the site. What sort of questions do we permit? Is Chemistry.SE only for professional-level chemistry questions, or chemistry questions at all levels? On the mathematics side, they have two sites, MathOverflow for the high-level professional Q&A, and Mathematics.SE, for people at all levels of interest. We don't necessarily have to split the site, but we should at least agree about what level of question is or is not appropriate for this site. (Are all chemistry related questions on-topic, or do you need a certain level of chemical sophistication in the question before it's on-topic?)

  • Secondly, once we have decided on a scope, we need to get people to stick with it. If we decide to rule out certain questions as being "too basic", we should make (and use) an off-topic close reason that's specific for the "too basic" reason. (No re-using the "homework" close.) We also need to make sure people know the limits to what the "homework" close is for (and not for).

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I agree that there is definitely a double standard when it comes to "basic" vs "advanced" questions. Most of the misuse of the homework close reason is probably on questions being too basic, although I believe it goes beyond that as well. $\endgroup$ Commented May 10, 2017 at 20:37
  • $\begingroup$ Let's assume that Chem.SE should cater to all levels, where there is no baseline for chemical sophistication required to participate. Do you think one could split apart basic conceptual (maybe "foundational") questions from those that are nothing more than rote calculations (or the chemical equivalent of calculations in reaction form)? $\endgroup$ Commented May 12, 2017 at 1:20
  • $\begingroup$ @pentavalentcarbon You're right that the rote calculation style questions are also an issue, but even then I'm not sure that "homework" is the right close. If we have a canonical question about how to do such calculations, then it's close as duplicate. If we don't, (or the question addresses a situation not well covered by the canonical answer) then it is a good question, and we should explain the problem solving technique (without necessarily "giving away" the answer to particular calculation being posed). $\endgroup$
    – R.M.
    Commented May 16, 2017 at 15:30
  • $\begingroup$ I suppose I'm in agreement with all those points in principal, except the last one (explain the technique without giving away the answer). It still seems too error prone. Consider that we have some verbiage currently saying to not give away answers, yet it happens quite often among people who haven't been here > 2 years. It may not start off perfect, but eventually the revised policy should be bulletproof against this abuse. $\endgroup$ Commented May 16, 2017 at 18:16

I voted to close the question referenced above simply because there's nothing volunteered from the OP other than a description of a problem and a request for an answer (which, coincidentally, is also how I would describe a homework or test question). For me, that was enough to warrant closure under the not-enough-effort provision.

For the more general query involving overzealous closure as homework, well, if there was another choice like "not enough effort shown by OP", I'd click that button. But we don't have one, so I go with homework in cases such as this.

My $0.02.

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Not one of the downvoters, but since no one has commented yet: The reason there isn't a show-your-research close reason is there shouldn't be one. It's a slippery slope, and prevents closure from being beneficial to the community. I personally would not want the site to go that direction, where closure becomes a burden, not assist. $\endgroup$
    – M.A.R.
    Commented Apr 28, 2017 at 6:57

I actually agree that we should tone it down. You can check my previous questions in physics in which I have provided as much as I can and gave them all the information I came across while solving but I am consistently put on off topic. And to be honest I feel now that the reason might be just jealousy and ego issues. What probably goes through their mind is "oh. I'm not able to solve this. but, homework questions should be asked with context and blah blah blah." and end up down voting and eventually my question goes on hold. In chemistry and math I've experience my fair share of this issue but it's not that prevalent as in the physics department, that's what my personal experience dictates at least. It's nice to see someone addressing this pressing issue.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ It's a classic misconception on the askers' side, that whenever we're closing their questions, it's because we don't know how to answer it. I assure that is not the case. And jealousy? Well, no one here knows you, even if you write your full name and address. Most of us are from different countries of the world. What information would we have, as outsiders all over the internet, from your personal life, that would make us jealous of your accomplishments? $\endgroup$
    – M.A.R.
    Commented Apr 28, 2017 at 6:52
  • $\begingroup$ BTW, your issues at Math and Physics Stack Exchange should be brought to their respective meta. There's nothing we can do about it/them. $\endgroup$
    – M.A.R.
    Commented Apr 28, 2017 at 6:59
  • $\begingroup$ I never said you should do something about it. And misconception?I hardly doubt it. I have seen my posts being downvoted by a guy(won't say his name) who asks basic stuff on stack like things which you can easily look up on a book, I think it's a little unfair ain't it? . But that's my opinion and you have yours. If it becomes a very pressing issue for me that hinders the purpose of stack exchange in my life then I'll definitely take it and address it at broader scale right now I was just using as a stepping tool to promote. I views on the topic that your question/post is actually about. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 28, 2017 at 8:24
  • $\begingroup$ And judging by the amount of down votes I think the people I'm talking have found this answer of mine rather rude. But it's a community. And this is my opinion. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 28, 2017 at 8:26
  • $\begingroup$ Downvotes aren't the same as closure. You need 125 rep to downvote, but 3,000 rep to close vote something. And I have a load of easy questions. That doesn't make me unable to answer yours. And the downvotes on this answer are just because of disagreement, not its quality or rudeness or anything. $\endgroup$
    – M.A.R.
    Commented Apr 28, 2017 at 8:27
  • $\begingroup$ I feel I'm not able to get my point across. So I'm gonna end it here. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 28, 2017 at 9:08
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ No, you're perfectly conveying your points, albeit with incoherent punctuation. And that's why we're disagreeing. The downvotes, unlike the main site, are because we disagree. Don't worry. Downvotes on meta don't affect rep, and it's okay to disagree with people. $\endgroup$
    – M.A.R.
    Commented Apr 28, 2017 at 9:10
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I think you are drastically downplaying the competence and maturity of stack users. $\endgroup$ Commented May 1, 2017 at 2:29
  • $\begingroup$ I agree that it might seem like it. But I assure you I'm not questioning anyone's credibility, I am just sharing my viewpoints and the things faced by me. I haven't generalized anything. If you still feel so then I guess it's normal since viewpoints can be different. This isn't a question which one can look up in a book and answer so I don't think that different viewpoints should be a surprise. $\endgroup$ Commented May 3, 2017 at 17:50

You must log in to answer this question.

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