I have been a user of Chemistry SE for a little while, and most of the questions over here are homework. While a few of these questions show research effort and genuine need for help, a vast majority of them are copy-paste questions by lazy people who can't solve their own homework. Take a look at this question:

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I cannot believe the nerve of that asker. Does he think he can tell us to solve an entire question paper while he probably relaxes and has a good time? Absolutely not (good thing it was closed). And let's not even get started about the darned squirrel in that picture.

That was just a sample of what a poorly asked homework question is, I'm sure more experienced users than me would've seen countless more.

I have now come to the impression that we shouldn't allow any more homework questions on this site, whether it's framed correctly or incorrectly. For those who object, please read my reasons before coming to a conclusion. I welcome all criticisms to this idea.

What's StackExchange's main motive?

As far as I know, StackExchange strives not only to help the asker alone, but also to other people with similar queries. That's why conceptual questions are often highly upvoted and promoted over here. Millions of people would be pondering upon questions like "Is the benzylic anion more stable than a trichloromethyl anion?" StackExchange is a good, if not The Best, way to get such questions answered. But homework? How useful could such a question be to the vast majority of Internet users? Would you really search for something like "Find molarity of 55g $\ce{NaI}$ mixed in 250 kg acetone?". Would it be with the exact same numbers? I thought so.

It's clear now. Homework questions do not help the general public to get educated. Is this an enough reason? If you thought no, then please do move to the next section of reasons.

Are we really helping the asker?

If a person asks a low quality homework question, it would get closed. While the point of view of the asker at this is important (I'll get to it in next section), we should mind our own motives. Are we moving any closer to achieving our aim of being "The Best QA Site" (some of you may argue that we're already the best, but hey, let's improve)? Can we feel satisfied at a job well done in helping a user at need by closing his question?

It causes REALLY bad publicity:

This is a very important point I must emphasize. We say about our perspective when we close the question. What about the perspective of the asker? Think about it in their way. They would be thinking, "What a loser site! They can't even answer my worthless homework my worthless school gave." What next? They would tell their friends. Their friends would tell their friends. This keeps on spreading and finally, we have crazy bloggers creating blogs to rant about how StackExchange is "full of Nazis!".

It literally pains to hear such things about my favorite QA site. No one should call StackExchange that way. Should we allow homework questions and literally stab ourselves again and again? Is that enough reason? Definitely not. Please do read on...

But I have a homework question I can't solve!:

We at StackExchange, love to help those who are truly in need of help (don't we?). Often in homework questions, its not the question that troubles, rather its the concepts behind it.

Rather than asking like, "Solve this organic question about carbocation rearrangement", rephrase it to something like, "Why does a 4-membered cyclic ring carbocations expand to a 5-membered one?" Don't mentio anything about homework in your question. Rather see it as a conceptual doubt you have gotten.

Do you see? We can block the copy-paste no effort homework questions, but still allow the actual underlying conceptual question that made the homework question difficult for the answer. In addition, such questions can be easily googlable, so it's more useful to the general public than ever before.

Anyone who takes the care to understand the underlying concepts behind the question and frame the appropriate questions is worthy of our help. This is what I feel about StackExchange.

My book says my answer is wrong! Is it a key mistake?:

I should've added this to the above point, but I think it needs its own section. If your confident in your answer, do you need the key to tell you? If you're unsure, you could follow the guidelines in the previous section and also mention what you think. This would help you get your desired answers and also help other potential web surfers who wondered the same thing.


In a brief paragraph, I'll describe all the advantages of disallowing all homework questions. By stopping homework questions, we reach closer to our true goal of providing valuable resource to our community and to the general public. We can feel satisfied with having helped a user in need. We can avoid undesired bad publicity and change what the general public thinks about SE. We can still satisfy potential askers by clarifying the underlying concept behind the homework questions.


This is such a big request I have proposed. A wise person on meta told me, "Meta resists change by default". Feel completely free to downvote this post if necessary. But I urge you, for Chemistry StackExchange, do drop a few comments describing why you disagree with my ideas. Do drop a few more ideas if you have. My main aim here is very simple, to make StackExchange a better place for all.

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    $\begingroup$ Very appreciable idea! But just one question– How are you thinking of implementing it? I mean, how will we disallow a homework question? I think the site itself can't automatically reject any question (distinguishing it as a homework question) until it is posted, can it? And if you are thinking of disallowing it after posting, then it will imply the previous process of voting to close it (which in the meantime is facing an experiment against it). So, how? $\endgroup$
    – chail10
    Commented Jun 1, 2017 at 20:14
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    $\begingroup$ @chail10 Yes, but it will be easier to get rid of them now. At least a handful of Internet users would know that homework questions aren't allowed, if this was implemented. Even if some don't read the FAQ, we don't have to read the question and decide if it shows effort or not. Simply close and move on. Stackexchange will get better questions I feel. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 2, 2017 at 4:04
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    $\begingroup$ Pritt, the community has discussed this sort of approach before, and every time it's run into problems crafting the precise definition of what is to be prohibited. It's too hard to come to a consensus of what the criteria should be, and crafting a single statement to cover all of the criteria, should they even be decided upon, is pretty much impossible. $\endgroup$
    – hBy2Py
    Commented Jun 3, 2017 at 2:23
  • $\begingroup$ This is part of the purpose of the disabling of the homework close vote reason this month: trying to get users to take your recommended course of action, but with one word changed: Simply downvote and move on. The site has automatic mechanisms to cull downvoted posts without upvoted answers; see here. $\endgroup$
    – hBy2Py
    Commented Jun 3, 2017 at 2:24
  • $\begingroup$ @hBy2Py while yes, it's hard to define exactly what's homework, but won't it be easier to get rid of them if this was implemented? $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 3, 2017 at 3:24
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    $\begingroup$ Pritt, in order to use a policy as a screen for what to prohibit/remove, you have to come up with a definition for that policy. The concept of "homeworkiness" that you have in mind may not match mine, or Mart's, or M.A.R.'s, or ortho's, or .... We would have to reach consensus in order to do what you propose, and despite LOTS of discussion have failed to do so. If you have an idea for a specific, concise definition of what "closeable homework" is, by all means propose it on meta. In the meantime, this alternative experiment (disabled HW close reason) will continue. $\endgroup$
    – hBy2Py
    Commented Jun 4, 2017 at 22:44

1 Answer 1


"People who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones" springs to mind.

Most homework questions I see fall into one of two categories:

  • the first category is questions like the photo in your question. These are often dealt with very rapidly, and we already have a policy in place (even taking into account the fact that the homework close reason has now gone).
  • the second category is more of a grey area, and comes back to the stones and glass houses quote. Consider your own question "What would this unsaturated cyclic compound be called?". Whilst it may not technically be from a homework assignment, it could quite easily have been closed as homework, by your own metric:
    • its not asking about a specific concept, its simply asking for the name of something that could quite easily have been found on google if you'd taken the time to search
    • theres no explanation of your reasoning, other than a vague guess at what it may be called

It's this second category that most of the debate is about regarding homework questions (as I said, I feel like questions in the first category are pretty swiftly dealt with), as its very hard to exactly define what is a homework question beyond things which are blatantly from a book "help me answer Q2.1(a) from Klein Organic Chemistry pweazeeeeeeee".

(My point with the example wasn't to berate you for asking a bad question, I'm just making the point that its subjective, and in some respects were all guilty of occasionally asking the community for help with things we could have found ourselves (i.e. EVERYTHING with enough time reading). Often even 'bad' homework questions generate 'good' answers)

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    $\begingroup$ Yup precisely. Why doesn't my question on morpholine NMR (which you answered) count as homework? I could easily have looked it up online. Of course, when the question is of a "higher" level and it's asked by a regular, people don't close it. But I shouldn't get special treatment. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 4, 2017 at 17:57
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    $\begingroup$ And I agree in particular with your last sentence. Bad questions can be polished and can attract good answers. Sometimes I think we are too hasty to judge a question as being lousy. Often it might be true, but equally often there is potential in the question that can be brought out. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 4, 2017 at 17:58
  • $\begingroup$ I see. But what about the publicity issue? Some annoyed askers who didn't read the FAQ properly are gonna still be shouting around saying "SE sucks!" right? $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 5, 2017 at 2:55
  • $\begingroup$ What exactly is the publicity issue ? $\endgroup$
    – NotEvans.
    Commented Jun 5, 2017 at 3:15
  • $\begingroup$ See my original post above @NotEvans, under the heading It causes REALLY bad publicity $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 6, 2017 at 4:49
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    $\begingroup$ @PrittBalagopal The problem there is that there will always be someone who thinks they're entitled to free help and will be a complete tit when they don't get it. Block the question before its posted? "Close-minded twats who didn't even give me a chance." Close the question as homework? "Anti-homework chemnazis." Downvote to oblivion? "Xenophobic s**t-mongrels who can't even answer a simple question." I've seen people who had the gall to get on a forum, demand that everyone help them, then insult everyone who gave them help because it wasn't the answer they were hoping for. Why is there... $\endgroup$
    – chipbuster
    Commented Jun 6, 2017 at 8:38
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    $\begingroup$ ...a reason to believe that simply banning homework questions will improve the publicity front? One way or another, someone doesn't get to have their question answered. $\endgroup$
    – chipbuster
    Commented Jun 6, 2017 at 8:38
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    $\begingroup$ @PrittBalagopal Where's the bad publicity? Is Yahoo Answers mad at us? $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 6, 2017 at 23:41

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