I've been thinking about this for quite some time now. I've seen 2-3 variations of the template comment in active use. All of them link to the homework policy we have in meta. But this is the template comment I commonly use instead:

Hi %name%, welcome to Chem.SE! We have a homework policy that requires you to show your efforts on this problem. What did you try? Where did you get stuck? Please add this to your question. Thanks!

See? It doesn't link the user to any policy. It just gives them a tl;dr summary of that policy.

I think this has the benefit that users are more likely to read and quickly understand this short summary, and act upon it quickly as well. This might increase user retention rate. If we link them to a homework policy, they might just skip reading it and never come back. They might tell their friends that "Chem.SE has a weird lengthy homework policy...unfriendly site" (of course, that's not what I think though :P)

I am not saying that we should try to retain all users. Many users are non-cooperative and retaining them does more harm than good. They may leave us as happily as we bid them good bye. But, there are also good-intentioned users and we should attempt to retain them. English might not be their first language. How can they be expected to read a lengthy document? Or, they might be users who think: "ok, i'll read this long document by tomorrow and then edit my post". But, when they return tomorrow, they observe "5 downvotes and question put on hold! Unfriendly site, better leave this place..."

So what are everyone's views here on what our default template should be? Again, I neither can nor am I trying to enforce any rules on anyone. If you're using some template of your own, feel free to continue to do so. But I am hoping to reach some consensus on what the best template can be, with input from everyone.

Thank you!

EDIT: Martin quickly pointed out in his long answer that the very mention of the word "homework" can lead to a debate with the OP as to what is homework and what is not, which is very correct. So, as per his suggestion, here's a better comment template:

Hi %name%, welcome to Chem.SE! We have a policy that requires you to show your efforts on this problem. What did you try? Where did you get stuck? Please add this to your question. Thanks!

^-- no mention of the word "homework" there.

  • $\begingroup$ @AvatarShiny Thanks for commenting but I am unable to see the correlation. That post was about instating a bot to welcome new users. This post is specifically about whether or not a new user homework comment should link to the homework policy. Perhaps, if you elaborate I'll understand better? Thank you! $\endgroup$ Feb 19, 2018 at 5:56
  • $\begingroup$ It's not related , quite the scatterbrained human I am. $\endgroup$ Feb 19, 2018 at 5:59
  • $\begingroup$ Nothing wrong with both TLDRing and linking it (as in my super awesome canned comment). First time users posting homework are so diverse you can't predict their reaction most of the time. $\endgroup$
    – M.A.R.
    Feb 19, 2018 at 10:05
  • $\begingroup$ @M.A.R. The problem with linking, as it appears to me, is that a user might think they're expected to read it entirely. If they happen to be a non-native English speakers or maybe think they'll do it the next day (as I described above), they might get downvotes/closevotes by the time they're able to take any action. My main intention was that if a tl;dr can do a decent job of introducing the user to this site without much complication, it might be worth trying it out. If the user asks for clarification later, we can always link to that meta post for more details. $\endgroup$ Feb 19, 2018 at 10:10
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ And waste your valuable time that could be spent editing or posting something going back and forth with a user that actually might insult you. If you want to moderate a fair number of posts without burning out, you should leave the policy comments with as much info as possible, and having prepared them before. Shameless plug. $\endgroup$
    – M.A.R.
    Feb 19, 2018 at 10:23
  • $\begingroup$ @M.A.R. Alright. That is also reasonable. $\endgroup$ Feb 19, 2018 at 10:30

1 Answer 1


Maybe it would help, maybe it wouldn't.

From experience I'd lean towards the last.
The most common reply you will get is something along the line this is not homework. You'll then engage the user telling them what our site considers homework; and the battle in principle is already lost. That user is unlikely to return. More often than not they come as one-time users to the site in the first place. If they don't get a quick answer, they'll probably forget about the site all together.

I don't consider that much of a problem, as there is a constant and abundant influx of these kind of questions, and that is likely only to increase. It is tedious to try to convince every single user of them to stay here, and contribute positively.
On the other hand, we'll gain users by having great content. People who know how to use search engines will sooner or later realise that they'll always end up at the same place. They become interested in the community. These are the users who are critically to our site, because they care.

The best way to welcome a user, and retain he{er..im} is to answer the question.
If they just copy/paste an assignment, then that is very unlikely to happen. The new user will be disappointed anyway. And the most common reactions to neutral comments asking for more details are defensive; why do you need to know that, why are you asking me this, why can't you just help me, etc., the list is endless.

Just to be clear, I am all for retaining all users, but I am realistic enough to know that that is not going to happen. I learned this the hard way, committing too much time into this, getting in arguments with new users about what is or is not homework. In less than 1% of the time, it was an effort worth making. And while I enjoy the occasional constructive disagreement (I think the most wonderful I had on this site were with ron), because I can learn a lot myself; arguing about a settled meta issue is just nothing I want to do anymore.
I'll continue to link to that crappy policy, still providing the tldr, but either the user is interested enough to actually read it, or not.

  • $\begingroup$ Alright, alright, it seems like the word "homework" just turned on your reflex actions :P What if we just say that "Hi %name%, welcome to Chem.SE! We have a policy that requires you to show your efforts on this problem. What did you try? Where did you get stuck? Please add this to your question. Thanks!" <-- no mention of the word "homework" there. This deletion pretty much offers a solution for your first paragraph. What say? $\endgroup$ Feb 19, 2018 at 7:37
  • $\begingroup$ I edited my question in response to your suggestion. $\endgroup$ Feb 19, 2018 at 8:00
  • $\begingroup$ @Gaurang You can of course try that; I am not holding you back. From my point of view it simply is a wasted effort. You write policy, a new user is unlikely to know what that even means; without a link or a name, {s..}he cannot even look it up, therefore all {s..}he will read is they can't or won't help me. I have had those experiences, and I simply stopped caring about these encounters. Users who seek genuine help, will read what they are offered, will edit what they are asked. Why care about those who don't even want to do that? What can we expect from them anyway? [...] $\endgroup$ Feb 19, 2018 at 8:42
  • $\begingroup$ [...] It really is not the size of the user base that matters, it is how dedicated they are. You can even try something along the lines: Welcome to chemistry.se. Please tell us exactly where you got stuck, without knowing what you know, we are not able to help you properly. I really, really doubt this will have any other effect. And unless it is a genuinely interesting homework problem, it is unlikely to be received well, and will gather down/close votes fast. A comment like yours or mine will not prevent any of that. $\endgroup$ Feb 19, 2018 at 8:48
  • $\begingroup$ @Gaurang A couple of years ago I asked something very similar, here and as a follow up here. And this has further been addressed here. There has to be a balance between quality control and the implications of it closing down-voting questions, and user acquisition. Both is important, but both has to come naturally, no level of niceness will change that significantly. $\endgroup$ Feb 19, 2018 at 8:53
  • $\begingroup$ Alright, I feel it's much wiser to agree to your experience, since you've been here for a really long time. You must have tried a lot to do all such things as I've already said, but perhaps, that might not have worked out very well. I've understood and agree to that completely. Thank you for a detailed feedback! Much appreciated ^_^ $\endgroup$ Feb 19, 2018 at 9:43
  • $\begingroup$ @Gaurang I really do not want to discourage you from trying; my experiences might be different from yours. I have found a way to allocate my time, and I learned how I dedicate it here. Everybody has to find out how to do that themselves. I can only share my experiences, and try to prepare you for disappointment. I'm sorry about that, but that's the best I can do right now. $\endgroup$ Feb 19, 2018 at 9:49
  • $\begingroup$ Sure. I'll try my best and see how it goes. If it goes bad, I'm sure I'll handle it properly :) $\endgroup$ Feb 19, 2018 at 9:54

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