This site (like many in SE) gets peppered with non-optimal quality homework questions and for someone interested in looking through the questions quickly this is a pain, not least because well intentioned questions might be misconstrued.

I see off the top of my head two possible solutions. If one, both or others are already implemented please enlighten me. In any event:

  1. Allow quick browsing of questions with a popup or preview (such as in email) - that would remove the very time consuming requirement of hopping back and forth between webpages.

  2. Add a homework or other tag to indicate that a question might be a repeat or otherwise.

There is a deprecated homework tag. I could find no information regarding why this was deprecated. Seems the website could gain a lot from application of a filter so that homework questions are under a separate tab. Application of the tag by editors also would provide an easy way to filter questions of lower quality.

This does not seem to help since I believe (i) people don't bother to read it and/or (ii) people ignore it and post anyway. Some questions do not seem far removed from trolling.

It's been a while since I was behind the scenes in SE but from past experience the editorial work is also arduous and often frustrating.

Dumping questions that are regarded low in quality or duplicates into a separate channel without requiring time-consuming manual action such as writing comments, flaging, or editing directly or indirectly would save a lot of time, not to mention reduce frustration.

Aside: is there a guide describing how to filter the content?

EDIT: My goal with this question was really to understand the mess of seemingly poor questions streaming among the new questions, potentially hiding the more interesting stuff, consuming editorial resources, and also providing the temptation of showing off that one actually knows a little more than a newbie (a temptation which if followed might prove useful to the person replying and the person whos problem is solved, but no one else in particular). In other words, the person answering gains something from the exercise, too, even if, as has been explained to me, registering the value or result of such a superfluous effort for perpetuity is not in the spirit of the site.

Having begun the slow process of educating myself on the history of the [homework] tag, I would like to add:

  • People learn chemistry in many different ways, and presumably this is a topic discussed in another meta thread, but I might summarize them as

    1. Understanding abstract concepts and
    2. Understanding how to apply concepts to solve problems, ie "homework".
  • "Homework" problems can range from the seemingly trivial posted by a lazy student, to the impossible to answer, asked by a sadistic teacher and echoed by a desperate student. They are always of value to someone, and even near carbon copies can vary enough to be useful, if only to an AI engine.

  • There is potential value in assembling related homework problems together, even when these are only variants that would otherwise be labeled duplicates, in much the way that SO has programming puzzles/golf type of problems (I've noticed orgo problems of this type but this does not lend itself in the same way to pchem). The style would have to be a tad different, naturally, for compiling homework.

  • I should also add that some fields in chemistry allow for a surprisingly varied range of methods to reach an equally correct (and ultimately identical) answer.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @TryHard I would say homework tag as you describe it doesn't add anything on top of the already existing options to flag or vote to close a question as homework. The only difference is a homework tag used as essentially a "this is not a good question" label doesn't get the question removed/fixed any faster. The tag could also be removed by the original poster or any other editor, unlike a flag or close vote. $\endgroup$
    – Tyberius Mod
    Commented Nov 16, 2018 at 18:39
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ chemistry.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/3640/… chemistry.meta.stackexchange.com/q/238 $\endgroup$
    – Mithoron
    Commented Nov 16, 2018 at 19:08
  • $\begingroup$ chemistry.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/3071/… $\endgroup$
    – Mithoron
    Commented Nov 16, 2018 at 19:12
  • $\begingroup$ @Tyberius The idea of a homework tag is to shift a number of questions into a parallel thread of questions. This also prevents languishing or truly worthwhile questions from being submerged, without depending on other's votes or flags to remove "offending" material, and without offending the poster (who evidently has a question of value to them). I think the rep and up/downvote system has great attraction but imho fails when you have a flood of relatively bad questions relative to eyeballs editing and voting on them. $\endgroup$
    – Buck Thorn Mod
    Commented Nov 17, 2018 at 19:20
  • $\begingroup$ @Tyberius Also, the experience of encountering "live" questions is a large part of the attraction of SE: the interactivity. But it rapidly turns "bad" when discussion becomes whether a question was asked before or not. Some people post with the intent of seeking to discuss the question with someone, to find enlightenment not just through what was previously written (which frankly may be obscure to some), but through dialogue. $\endgroup$
    – Buck Thorn Mod
    Commented Nov 17, 2018 at 19:23
  • $\begingroup$ This is why you might want to have a homework tag, to make it explicit that existing questions are not helping you, or because you need a helping hand understanding posted material, not finding a posted answer. Such discussions could be of value to SE if archived with the original questions. $\endgroup$
    – Buck Thorn Mod
    Commented Nov 17, 2018 at 19:25
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @TryHard I don't think it is unreasonable for people to want a more discussion based form of help with a problem. However I don't think the SE network is designed or inclined to operate in this way. The sites are meant to form more of a repository of expert knowledge rather than to have a dialogue with experts (though this is somewhat covered by the chat rooms associated with each SE). I think what your proposing is effectively a completely different idea for a site than what SE has in mind. $\endgroup$
    – Tyberius Mod
    Commented Nov 17, 2018 at 19:30
  • $\begingroup$ @Tyberius Ok, but what SE wants ideally to be does not solve the problem of bombardment by tons of not so great hwk questions, and the slow and costly mechanism of removing these. Perhaps the work of keeping a question alive should be up to the poster by actively appealing a demotion of the question to a hwk-dedicated subpage limbo (a demotion which should be as quick and easy as an editor adding a tag) which automatically treats everything there as deletable... $\endgroup$
    – Buck Thorn Mod
    Commented Nov 17, 2018 at 19:34
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @TryHard this gets into my comment below orthos answer, but even if the Chem SE community overwhelming wanted this feature (which I don't believe they do based on prior discussions of this issue) it would require the SE developers to implement it and they would only do this if they thought it would add value across the whole range of SE sites. So what you are looking for is largely outside the control of Chem SE and would constitute a pretty significant overhaul of the site. $\endgroup$
    – Tyberius Mod
    Commented Nov 17, 2018 at 19:40
  • $\begingroup$ @Tyberius Ok, I see your points. I think the SE network gods earn their bread by keeping people coming - I don't know where the balance lies between people searching for answers and using posted answers, and people posting new questions and a subgroup of experts bothering to address these. Perhaps I'm naive to think the later are important, whereas the bulk of users find an existing answer and walk away, and those posting fresh material are very much in the minority. Perhaps this is another meta thread, somewhere in the "conversing with the barman" category... $\endgroup$
    – Buck Thorn Mod
    Commented Nov 17, 2018 at 19:51
  • $\begingroup$ This post (and some of the comments) have caused me more mental pain than dealing with the last homework-type questions; for various reasons, but mainly because it basically says that a homework question is a bad question. Not only has that been disproved quite a few times (and quite impressive at some of these occasions), but what you want does - in a way - violate the shiny new Code-of-Conduct, as it would slap a 'this is garbage' label on quite a few of new contributors questions, without any of them being engaged, or actually helped, or even treated equally. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 19, 2018 at 17:11
  • $\begingroup$ @Martin - マーチン I'll have to read that glowing code. My understanding is that accuracy/quality of questions and answers are the responsibility of their authors. I think it is quite obvious when a homework problem is a homework problem, irrespective of quality. I admit that such problems are not necessarily intrinsically low quality, but I believe (without stats to back me I admit) they are more likely to be considered repeats. Checking prior work is time consuming and often falls on reviewers/potential repliers because posters are lazy or didn't do due diligence. That is a pain. $\endgroup$
    – Buck Thorn Mod
    Commented Nov 20, 2018 at 10:49
  • $\begingroup$ There is an oxymoronic (or recursive) property about codes of conduct: the people who should read them usually don't because they are too lazy. $\endgroup$
    – Buck Thorn Mod
    Commented Nov 20, 2018 at 10:56

1 Answer 1


The homework policy and the associated tag is something we have discussed previously at length, so I will refer you to Do we really need [homework]? [Part 3] - this is where we decided that the tag itself is not particularly useful, and that we should stop applying it to new posts.

The bottom line is that:

  1. We don't have a clear cut definition of what is and what isn't homework. The best definition that we have now is in the homework policy: "A "homework question" is any question whose value lies in helping you understand the method by which the question can be solved, rather than getting the answer itself." This is obvious enough when it's a copy paste from a workbook. It's less obvious in some borderline cases and if you wade through the many meta discussions we've had, you'll see why this has been a problem for years.

  2. Fundamentally, there is no difference in the way we should treat homework and non-homework. If you are using 'homework' as a synonym for 'low-quality', then I'll make it quite clear now that it does not mean the same thing. There are good homework questions, and there are poor questions which are not homework. In the case where a question is good, we seek to answer thoroughly; and for poor questions, we downvote and vote to close.

    Note that this reflects a change in site policy: see e.g. this post, where it is argued that homework questions should be answered differently, and hence the tag served a purpose – to instruct other users how to answer them. Over the years, we have moved away from this model of answering. That is an entirely different story, but the point is that that purpose no longer exists.

There are other reasons e.g. a general SE-wide stance against meta tags, but they're less relevant.

Add a homework or other tag to indicate that a question might be a repeat or otherwise.

This is called a duplicate, so we shouldn't be using tags to do this.

Seems the website could gain a lot from application of a filter so that homework questions are under a separate tab. Application of the tag by editors also would provide an easy way to filter questions of lower quality.

I do not believe that homework questions are inherently worse than any other questions. This goes back to point (2) in the previous section: homework does not equal low quality. There may be a general correlation, but it is not the same thing.

If you want to filter out low-quality questions, then there is a better way of doing it, and that is to downvote questions. Any question with a score of –4 or less will be automatically hidden from the front page, without you having to do anything else.

Again, this is not something that should be accomplished by using tags. Not only is it a misuse of the tagging system (tags are supposed to describe what a question is about, not how good or bad they are), it is also cumbersome to filter out questions of a certain tag (you would need to search for is:question -[homework]).

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for the extended explanation links. Ironically I ape many who come to the site seeking answers and don't do a sufficiently thorough job looking to see if a questions has been asked (and satisfactorily answered) before. $\endgroup$
    – Buck Thorn Mod
    Commented Nov 17, 2018 at 18:38
  • $\begingroup$ I will have to diggest your comments more carefully. This is well trodden ground, evidently. In any case, a good question for one person is not the same for another. Clearly if you are taking chem 101 and someone answered your hwk problem on SE and you can copy the answer verbatim, for you that is a great answer. For the people who frequent the site for "other" reasons (whatever they may be), maybe not. It's partially a question of scope and generality. $\endgroup$
    – Buck Thorn Mod
    Commented Nov 17, 2018 at 18:44
  • $\begingroup$ A good question is (i) well formulated in the sense that it contains all the information required to answer it (it is clear what is being asked), and ideally fulfills other other requisites (grammar, formatting, wordiness etc). The SE has a page dictating such requirements; and (ii) it has not been asked before. If the question is a repeat, then (i) should at least make it more likely that an AI will identify the previous question. $\endgroup$
    – Buck Thorn Mod
    Commented Nov 17, 2018 at 18:49
  • $\begingroup$ Too many questions seem to fail these requisites, probably more than half, although perhaps I was grumpy when I went to the site last. This is a problem. $\endgroup$
    – Buck Thorn Mod
    Commented Nov 17, 2018 at 18:51
  • $\begingroup$ There is naturally the issue that most of the low lying fruit, so to speak, have been picked. This is a problem for people looking to answer questions, whatever reason they may have. $\endgroup$
    – Buck Thorn Mod
    Commented Nov 17, 2018 at 18:52
  • $\begingroup$ Combine that with the evident laziness of posters to search the site properly or to write decent questions and you compound the problem. $\endgroup$
    – Buck Thorn Mod
    Commented Nov 17, 2018 at 18:53
  • $\begingroup$ I admit, while I've visited SO, I do not frequent SE chemistry but developed an interest just recently when I saw a question answered here- this led me to the questions page, but I got burned fast when I actually tried to answer a question that looked reasonable. But I think I follow the train of thought here a little better. $\endgroup$
    – Buck Thorn Mod
    Commented Nov 17, 2018 at 18:55
  • $\begingroup$ I could add some more comments. I still think browsing the site is a bit of a pain. There is a lot of noise. It would be nice to have more preview info on questions, like an abstract rather than just a title. Perhaps the feature exists. In addition, why not filter questions from newbies with no rep show up in some parallel thread (not just latest questions). I'll have to read more on how the site is organized. Clearly I don't understand it all. $\endgroup$
    – Buck Thorn Mod
    Commented Nov 17, 2018 at 19:01
  • $\begingroup$ I think the action of asking may in many cases be a desperate search for interactive q&a type of guidance, a dialogue, not just a written answer to someones previous question, which may answer the previous posters question, but may leave the new poster equally confused. Perhaps this is not the role of SE, but the number of such posters is a significant burden. Perhaps old questions should remain alive in some sense, providing some source for dialogue. Again, perhaps other methods are available for this, or perhaps SE is not interested in providing such dialogue type of assistance. $\endgroup$
    – Buck Thorn Mod
    Commented Nov 17, 2018 at 19:06
  • $\begingroup$ Finally, the fact that I got downvoted despite my feeling like I have something useful to say indicates clearly that the format of the site is a bit, err, closed. It seems so inviting but simultaneously it fails much of the public who post and don't understand the rules. Maybe it should evolve into two parallel venues, or provide more interactivity, or some other way to satisfy such users? Also, I know posters who have over the years posted tons of low quality questions and thereby accumulated a remarkable reputation, despite continuing for the most part to ask bad questions. $\endgroup$
    – Buck Thorn Mod
    Commented Nov 17, 2018 at 19:12
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ @TryHard A lot of what you suggest (separate streams for new users, question previews, better searching) are really changes that aren't specific to Chem SE and would probably have to presented as feature requests across the whole range of sites. Also, I wouldn't worry about downvotes on meta (especially since it was just 1). On meta, they aren't necessarily meant to reflect poor quality of a question/suggestion, but just kind of yes/no on the proposal. I think the question is fine, but I disagree with the proposed solution (though I up voted the discussion) $\endgroup$
    – Tyberius Mod
    Commented Nov 17, 2018 at 19:37
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @TryHard, I downvoted your post when answering because I disagree with your suggestion. As already mentioned, votes on meta simply indicate agreement/disagreement. And yes, most of what you suggest is not within our control. I don't code the site, I just work with the existing tools. Lastly, SE is not really a place for dialogue or for tutoring. The ideal is almost business-like: ask a question, get an answer, case closed. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 17, 2018 at 19:59
  • $\begingroup$ @orthocresol That's fine, that was a fine point about meta I'd forgotten. No hard feelings. Still, there is a dissonance in the multiple functions of the site, especially as it has matured. I don't have a ref point to compare to, but wonder how the fraction of lower quality questions has changed over time... $\endgroup$
    – Buck Thorn Mod
    Commented Nov 17, 2018 at 20:06

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