As a new user, if my question is labeled "homework" in a comment, I might feel accused that I am using StackExchange to cheat in my school work. In many cases, that is probably a good description of what is going on, but in many other cases, this will probably feel like a wrong accusation to the OP. There are many other scenarios where someone asks for the result of a calculation without showing their effort to solve the problem.

To someone who frequently answers questions, labeling a question as "homework" probably means something slightly different - that the OP has not done their homework in posting the question. Expectations are to check whether a similar question has already been asked, typing up the problem rather than posting a picture of it, giving some background (where is the question coming from, what is the level of the answer requested), and - maybe most important - documenting the OP's thoughts and perhaps struggles with the question. The expectations are reasonable - a well-researched and written question will have a greater chance of getting a useful answer, useful to the OP and to the larger community.

So maybe instead of the comment "This is a homework question", maybe the more useful comment would be "You need to do your homework before posting a question", with a link to the existing guide on how to ask great questions.

  • 5
    $\begingroup$ Or we could rename the homework policy to something else which reflects the policy for what it is. $\endgroup$ Mar 10, 2019 at 15:52
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Partly related: Please don't call questions a dump, even if they might be one $\endgroup$
    – user7951
    Mar 10, 2019 at 15:54
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ If the question looks adequate and is not something written from a smartphone during the exam, I just leave a corresponding comment: "This is a homework question. [...]". People usually read the answer behind that URL, so it's literally a paragraph of text one click away that's required to understand what exactly the HW-policy here is. But I completely agree, at first the use of the term "homework" made me cringe, but I just got used to it, I guess. $\endgroup$
    – andselisk Mod
    Mar 10, 2019 at 16:04
  • $\begingroup$ It's not that higher rep users have a different view, it's just that, as far as I recall, we were hard-pressed to find a word that would convey so much of the meaning we want to convey that wouldn't have the consequent implications that come with the word "homework". Assignments? Same diff. Problems? Too general and vague. $\endgroup$
    – M.A.R.
    Mar 10, 2019 at 16:08
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ Back when I still used to post canned comments, one of my main considerations was to not use the word "homework". This goes back to my dislike of the homework policy, but recently we just haven't quite had the impetus to make any real changes to it, and I think that having it is still better than not having anything. I concur with @AvnishKabaj that changing the name would represent a step forward. However, even better would be to get rid of it and write something new! $\endgroup$ Mar 10, 2019 at 16:10
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I'd propose "lack of research" or "lack of effort", but this may bring up some subjectivity and OPs might start to ask "who are you to judge?" instead of "this is no homework I finished my PhD 40 years ago". The new name should indeed be chosen very carefully. $\endgroup$
    – andselisk Mod
    Mar 10, 2019 at 16:18
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I do not think it would be possible to find a suitable title which encompasses all of the homework policy because it is not limited to homework questions, conceptual questions or LMGTFY questions. Why go for a descriptive title, a generic statement like Policy Number 1 or Rule Zero should serve the purpose. $\endgroup$ Mar 10, 2019 at 16:35
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @AvnishKabaj, that is something I am personally against. I think a name should at least have some meaning, and if we're unable to articulate what we want to close in words, then it reflects a more fundamental problem than just the name of the policy. $\endgroup$ Mar 10, 2019 at 17:25
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ How about "incomplete"? I like incomplete because there is no value attached (even if in my mind, I have the prejudice that the OP is lazy or taking advantage of the volunteers answering questions), and there is a clear path to making it a better question: add the parts that are missing. There should be a different term for questions that are puzzling (where I might have the prejudice that the OP has trouble with English, is a crazy basement-lab amateur, or is taking on problems without the necessary preparation). The latter might be "unclear". $\endgroup$
    – Karsten Mod
    Mar 10, 2019 at 18:48
  • $\begingroup$ I do agree that the label is confusing as evidenced by the number of times an OP adds something along the lines of "not a question for homework, just can seem to understand all thats going on". I think we as a community tend to become more apathetic by the 15th homework question of the day (I know I do). I think maybe we should not only change the label, but perhaps consider a new way to deal with these questions as people don't always know what they don't know. $\endgroup$
    – A.K.
    Mar 10, 2019 at 19:20
  • $\begingroup$ At the risk of sending the discussion astray: the point (seems to me) of a policy is to (1) keep the site nice and clean (keep good questions/answers) and (2) make it easier for the responder to take appropriate action, reducing stress/frustration/possible conflict. I understand how the "homework" tag in that sense is irrelevant, or the effort put by the OP into answering it, for that matter, other than to: (1) make it easier for the responders to come up with an answer (2) give the responder a justification to can the question. As such a "duplicates" label goes a long way. $\endgroup$
    – Buck Thorn Mod
    Mar 10, 2019 at 19:31
  • $\begingroup$ Problem with the duplicates label is it puts the onus on the responder to show that it's a duplicate. $\endgroup$
    – Buck Thorn Mod
    Mar 10, 2019 at 19:32
  • $\begingroup$ I've never seen questions where I would label something "homework" because the user hadn't put enough effort in to writing an otherwise sound question. But I recognise that, perhaps, there ought to be a name for questions that are just sloppy or badly formulated other than "homework" (where the point is to prevent the site being swamped by questions that seek exam answers without understanding. Perhaps we need a "this isn't a complete question" synonym. $\endgroup$
    – matt_black
    Mar 18, 2019 at 19:30

2 Answers 2


It is unlikely that the flow of low quality posts - which includes many questions that can be labeled "homework" - can be discouraged without penalizing well meaning posters. Therefore, focus must be on handling questions once they've been registered by the system. Karsten has suggested a framework or protocol describing how to identify and handle poor questions. Perhaps this is useful beyond the mechanisms already in place.

I'd like instead to make a suggestion on how to encourage processing of low quality questions: granting rep points for performing tasks to this end. For instance, encourage finding duplicate answers by giving rep points to those who perform this unenviable task (Mithoron?). Another possibility is to merge/link related questions, and provide scores on the likelihood of an answer being in a related question. These are solutions that may require modifying the underlying site, however, and not only policy.

I should add that I am occassionally happy to tackle a question that may be deemed somewhat inferior for any of the reasons Karsten has outlined. I am not sure this behavior is frowned upon.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Awarding reputation for finding dupe would be a better feature request for www.meta.stackexchange.com it's very unlikely that they'll change the system only for Chem. $\endgroup$ Mar 11, 2019 at 15:56
  • $\begingroup$ @AvnishKabaj I found a few related suggestions on the master SE meta site, eg meta.stackexchange.com/questions/90620/… $\endgroup$
    – Buck Thorn Mod
    Mar 11, 2019 at 16:21
  • $\begingroup$ I'm not aware that badges are given for seeking duplicates. Are they? $\endgroup$
    – Buck Thorn Mod
    Mar 11, 2019 at 16:22
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Nope, there are no badges for finding duplicates and the proposal to award reputation for finding dupes though well received has been shut down ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ $\endgroup$ Mar 12, 2019 at 2:24

Good questions and incomplete questions

This is a sketch of why one might call a question incomplete, and what the OP could do to turn it into a better question. This would be an alternative to labeling a question "homework" and giving special rules for those:

Good questions have the four characteristics listed below. If your question lacks one or more of these, it is incomplete and likely to be closed:

  1. All the information needed is on the page, i.e.

    -not a link or a photo

    -no need to ask for more information via comments

  2. You give some context, e.g.

    -where did you come across the problem?

    -if it is an exercise (from a course, textbook etc), is a numerical answer known?

    -how much experience do you have with this stuff?

  3. You show your effort, e.g.

    -what are your assumptions/models/strategies?

    -what did you try and what were your results?

    -which possible paths to a solution did you reject?

  4. You ask your own question

    -what are you trying to figure out?

    -what is missing to solve your problem?

    -at what level would the answer be useful to you?

    -if you posted the complete answer to the exercise as part of the question, what part of your answer are you unsure of?

Examples of incomplete questions (and what you can do to improve them):

  • asking for an answer to an exercise without showing some effort (search for similar questions on the site and tell us what you found or did not find, search online for relevant data and report whether you found something, try to answer the question yourself and tell us how far you got)

  • not asking your own question (even if your starting point is a exercise from some other source, don't just ask the question in the exercise, ask your own question about it)

  • asking for verification of a calculation without asking anything else (say which part you are not confident in)

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I think this is too broad for one single close reason. Duplicates are already hard coded into the system; it’s therefore also slightly pointless to come up with a close reason that encompasses duplicates. But, I do like the line about asking a question about an exercise, rather than asking the exercise. $\endgroup$ Mar 11, 2019 at 13:03
  • $\begingroup$ I will edit accordingly. I wanted to make sure that I include that merely asking for verification is also not a complete question. $\endgroup$
    – Karsten Mod
    Mar 11, 2019 at 13:09
  • $\begingroup$ I concur that most flawed question could be labelled "incomplete". This seems a friendlier and more useful approach than using the "low quality" label. Meanwhile the "homework" label appears to be regarded as largely useless. $\endgroup$
    – Buck Thorn Mod
    Mar 21, 2019 at 8:22

You must log in to answer this question.

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