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Recently, Stack Exchange has allowed moderators to customise the wording that is associated with custom close reasons. Here I would like to focus on (by far) the most used close reason on the site, aka "homework". I have written up some short blurbs; it would be very nice to get some feedback on them from the community.

Note that none of these are actually changing the policy itself. It's just an attempt to provide clearer guidance for users.


Part 1: Close vote screen

Many users will be familiar with this text: it's what appears when you click on that "close" button, then "A community-specific reason". Instead of having one long line, we can now have two lines. The first one is a very short description, the second is a slightly longer one. See the screenshots below for a comparison.

My proposed text:

No effort displayed
This question does not demonstrate any engagement with the underlying concepts or an attempt at understanding them.

(I believe that the original homework meta post needs to be substantially rewritten, and therefore I would rather not link to it, but I am quite open to changing that.)


Part 2: Notices on closed posts

The following pieces of text are displayed on a question after it has been closed. Essentially, it is a more tailored version of the current notice:

From what I understand, different users will see different versions of this text:

  • The post owner, i.e. question asker, will see (1) and (2a).
  • People with the reopen privilege (≥ 3000 rep) will see (1) and (2b).
  • Everybody else will only see (1).

My proposals follow:

(1) Close description When a post is closed with a single community-specific close reason, this message will be displayed publicly above any private guidance.

This question does not demonstrate any engagement with the underlying concepts or an attempt at understanding them. For more information, refer to the criteria for on-topic homework questions.

(2a) Post owner guidance Provide meaningful actions a user can take to either get their question reopened or have a more favorable outcome in the future.

Your question was put on hold as it does not show your thoughts on the question, or any attempts towards a solution. Telling us more about your problem allows us to help you better. Please edit your post to include more information: this can be your working so far, where and why you have gotten stuck, or the context in which your question arose. In particular, please provide a citation if your question is directly taken from a book or other source. More guidance can be found in this meta post.

(2b) Privileged user guidance Provide guidance for users with the reopen privilege so they can constructively engage the post owner and reopen the question if appropriate.

If possible, please consider improving this post by engaging the asker to ascertain their current knowledge, especially encouraging them to edit the question. Another way of helping is to make edits which improve language usage or formatting, which will increase the likelihood of the question being reopened in due course once the asker provides more information.

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    $\begingroup$ You might have guessed that already: I don't like the effort criterion. $\endgroup$ – Martin - マーチン Jun 27 at 12:00
  • $\begingroup$ @Martin-マーチン I share your reservations about it, even after many many years, but I think that (1) I am not sure if we will ever find a replacement, and (2) even if we do, it will take a while to reach a kind of consensus. In the meantime at least, I feel it would be a good thing to improve the guidance around question closure. Maybe I'm just valuing pragmatism over idealism for this one post ;-) $\endgroup$ – orthocresol Jun 28 at 12:50
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A meta-analysis: M-philosophy vs O-philosophy

I think we are stuck because there are two schools of thought. The M-philosophy is that StackExchange Chemistry is a repository of questions that stand alone; the OP happened to ask the question, but their story is not part of the question, making the question universal. The O-philosophy is that the core of the question is the interaction of the OP with the subject matter (including the misconceptions).

With the O-philosophy, it makes sense to talk of "effort" and to demand more effort from OPs when the question is poorly stated. With the M-philosophy, "effort" is not relevant - the quality of the question is.

With the M-philosophy, the audience for the answer is everyone at anytime. With the O-philosophy, the audience for the answer is the OP, and everyone who got stuck in a similar way.

My stance is somewhere in the middle with a tilt toward the O-philosophy, although I hope my answers have as large an audience as possible. I often cite the OP's queries in my answer to make sure I stay close to the thought process of the OP. I could see the same canned exercise posted on two separate occasions, but asking about a different misconception that came up. (Or OPs getting stuck in different ways.)

A framework for improving the closing process

I think the close reason should expose the key flaw, and the prompt would give directions on how to fix it. [See comments in my answer here]

A suggestion for a close reason and a revision prompt

If I formulate my idea of the key flaws of a typical "homework" question (and I think our community agrees on this label in 99% of cases), it would come down to two things the OP did not address: "Why do you want to know?" and "Why can't you answer it yourself?".

Accordingly, the prompt would be "Make sure you tell us why you want to answer this question, and what prevents you from answering it yourself". These prompts are clearly of the O-philosophy: We are asking about the interaction between question and OP, and we are asking the OP to show more effort (without saying "effort", which might discourage the OP from posting better questions in the future).

As for the close reason, I like Martin's "explain your problem", making sure they ask their own question, even if it is about an exercise problem from elsewhere. Maybe something like "You did not explain your problem sufficiently". And we could reiterate that in the prompt, which might be "Please edit your question to improve your problem statement. Make sure you tell us why you want to answer this question, and what prevents you from answering it yourself".

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  • $\begingroup$ I previously made a suggestion of relabeling homework questions as "incomplete", but I think this is more focused. chemistry.meta.stackexchange.com/a/4407 $\endgroup$ – Karsten Theis Jul 1 at 13:30
  • $\begingroup$ My first question is what 'M' and 'O' stand for. :-) I personally lean pretty far towards M, and have long thought that "effort" is a bad criterion. However, my personal opinion has not mattered for many years, especially since I rarely vote to close. My impression has long been that the community votes to close based on O-type criteria, and the text I picked is just trying to reflect that. $\endgroup$ – orthocresol Jul 1 at 14:54
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    $\begingroup$ I do like your proposals, though. I think that (ultimately) they should also be backed up with more detailed guidance as well, much like how the current text links to the homework post. $\endgroup$ – orthocresol Jul 1 at 15:07
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    $\begingroup$ @orthocresol I think we all have some O and M in us. Sometimes, it's clear that the problem is more in the head of the OP, sometimes it the way the question is written. In any case, I think the OP has to engage with their own question, and communicate that. Note that in the draft prompt, the word "you" or "your" or "yourself" appears six times: "Please edit your question to improve your problem statement. Make sure you tell us why you want to answer this question, and what prevents you from answering it yourself". I think that makes clear we want more effort from the OP without using the term. $\endgroup$ – Karsten Theis Jul 1 at 15:55
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    $\begingroup$ @orthocresol The closing community has a small core. I would like to see the stats one day. I think overall, they are doing a phenomenal job, so there is no reason to change which type of questions are closed. It is more about closing them with clear guidance and without turning people off who have the potential to improve their current question and ask good questions in the future. $\endgroup$ – Karsten Theis Jul 1 at 16:00
  • $\begingroup$ I find the philosophical angle useful and important although a bit off-topic since it becomes a question of "what questions are appropriate for chem SE" rather than the blurbs orthocresol is proposing (which depend on one of the close reasons: homework). I tried to avoid addressing that point."You did not explain your problem sufficiently" sounds very much like it could be handled by one of the other close options (insufficient detail or lack of focus). Also, "why do you want to know" seems ambiguous and of minor importance. They may answer, "because I want an A in chemistry". Ok, what then? $\endgroup$ – Buck Thorn Jul 1 at 17:57
  • $\begingroup$ Many "homework" questions such as the example I present in my answer can also be closed in principle using the "needs details or clarity" option. This is the case where the OP mixes up concepts resulting in a confused analysis. The question then lacks clarity. Simply closing a question does not help the OP much since the message will not tell the person where they are confused. But that is not an issue with closing, it is about interaction with the OP as you suggest. $\endgroup$ – Buck Thorn Jul 1 at 18:13
  • $\begingroup$ The issue of interacting with the OP is problematic since that is not supposed to be the point of SE, even while it can be one of the more fun aspects. If you employ somewhat mercenary thinking, the utility of a post+answers boils down to how many people are helped which tends to scale with number of views and votes. If you are less mercenary, each question is valuable independently of votes/views. From what I recall there is a meta post on SO by Jeff Atwood that basically suggests all possible variations on a question are ok, since they can help different people. I agree, within reason. $\endgroup$ – Buck Thorn Jul 1 at 18:15
  • $\begingroup$ The "effort" clause addresses another point: the website is not supposed to be a free homework solution service. The request for "effort" is arguably in the best interests of the OP and their schools and reduces the likelihood of spamming with nonsense questions. By placing greater responsibility on the OP it also reduces effort expended searching for duplicates. $\endgroup$ – Buck Thorn Jul 1 at 18:26
  • $\begingroup$ @Buck I like to view the 'Homework Close Reason' as a tool to help the OP improve their question. Therefore I think it is most necessary for questions of the type 'you did not explain your problem sufficiently', even though the 'Needs Clarity Reason' could very well be used. If we take the prior out of the equation, then we wouldn't need a custom reason imo. I remain of the opinion, that effort is the worst criterion to close a question. But I do not wish to digress into this discussion here any further as it is neither the right place, nor the right time. $\endgroup$ – Martin - マーチン Jul 2 at 17:06
  • $\begingroup$ "Effort" is a bit loaded, I agree (but honest - what is easier than copying a problem verbatim). However it is a question not just of helping the OP (which is the basis for all close options, a suggestion that the OP improve a post), but of the OP helping us answer the question (the repair part). The "effort" clause would afaik be visible to the reviewer, not to the OP. Ultimately it is a question of personal judgement and of making tools available to the reviewer to improve the site and make things easier (less effort for us :-). $\endgroup$ – Buck Thorn Jul 3 at 17:41
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    $\begingroup$ I've seen the problem stated elsewhere and I fully agree with it: what prevents people from posting pictures of questions from their books? What we call the clause we invoke to stop a flood of such questions is not terribly important, but the language that describes the problem to the OP, once they become aware that the question is closed, is important. That's why I think the documentation is important, to make sure we close for the right reasons, and so visitors understand why we close (and how to reopen). The wording on the blurb is of course just a helpful reminder. $\endgroup$ – Buck Thorn Jul 3 at 17:46
  • $\begingroup$ I mix a lot of ideas into the discussion, I realize the thread gets cluttered. I think we should just pick a nice label for the blurbs, perhaps improve the documentation as necessary, and relax until the next round of argumentation :-) $\endgroup$ – Buck Thorn Jul 3 at 17:49
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Part 1: Close vote screen

Original:

No effort displayed
This question does not demonstrate any engagement with the underlying concepts or an attempt at understanding them.

Possible alternative:

Insufficient effort evident
This question as written suggests no meaningful effort was made to find a solution to the problem or to understand underlying concepts.


Part 2: Notices on closed posts

(1) Close description When a post is closed with a single community-specific close reason, this message will be displayed publicly above any private guidance.

This question does not demonstrate any engagement with the underlying concepts or an attempt at understanding them. For more information, refer to the criteria for on-topic homework questions.

Possible alternative:

The question as written suggests no meaningful effort was made to find a solution to the problem or to understand underlying concepts. For more information, refer to the criteria for on-topic homework questions.

(2a) Post owner guidance Provide meaningful actions a user can take to either get their question reopened or have a more favorable outcome in the future.

Your question was put on hold as it does not show your thoughts on the question, or any attempts towards a solution. Telling us more about your problem allows us to help you better. Please edit your post to include more information: this can be your working so far, where and why you have gotten stuck, or the context in which your question arose. In particular, please provide a citation if your question is directly taken from a book or other source. More guidance can be found in this meta post.

Possible alternative:

Your question was put on hold as it does not show your thoughts on the question, or any attempts towards a solution. Telling us more about your problem allows us to help you better. Please edit your post to include more information: this can be your work so far, where and why you are stuck, or how your question arose. In particular, if the problem was copied from a source such as a book, please cite the source. More guidance can be found in this meta post.

(2b) Privileged user guidance Provide guidance for users with the reopen privilege so they can constructively engage the post owner and reopen the question if appropriate.

If possible, please consider improving this post by engaging the asker to ascertain their current knowledge, especially encouraging them to edit the question. Another way of helping is to make edits as necessary to improve language usage or formatting, which will increase the likelihood of the question being reopened in due course once the asker provides more information.

Possible alternative:

If possible please attempt to improve this post by engaging the asker, ascertaining their current understanding of the question and encouraging them to make edits. Another way of helping is to make edits as necessary to improve language usage or formatting, increasing the likelihood that the question will be reopened once the asker provides more information.


Comments

(1) Close description

I don't like the ring of/find the following unclear: "engagement with a concept". One is usually engaged with a person or a task (to be engaged in the latter sense means "to be occupied with").

I present my own very brief summary of what characterizes hwk questions worthy of closure $^\dagger$:

(1) no meaningful effort was made to find a solution to the problem

or

(2) no meaningful effort was made to understand underlying concepts

(2a/b)

I edited for what I consider clarity and conciseness

In general I prefer to tread carefully and would suggest if possible avoiding an accusatory or overly dismissive tone. The hwk close ruling can be expected to lead to confusion. The OP is bound to wonder "What's the point of this weird site if simple questions are rejected outright? Are they trolling?"


$^\dagger$ A homework question usually consists of either of the following:

(i) a request for information about a particular concept or topic to be clarified or researched.

(ii) statement of a "scripted" problem; that is, statement of a question accompanied by data or information that allows the question to be answered.

The policy for closing "homework" is insufficient effort. How this reveals itself can vary and depends on whether the hwk question is of type (i) or (ii). If type (i), to be worthy of closure the user should be asking for an explanation which could be reasonably found with minimal effort (where a quick clarification of the confusion or link to an external source would suffice) and where no such effort has been displayed.

An example:

what is the difference between lattice energy and lattice enthalpy

lattice enthalpy is defined as the energy required to completely seperate one mole of a solid ionic compound into gaseous constituent ions. lattice energy is also defined like this.so is there any difference between lattice energy and lattice enthalpy.

The answer to the above post is not trivial, but can be found trivially by searching for "lattice energy" and/or "lattice enthalpy". More generally, the user's own statements suggest they have not made a minimal effort to understand the difference between "enthalpy" and "energy" - the underlying concepts. This question could be submitted to a vote close as a duplicate by searching for a chem SE post that answers that specific question. However, common sense would arguably suggest that this should not be necessary here. Ideally a comment or link should be provided for the benefit of the OP.

Type (2) questions are often multiple choice or numerical problems meant as exercises. Such a question can be considered worthy of closure if it has clearly been copied from a book or educational source and no attempt to answer the question is presented, or offers as explanation confusion about a concept which is easily explained (as in case 1) without requiring a full answer (where a quick clarification of the confusion or link to an external source would suffice).

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  • $\begingroup$ Would you mind explaining why you've changed some of this? I see that you added "as written", which I can certainly agree with (since closure is not the end of a question, ... ... so it's a good point there), but the rest seem to be minor rewordings? $\endgroup$ – orthocresol Jun 28 at 12:48
  • $\begingroup$ @orthocresol I can add some explanations to my answer as an addendum; I wanted to keep the answer to a minimum. Yes, style plays a role in the edits. I think visitors - particularly someone who's had their post closed - will be sensitive to style, but I admit some of it is just personal preference (british vs american diction, say). $\endgroup$ – Buck Thorn Jun 28 at 13:22
  • $\begingroup$ Ok, thanks for this. Personally, the tone doesn't seem to be very different to me, but that means that I would be quite ok with those changes (after all if you like it better and I'm indifferent, we may as well go with that). I'm open to the rephrasing of 'engagement' vs 'finding a solution', let's see if anybody else has an opinion. $\endgroup$ – orthocresol Jun 29 at 8:54
  • $\begingroup$ The policy for closing "homework" is insufficient effort. I am not okay with that being the summary of our entire homework policy; the word effort itself only appears in the examples category. The main takeaway should be ask a conceptual question and explain your problem. $\endgroup$ – Martin - マーチン Jun 30 at 16:22
  • $\begingroup$ @Martin-マーチン I entered into a discussion regarding reasons to close homework with orthocresol in this post. The conclusion that emerged from that discussion is that the "effort" clause is unique to closure of homework, all other ones being covered by other close options (lack of focus, detail, duplication, etc). Your point is noted, and I recommend you post an alternative answer with alternative wording for the blurbs. $\endgroup$ – Buck Thorn Jun 30 at 18:28

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