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Reading through Meta after seeing a lot of homework-related closures, I found quite a few questions that address our community's confusion with the homework close reason:

I'm not sure when to close a question as "homework" and it doesn't seem like there's a clear consensus among the users with closing priveleges, either. A while back, Mad Scientist said this regarding closing homework questions:

I'll have to take a bit more time to think about how to handle the bigger issue.

I don't know if MS ever came up with anything, so I'm opening this for discussion.

The Problem

The problem is not that these posts are homework, it's that the asker doesn't care enough to do enough background research to even ask a good question. Questions stemming from homework can be excellent if the asker takes the time to research and form a good question about what actually confuses them. Conversely, there are also questions like this one which show how little work the asker really wants to do (and make me sad):

I would like you to list their respective partition coefficients (logP), binding affinities (Ki), EC50's, IC50's at the opioid receptors (κ, δ, μ), binding profile and countries where they are approved for clinic use.

That may not be the greatest example; I know I've seen worse questions.

Whether or not a question is actually homework is often a tricky decision. There are questions from people working in research labs closed as homework (example†). There's even a user who feels the need to disclaim that his questions are not homework to avoid the dreaded homework close reason:

Please note: This is not homework! I am a grown man who works as a software engineer by day and I migrated here from the Stack Overflow community.

Part of the overarching problem is that it's difficult to tell when a question is actually homework. This makes users unhappy/mad when we accidentally mis-classify questions as homework ("but this isn't an assignment!" "I'm just curious!"). We're also using the homework close reason for things that are not homework. In the words of WYSIWYG:

Sometimes we classify no effort questions as no-effort homework and close them.

That comment thread is a good read (for those of you who had not already participated).

Please note that I am not trying to vilify anyone for misusing close reasons. The overwhelming majority of closed questions were closed correctly and should stay that way.

The Solution

We need a new close reason. A close reason that describes the type of questions we're closing using the current homework reason. Both fileunderwater and GriffinEvo have broached this subject before:

I feel that maybe the Homework close reason could be expanded to also include questions that overall lack basic background research. I agree that it can sometimes be unclear what close reason to use, which can to rather unclear feedback to the poster of the question (the official close notice after the Q is closed). - fileunderwater

I think I will start voting to close as off-topic giving the custom reason "This post appears to be off-topic because it does not suit the target audience of this site (biology researchers, academics, and students). While questions are welcome regardless of their difficulty, users should have made some effort to find an answer for themselves by, for example, reading basic biology text books or online material first." - GriffinEvo

This is the sentiment I think a new close reason should have. However, as that last sentence indicates, I can't word things eloquently. I'd like to still include a link to the homework FAQ page, as it can be helpful for anyone, not just students with homework, to write a good question.

Can we come up with a good close reason that better describes questions that should be closed (including questions that would currently be closed under our homework close reason)?


tl;dr

The homework close reason isn't cutting it. We need a new, more general close reason that applies to no-effort questions, that still applies to no-effort copy-paste homework questions.

We don't need a homework close reason if we can close no-effort copy-paste homework questions under a more general reason.


† I think this question (referenced above) has potential and could be saved.

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    $\begingroup$ A general problem is that we have very different standards on different questions. For instance, I just saw this which completely lacks background and most similar questions are closed as homework. This one was however picked up by Hot network questions and has now recieved 15 upvoted (most upvoted Q in the last 2 days). The problem is that the question is useful to have, the answers are good, but it represents a clear double-standard compared to most Qs that are closed as homework. $\endgroup$ – fileunderwater Jan 19 '15 at 10:55
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That kind of close reason would be a bit too close to the general reference close reason that turned out to be rather problematic. A custom close reason influences the community quite a bit and can make the close decisions more black-and-white than they would be otherwise.

It actually isn't that much of a problem if the asker doesn't check in a textbook before asking. It drastically increases the chance that the user asks a bad question, but the lack of research itself is not the actual problem. Most of our questions can be answered if you know where to look in the appropriate textbook for the field. A strict requirement that users would have to consult a textbook before asking would eliminate the majority of our questions.

But I agree that the issue is not only homework. Users just dumping their assignments here is a problem. Users essentially treating us as a database, asking for random facts about specific molecules without searching themselves is a problem. Questions that clearly show that the user lacks understanding of the basics are a problem, they often would need nearly a book chapter to properly answer. Questions that are too vague because the user didn't put any effort into writing them are a problem.

We don't have a clear policy on how much effort we require for questions, we'll have to discuss that first before changing the custom close reasons.

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  • $\begingroup$ I agree that asking for references or closing because Qs are to "easy" can be problematic. However, I do think that we should be able to close because of lack of background research (essentially no background or initial ideas from the poster). Sure, such Qs are often unclear, and can be closed as such, but not always. Sometimes the Q is clear but just plain lazy, irrespectively of whether it is a homework question or not. $\endgroup$ – fileunderwater Jan 9 '15 at 8:59
  • $\begingroup$ How about posting a reference to the answer and then putting the question on hold asking the OP to refine the question further? $\endgroup$ – One Face Jan 10 '15 at 16:02
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    $\begingroup$ @CRags It is up to you. You can provide a link in the comments but we should not encourage such questions. I think it is okay to provide a short answer (if you know one) to questions that are off-topic because they belong to some other field of science and then voting to close. $\endgroup$ – WYSIWYG Jan 13 '15 at 9:04
  • $\begingroup$ A well-run Stackexchange community $\endgroup$ – Turbo Jan 19 '15 at 23:46

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