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The statement for closing based on no work shown I believe shouldn't include the word homework. Not everyone posting a PSQ (problem statement question) is actually doing homework. When they read: homework question

They will be inclined to defend the fact that their problem isn't homework if that is the case. If the statement just reads you are missing context or detail, there is nothing to for them to debate about in the comments since we aren't labeling their question.

I made a suggestion here showing what math does and you will see we dont label the problem as homework. Additionally, we don't have debates in the comments from the OP about their problem being homework either. This is the current close reason at MathSE:

enter image description here

Therefore, I suggest that the word homework be removed from the close reason. I believe we should keep the close reason for not showing work though.


To long for a comment so I just updated my post.

From my understanding of the comment chain, it appears that any question that isn't a homework question and is answerable would be allowed on the site. If this is the case, any OP who can sell the fact that the question isn't homework (if it is true or lie) would have grounds for their question to be reopened or never closed. Once individuals know that, who just want their homework done, they will just vehemently contest their problem comes from independent curiosity and viola we will be inclined to accept that and never close or reopen the question. To me, this system seems prone for easy abuse.


Closed is not a permanent state always

Let's note also that closed doesn't mean never reopened. The op can add detail and have their post reopened. I see it all the time on math. The ones who don't care or just want answer won't add detail. The ones who want to belong to the site and are new usually improve their question to fit within the norms.



Another concern could be what should happen to all older questions that dont meet this new criteria. My thoughts on that are document here:

I understand your point view Lord_Farin (but maybe not in the same manner), and I see this as double jeopardy. Older questions had to pass different standards to make it past the court of public opinion when they were first posed and the ones that are still around passed. Now, we are prescribing new standards to question that were already tried and found not guilty, i.e. no closure and delete. Some or many of OP may not be around any more so they aren't here to put down what they attempted. Also, for the really old post, I doubt the OP will even remember what their working was when they original asked it.

I noticed that quid pointed out that many of the educators are still answering the same questions (I am not calling you at here quid); there has always been a solution to that problem though, close as duplicate of an older post with acceptable answers (not necessarily accepted answers since some people don't accept them).

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    $\begingroup$ I agree 'homework' should not appear $\endgroup$ – Raoul Jan 25 '15 at 0:11
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    $\begingroup$ The reason why this close reason causes more debates here is that it is currently applied to questions that clearly aren't homework. Given the current usage of this reason, I do worry that providing a more general custom close reason would be a bad idea. $\endgroup$ – Mad Scientist Jan 26 '15 at 9:29
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    $\begingroup$ @MadScientist Isn't the point of this suggestion to remove the ambiguity of the close reason, so that the feedback given to OPs of closed questions is more clear? I do think that the "Homework" label in close reason is unfortunate, since it is very easy to bypass, which means that essentially identical questions can be either left open (not homework but poor) or closed (homework without attempt). This is the reason why the current close reason is "misused". $\endgroup$ – fileunderwater Jan 26 '15 at 9:38
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    $\begingroup$ @fileunderwater The homework reason was meant for a very specific case, users just dumping assignments into questions. The community has more or less silently changed the site rules by applying the homework reason in a much broader manner. And I find the way it is applied now problematic because, if applied strictly, it would mean that any textbook level question could be declared off-topic because users should look there instead of just asking here. $\endgroup$ – Mad Scientist Jan 26 '15 at 9:52
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    $\begingroup$ @MadScientist ...which is exactly why a changed close reason would be appropriate. The suggestion by @_dustin here (from MathSE) can deal with both cases. Sure, it is in some ways similar to unclear what you're asking, but it is more clearly targeted at questions that lack context, own ideas and attempts. I don't agree that this close reason would prohibit all textbook-level questions - as long as the OP is clear about what he/she knows and where they are stuck the Q wouldn't be a problem. $\endgroup$ – fileunderwater Jan 26 '15 at 10:02
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    $\begingroup$ @fileunderwater I completely agree with requiring context if necessary, but many questions actually don't need context to be answerable (problems often need context, questions like "How does X work?" not always). Here are three examples of questions that were closed, but don't really require context to be answerable: biology.stackexchange.com/q/27971 biology.stackexchange.com/q/28009 biology.stackexchange.com/q/27805 $\endgroup$ – Mad Scientist Jan 26 '15 at 11:00
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    $\begingroup$ I'd say at least 90% of questions asked here could be answered by consulting a textbook or primary literature. In expecting users to show work/research, the line between easy questions that get closed and more advanced questions that remain open seems entirely arbitrary. $\endgroup$ – canadianer Jan 26 '15 at 20:12
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    $\begingroup$ @canadianer but if we take a look at math for example, a question with effort no matter if easy or advanced doesn't get closed unless it is a dupe. Closing isn't arbitrary it is based on effort by the definition of the close reason. The only difference is that on Bio it says homework which causes debate from the OP sometimes. $\endgroup$ – dustin Jan 26 '15 at 20:15
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    $\begingroup$ @canadianer "I'd say at least 90% of questions asked here could be answered by consulting a textbook or primary literature." - To me this is not the issue: questions should be answered by including references to textbook or primary literature. And whether questions are closed or not will always be a judgement call made by the community. The real issue is if the close reasons should be modified/clarified, and if this would be an improvement. At the moment the homework close reason is used in quite different ways, and feedback to OPs is unclear. [..cnd] $\endgroup$ – fileunderwater Jan 27 '15 at 9:41
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    $\begingroup$ [cnd...]: @canadianer If the homework close is used more strictly we will basically treat Qs differently only depending on in if they include a statement similar to "I've got this assignment...", and not based on actual content. I think that a close reason that deals with these types of questions in a consistent way would be a good idea, and that basically discourage no-effort questions. No solution is perfect, but some might be better than others. I think a changed close reason would better serve "...a question and answer site for biology researchers, academics, and students". $\endgroup$ – fileunderwater Jan 27 '15 at 9:46
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    $\begingroup$ @fileunderwater I understand the issue, which I had hoped was reflected in my statement: "I may be raising a related but separate issue". I happen to agree that, if the homework close reason is going to be used as it has been, it should be changed. However, the problem as I see it is that it's not being applied consistently. What gives the example that I posted any merit to remain open when other questions with a similar amount effort (ie none) get closed? It seems to me that you should either only close questions that are blatantly homework or close all questions that show no effort. $\endgroup$ – canadianer Jan 27 '15 at 15:21
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    $\begingroup$ I think this is the same issue that @MadScientist raised. Or at least similar. $\endgroup$ – canadianer Jan 27 '15 at 15:22
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    $\begingroup$ @canadianer across the stack exchanges where problems are solved, you will find the dichotomy you speak of between questions with no work being closed and left open. It generally comes done to interest and triviality. Is the question really interesting? If it is, it probably wont get closed even without work. Is the question trivial; that is, can I Google it and the first 10 matches are verbatim the answer? If the answer is yes, it will probably closed since it is neither interesting or non trivial. It is just how it works. $\endgroup$ – dustin Jan 27 '15 at 15:37
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    $\begingroup$ @CRags how do we determine what a true homework question is though? Anyone with a text book type question could say it isn't homework which then leads to a small debate in the comments. My idea was so we could circumvent that problem. $\endgroup$ – dustin Jan 31 '15 at 17:22
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    $\begingroup$ As a founding member who only sporadically uses this site, a large reason why I use Q&A sites is that I'm expert enough to know that I need to consult another expert on a subject that I don't have a full grasp on. However, these rules are a large reason why I don't use SE because someone's "trivial" is very different from someone's confusion. Furthermore, there are a lot of examples where the Textbook answer is different from reality. $\endgroup$ – bobthejoe Feb 11 '15 at 2:08
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I agree that using "homework" as a close reason for all no-effort questions is misleading. However, Mad Scientist has mentioned in several posts, that a general "no-effort" close reason can be misused.

I think that a biology forum is likely to accumulate more drivel than any other science or tech forum because every person has some query about their existence and life (and it is also something that everyone notices around all the time).

So, contrary to Mad Scientist's opinion I think that we need some mechanism to keep a check on trivial questions. As of now the "homework" close is used for that purpose. Another alternative is rigorous downvoting. Now the issue with votes is that everyone has a power of say irrespective of whether they know anything about the subject or not. There are several examples of trivial questions here that have enormous number of upvotes; even a dozen downvotes by trusted users cannot erase that false mark of "importance" on them.

Every SE site has a distinct audience and dynamics and what did not work in a certain site may be useful in another. Biology requires a general-context close reason because we are likely to face a lot of trivial questions (or "why do we have two hands" kind of question).

It would be better if we call this close reason something other than "homework", which will also include homeworks.

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  • $\begingroup$ As should be clear from the discussions in the comment field above, I fully agree with this. $\endgroup$ – fileunderwater Feb 2 '15 at 10:01
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    $\begingroup$ Agreed. There needs to be a consistent close reason for trivia. $\endgroup$ – anongoodnurse Feb 3 '15 at 7:17
  • $\begingroup$ We just need the powers that be to agree otherwise we are back to square one. $\endgroup$ – dustin Feb 4 '15 at 6:08
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I've thought about the issue quite a bit in the meantime, and I still don't think this is a good idea. I'm not happy with the way the community has expanded the homework close reason beyond its original purpose.

I don't think categorically requiring users to prove they spent some effort before asking here is useful. Shog's answer on Meta SE makes many of the points I would also make. A short, pointed summary from him:

Questions on Stack Exchange are like stubs on Wikipedia. Of course they're lazy and useless; their only purpose is a springboard for an answer. Or as Jeff put it, sand for pearls. A stub doesn't get better by having more WRONG INFORMATION for someone to correct.

The homework close reason was created to deal with a rather narrow kind of problem. Some people just copy and paste their assigments into a question and just dump that onto our site without any further comment. The way assignments are written is often pretty distinctive: imperative mood, arbitrary restrictions or multiple choice answers are often pretty sure signs. This close reason is meant to catch the laziest of the lazy, of course it is easy to work around this, but those users are likely to lazy to do even that.

There are many kinds of problematic questions that could be closed with this new proposed reason, but I think treated them individually without such a broad close reason might be a better idea:

  • Questions that require a book chapter as an answer like e.g. "How does the immune system work?". Those can already be closed as too broad, and should be closed.

  • Questions that clearly show that the user lacks necessary basic knowledge to understand any answer. Examples I've seen are users that don't know what the difference between DNA and a protein is and ask about a more specific topic. Most of these can be closed as "unclear what you're asking".

  • Questions based on false assumptions. Sometimes users ask questions based on a misunderstanding of biology. Sometimes those are interesting to answer, if it is a misunderstanding that more people are likely to have. Otherwise those should be closed with a custom comment.

  • Questions about protocols, methods or experiments that lack necessary detail. Close as "unclear what you're asking" until the user provides the necessary information. If the lack of effort means the answerers have to guess some parts, the question should be closed .

  • Questions about very specific properties of specific biomolecules. For example "What is the extinction coefficient of X?". We're not a database, that kind of questions should be closed.

The category I find problematic now is the following:

  • Questions about textbook-level biology without any evidence that the user searched for an answer anywhere else before asking. Those are currently sometimes closed with the homework reason.

I don't think we should close these questions unless they fit into any of the other categories I listed earlier. If the question is answerable, there is really no benefit in requiring the user to jump through additional hoops just to demonstrate that they tried to solve it by themselves.

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    $\begingroup$ I think altogether removing the "homework" criteria would be a good solution $\endgroup$ – One Face Feb 9 '15 at 2:30
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    $\begingroup$ I think this is the best answer. $\endgroup$ – Raoul Feb 9 '15 at 2:51
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    $\begingroup$ It shouldn't be about wether you solely agree or not. You are supposed to be a guiding hand of the community not the ruling party. Since the community has switched their stance and feels strongly on some effort, I think the change should be a vote not a I don't agree. The community decides he direction, mods just help us get there. $\endgroup$ – dustin Feb 9 '15 at 3:48
  • $\begingroup$ Plus, when or if this community gets as big as SO or math, you won't want no effort questions constantly posted since it will detract from the site. SO and math allowed it when they were new but made a change as they grew. $\endgroup$ – dustin Feb 9 '15 at 3:51
  • $\begingroup$ @dustin You can't claim that the community has changed its stance. $\endgroup$ – canadianer Feb 9 '15 at 4:41
  • $\begingroup$ @canadianer if they are expanding the use of a close reason, it certainly appears so. $\endgroup$ – dustin Feb 9 '15 at 4:42
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    $\begingroup$ @dustin That some people are doing it doesn't mean the majority agrees. $\endgroup$ – canadianer Feb 9 '15 at 4:43
  • $\begingroup$ @canadianer you did read I said it should be put to a vote right? Why argue when we can see? $\endgroup$ – dustin Feb 9 '15 at 4:44
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    $\begingroup$ I think that quote from @shog displays low regard for questions (asking good questions is hard) and represents a very low ambition level for SE-sites. If that's the bar, we could just as well throw the purpose "...a question and answer site for biology researchers, academics, and students" out the window. Not necessarily because of a complete lack of good answers (among all the sand), but because we will not be able to build and sustain the right kind of community in the long run. $\endgroup$ – fileunderwater Feb 9 '15 at 8:40
  • $\begingroup$ @fileunderwater It's more of a somewhat exaggerated assessment of the quality and effort you can expect on a site where everyone can ask questions. We also need great questions here to keep the site interesting, but we can't realistically expect every question to be great. I'm absolutely not saying that we should accept any crappy question, but that "amount of effort spent" is a bad metric for closing. $\endgroup$ – Mad Scientist Feb 9 '15 at 9:04
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    $\begingroup$ @dustin I'm representing my argument why I don't think this is a good idea, I think this topic deserves some more discussion. I'm nowhere claiming that this is my decision alone. $\endgroup$ – Mad Scientist Feb 9 '15 at 9:08
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    $\begingroup$ @MadScientist I understand your concern but bad questions just deter erudite audience. They cause bad publicity and moreover it is a burden on the community put in efforts on a useless topic. $\endgroup$ – WYSIWYG Mar 4 '15 at 5:27
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    $\begingroup$ @WYSIWYG then we should downvote them and move on. We can't arbitrarily set a bar on "quality" because that is simply impossible to define. Our on topic guidelines need to be clear and understandable and the "homework" mess is neither. $\endgroup$ – terdon Nov 29 '16 at 12:05
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I agree the "homework" reason should be extended to a more general case. However, I also think that we do have to be careful about the questions we vote to close. Indeed, most of high-rep users on the site have extended knowledge on some biology fields, so we should strive to understand the opinions of people less knowledgeable instead of blindly closing.

In conclusion, I would suggest broader, but still somewhat specific criteria, such as "can be found on wikipedia or google's first page of results, using the question title in the search field" or something along these lines. An upgrade of that would be to allow the input of a set of keywords for the user to search when voting to close.

I understand it may not be easy to find good criteria to use, though. But I think it is a necessity. This would also spare some pain to users taking the time to post a custom close reason on each close vote (ex: me, @anongoodnurse).

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  • $\begingroup$ I totally agree! $\endgroup$ – AliceD Feb 4 '15 at 13:40
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    $\begingroup$ I think using google/wikipedia as a criteria is problematic, since the aim here is to build a database of good questions and answers. Sure, it is an indication of poor effort and bad background which should be grounds for closing (from my perspective), but I don't think questions should be closed simply because you can find an answer on another site (that answer/info could be poor, unreferenced, unclear, incomplete etc). $\endgroup$ – fileunderwater Feb 5 '15 at 10:32
  • $\begingroup$ As such the total number of questions that we get is not too big. So even trivia can be tolerated to certain extent. I totally agree we need be more lenient. $\endgroup$ – One Face Feb 9 '15 at 2:27
  • $\begingroup$ Using wikipedia as a standard to close question is not good. As many advanced topics are dealt with in wikipedia. I completely agree with @fileunderwater $\endgroup$ – One Face Feb 9 '15 at 2:28
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As many have noted, the current homework close-reason is used in quite different ways by different users. This is unfortunate since it means that the feedback given to OPs of closed questions can be a bit unclear. As I see it, the point of this suggestion is to remove the ambiguity of the close reason, and to provide better feedback on closed questions. However, since the close-reasons are also a way to define the scope of the site, this must also be taken into account.

We have three options: 1) keep the homework close in a 'strict' form, 2) remove the homework close reason, or 3) expand the homework close reason.

I think it is a really bad idea to keep a strict homework close reason, since it is very easy to bypass, which means that essentially identical questions can be either left open (not homework but poor) or closed (homework without attempt). This means that questions will be treated differently not based on actual content, but only depending on in if they include a statement similar to "I've got this assignment...".

The second option, to remove the homework close, is doable and as @MadScientist wrote in his/her answer some poor questions can be closed under other headings. However, I do think there is a particular "syndrome" of poor, no-effort questions, which would be well served by a dedicated close reason.

The third option, an expanded close reason along the lines of the OP suggestion (similar to MathSE), would mean that all no-effort questions with an unclear framing by the original poster could be closed, irrespectively of being "homework", rephrased homework or poor, no-effort question with no background. This also corresponds to how the close reason is currently used in practice, but would require a modified close-reason text.

I personally think that the third option would be the best. Close reasons are hard to formulate and no solution is perfect, but some might be better than others. I also think a changed close reason would better serve "...a question and answer site for biology researchers, academics, and students". Do we really want these poor, questions that lack background and is it a problem if we loose them? Being able to close these would probably scare some posters away but also improve some questions before/after they are posted. It is often argued that this will lead to a decrease in questions being posted. Maybe, but how many? A drop from 13 to 10 per day? Would that be a problem? And this is completely disregarding questions that are now not being posted from potential new users, that are now turned away by questions that scream: this is not a Q/A site for researchers and academics. It is easy to know what you have, but harder to know what you are currently loosing.

I also think references to "the original scope/purpose" of the homework close reason are irrelevant (beside a reuse of the arguments used back then) - SE communities change over time, and the scope and moderation of the site should reflect the current community and not the active community a coupe of years back. The type of questions and issues that the site has to deal with can also change over time, which can make "the original purpose" obsolete.

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  • $\begingroup$ What exactly would be the required effort? A single Google search, looking up Wikipedia, or looking up the topic in an appropriate textbook? Do we want to actually disallow questions that are too simply (most simple questions can easily be lookup up in common sources), and what about popular biology questions? $\endgroup$ – Mad Scientist Feb 9 '15 at 9:44
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    $\begingroup$ @MadScientist What I want is context, background and maybe/hopefully initial ideas. What level of knowledge do the poster have, is this an actual problem or personal hypothetical musings, what fields/ideas do the poster thing the question is related to, what have they tried/researched (if anything)? This only has to be 2-3 sentences and not half a page of text. I think a comprehensive list is of criteria is impossible to give (as is the case for all the other close reasons). All closings are done as a judgement call by the community, based on the overall appearance of the question. $\endgroup$ – fileunderwater Feb 9 '15 at 9:51
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    $\begingroup$ Let's note also that closed doesn't mean never reopened. The op can add detail and have their post reopened. I see it all the time on math. The ones who don't care or just want answer won't add detail. The ones who want to belong to the site and are new usually improve their question to fit within the norms. $\endgroup$ – dustin Feb 9 '15 at 19:16
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    $\begingroup$ Out of all the answers, this would be the one I accept. However, I waiting to see if any change can come or if we are stuck with what we have. $\endgroup$ – dustin Feb 9 '15 at 21:55

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