A rather disgruntled user posted a question on meta asking why their homework questions were being challenged. There were some good answers explaining why homework questions require more effort than the OP had previously given.

Although that particular user articulated it atrociously (and as I mention in that post, caused quite a bit of offence) there are many legitimate and useful users and potential users with good questions. However for new users with questions about course content, gauging how much effort is required before posting a question is tricky. There is no way of knowing actually how much prior research is appropriate until after the question is being voted on for closure. In fact, the current guidelines are very misleading.

Problem with old guidelines

The current guidelines don't emphasise exactly how much research is needed, and in fact grossly understate how to research a question before posting it. This means new users don't have the information required to ask a good homework question until other users point out that homework/trivial questions can get closed without appropriate research. Here are the currently listed steps.

  • Search, and research. This is where many people asking homework fall short. Currently the guidelines for research only suggest searching the SE site.

  • Be on-topic. Most home-work questions are otherwise on topic since they are homework from biology courses.

  • Be specific. The specificity of the question depends heavily on research.

  • Make it relevant to others. A lot of home-work questions are broadly relevant to students and interested parties all over the world, and attract a lot of views. This is what makes them impactful and valuable to the site so long as they're high quality questions.

  • Keep an open mind. Homework questions seldom are posted with a vendetta; they're usually from pupils and students.

From those guidelines there is no way of knowing what level of research is required before asking a question. It's only when people start closing your question that you realise that homework questions can be closed for triviality, and that research should include more than just checking if the question has already been asked. Furthermore, if the question is simply closed and the user is referred to the how to ask a good question guidelines, it will take several questions before they learn what exactly is missing from their questions.

We are still inundated with homework questions that are poorly researched, vague, and therefor off-topic. Most of my review queue just involves repetitively closing homework questions.

New guidlines

Broadly speaking I think some of the fault currently lies with the community guidelines (but don't for a second think I condone a certain user's behaviour). In my answer to the previous question I outlined some steps to follow to ask a good homework question. Whilst these points apply specifically to homework, they could be adapted for a broader range of questions.

  1. Have I read around? In your question, post what you have read.
  2. Have I asked someone I know with expertise like a teacher or a colleague? Probably quicker, and more able to pinpoint exactly what you don't understand. Post what you learned from that discussion.
  3. Have I attempted a reasonable answer? Post this in your question too.
  4. Have I added the homework tag? This transparency is a sign of good faith & will encourage answers that explain things with less jargon. Users can also filter the homework questions by using this tag. Be aware that this is not a substitute for research.
  5. If this question has arisen because of some educational course content, an additional step is to ask if it would count as cheating to ask for help.

I'm not articulate enough to phrase these in a friendly SE way, but is there anyway we could get some more thorough research guidelines so that the site attracts less trashy homework questions?

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ regarding number 5 may be better to phrase it not as "cheating" but "does asking for answers here defeat the purpose of the exercise" - in other words, will the answer to this question just be used without the OP giving any thought to understanding it (this is helped, sometimes, by giving only the basic elements of an answer - more a gentle push in the right direction - rather than a comprehensive answer... and is why it's not a good match between SE and homework; comprehensive answers are good here, but that is potentially counter-productive for learning. $\endgroup$
    – rg255
    Commented May 12, 2016 at 11:13
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ I think we first need to seriously discuss what we expect of users asking here, and why certain homework questions are problematic. The currently practiced homework policy isn't actually written down anywhere, and I'm not certain if it is even a good policy. We're getting a bit too far into letting users jump through arbitrary hoops here for my taste. $\endgroup$ Commented May 13, 2016 at 22:05
  • $\begingroup$ @MadScientist The hoops I mention here are analogous to SO (look at docs, ask someone you know in person if possible, then ask on SO with your attempt at a solution). The extra hoop I add here is the homework tag. I'm in two minds if the homework tag has value, but whilst it's here, we should use it no? Are you referring to any other specific hoops? $\endgroup$
    – James
    Commented Jun 2, 2016 at 7:42
  • $\begingroup$ @rg255 Yup, that's a better way of wording it! $\endgroup$
    – James
    Commented Jun 2, 2016 at 7:43


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