8
$\begingroup$

There are various problems with ‘homework’ questions, several of which have been discussed before. I am addressing just one problem, focussing on this because I have what I think is a practical proposal for dealing with it. (Other problems will no doubt remain, but Rome wasn’t built in a day.)

The Problem

As well as for obvious homework questions, it is common practice on this site to use the ‘homework’ option when voting a question off-topic because it shows no evidence of the research expected, often because it is an elementary question. However when a poorly-researched question that is not literally homework is put on-hold on this basis it frequently provokes a bitter response on the part of the poster, as illustrated by this recent post on Meta.

The Question

How can we modify the rubric of the ‘off-topic homework reason’ so that it also includes lack of research?

I say include, rather than add a separate reason, because I have the feeling that it is general SE policy to limit the number of reasons. Certainly the number in SE English Language & Usage is the same as in Biology.

| |
$\endgroup$
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Thanks for reopening this discussion, David. I think it might be better if you move your proposal to an answer replying to your own meta question (starting from "I suggest we can combine..." - the rest is good for more general background). This will facilitate others to suggest different wording in their own answers, hopefully help us form a consensus, and separate voting on the premise ("homework" close reason needs renaming) with the solution (specific language). $\endgroup$ – Bryan Krause Dec 9 '19 at 18:30
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ @BryanKrause — OK will do after supper. $\endgroup$ – David Dec 9 '19 at 19:21
  • $\begingroup$ @BryanKrause — On reflection I wonder whether this is the best way to proceed. I do not want to start an open-ended discussion on homework questions, because past experience shows that this is likely to produce a variety of different suggestions that come to nothing. I only posted as I have a concrete proposal which could be implemented with minimum disruption to the way SE works. I really want to canvass support, and I have observed Meta being used in the way I have done before. $\endgroup$ – David Dec 9 '19 at 22:32
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ I think elsewhere like here: biology.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/1818/… the answers just end up as feedback on the original proposal. This one might be more what you had in mind: biology.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/1847/… but I think the real problem there is that the answers are vague rather than specific. My preference would be for the question to solicit specific wording suggestions and then use answers for only those specific suggestions, but I won't force it. $\endgroup$ – Bryan Krause Dec 9 '19 at 22:35
  • $\begingroup$ @BryanKrause — OK. I'll do that in the hope that it will meet with more general participation. $\endgroup$ – David Dec 9 '19 at 22:38
4
$\begingroup$

My Proposal in answer to my own question

The current wording of the relevant option for closing a question as off-topic is:

• Homework questions are off-topic on Biology unless you have shown your attempt at an answer. For more information see our homework policy.

My proposal is based on the italicized sections of the related one on English Language & Usage:

• Please include the research you’ve done, or consider if your question suits our English Language Learners site better. Questions that can be answered using commonly-available references are off-topic.

I suggest we can modify the SE Biology rubric to similarly include two possibilities and provide a link to possible sources of basic information (provided in a Meta question like EL&L does).

My proposal for SE Biology is:

• Please include the research you’ve done. Have you consulted commonly-available sources of information? If this is a homework question you must show your attempt at an answer. (For more information see our homework policy.)

Obviously, the wording is just a first attempt. Whether or not we go ahead, a list of sources of information would be useful. But one thing at a time.

| |
$\endgroup$
  • $\begingroup$ Presumably the point of this is that all questions must show an attempt at an answer, not just homework questions. Therefore, I'm not sure explicitly singling out homework questions is helpful. $\endgroup$ – canadianer Dec 10 '19 at 0:11
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @canadianer — But Homework questions are a real and persistent problem that need to be singled out. That is, I presume, how the thing arose in the first place. The prospects of success of any proposal rest, imho, in not upsetting existing apple carts. Ideally I would add a separate category, but the proposal of a combination is made because I suspect there is an administrational reluctance to do this. $\endgroup$ – David Dec 10 '19 at 9:43
  • $\begingroup$ I agree that 'homework' in some form should stay in the close reason. I think it would be better without the research link because although it's helpful I wouldn't want to accidentally imply that searching only the existing Q&A here is sufficient. (actually that's more of a problem with the how-to-ask page) $\endgroup$ – Bryan Krause Dec 12 '19 at 17:06
3
$\begingroup$

I agree with David. Homework questions in my view are a subset of the more general 'no attempt to understand or direct the question' problem.

David's proposal:

Please include the research you’ve done. Have you consulted commonly-available sources of information? If this is a homework question you must show your attempt at an answer. (For more information see our homework policy.)

I think this is a striking improvement already. However, it begins too suggestively for my taste and misses the imperative 'error message'. Homework questions are off-topic or This question is missing context are good examples of imperatives, even though they fall short in application.

I offer my alternative, where we sideline the homework aspect and prioritize the more general issue of low questioner effort.

My proposal:

The question is missing context or direction. For answers to better address the question, please include research you’ve done and show your attempt at an answer, and clarify where your understanding remains incomplete, particularly for homework questions.)

| |
$\endgroup$
3
$\begingroup$

Perhaps you have misidentified the problem. We don't and shouldn't answer homework questions. But our definition of a homework question is sloppy, and I think sometimes we use this when we don't know how to articulate that a question is hard to answer.

Bona fide homework questions should be closed as homework questions

Homework questions that are attempting to get people to answer homework assignments should be heavily discouraged and called out.

Even if a user is bitter toward other users, this is not a homework service.

"Homework" questions could be closed for lack of specificity

The other type of "homework" questions are lack of effort questions. I think this is used a bit euphemistically currently. I understand the resentment users might feel about being accused of asking for homework help, and I think this should be addressed one way or another.

We should pay attention to bitter responses in these cases because it could be our community that is not communicating why a question was closed. If a question is asked in Ernest and is not part of a homework assignment, how does anyone benefit from the asker being told not to post homework questions? I believe that semantics in the justification wording won't help here.

In these cases, we are reluctant to answer a question because the answer would be too long so that some base knowledge is covered, or only lead to more questions. We should close these questions with the "needs more info" or "too broad" close reason. These have recently been reworded

  • Needs details or clarity Please clarify your specific problem or add additional details to highlight exactly what you need. As it's currently written, it’s hard to tell exactly what you're asking. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question.

  • Needs more focus Please edit the question to limit it to a specific problem with enough detail to identify an adequate answer. Avoid asking multiple distinct questions at once. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question. This is because

Example

In the example given, it was evident from the edits that the original (now deleted) question was indeed only the first broad question of several follow up questions. The question was not specific enough. Unfocussed questions are almost impossible to clearly answer on SE. Instead of closing for breadth/details/clarity/specificity it was closed for homework.

This exemplifies that we have gotten into the habit of closing these type of broad and undeveloped questions as lack of research and therefore homework, but in fact, they can be closed as not being specific enough.

| |
$\endgroup$
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ This is a nice point that the new phrasing of the "too-broad" and "unclear" common close reasons has come closer to the way we've (mis)used the homework close reason - especially the latter since it has expanded to include needing detail rather than simply being unclear. I don't think the old phrasing overlapped nearly as much. $\endgroup$ – Bryan Krause Dec 14 '19 at 1:04
1
$\begingroup$

Here is a 5 year old suggestion, from this answer, which is/was a close reason from the mathematics site:

enter image description here

| |
$\endgroup$
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Doesn't this overlap with the "needs more context/details" close reason? $\endgroup$ – James Dec 10 '19 at 16:20
  • $\begingroup$ @James There is no such close reason. Am I misunderstanding you? $\endgroup$ – canadianer Dec 10 '19 at 18:41
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @canadianer James might be referring to the new wording for the old "unclear" close reason: Needs details or clarity Please clarify your specific problem or add additional details to highlight exactly what you need. As it's currently written, it’s hard to tell exactly what you're asking. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question. $\endgroup$ – Bryan Krause Dec 10 '19 at 23:41
  • $\begingroup$ @BryanKrause Yes, this is the close reason I was talking about. $\endgroup$ – James Dec 11 '19 at 15:36
  • $\begingroup$ Thank you, I was unaware that they were changed. $\endgroup$ – canadianer Dec 12 '19 at 8:09

You must log in to answer this question.

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