Requests for Solutions Manuals

In a recent meta post, 20 most viewed questions that need answers, there was a discussion on whether a couple questions (specifically Cohen Tannoudji solutions to exercises and Is there any solution manual to A.P. French's 'Vibrations and Waves'?) that requested solutions manuals for specific textbooks were on-topic or not.

Should these questions be considered on-topic? Are they appropriate for the site?

4 Answers

Such questions should be off topic.

1. I see no possibility of prior research, which means every question will look like a lazy dump. While this does not indicate on-topicness, I see no reason to explicitly say that questions of a certain type are inherently bad and downvote-worthy but should still be on-topic.

2. If the OP has not found such a manual by checking obvious places (e.g. websites of the publisher and author), then it is extremely unlikely that any non-paywalled versions can be posted as answers without copyright violations.

3. Answers would be link-only. There's no concept of DOIs for these, though obscure papers can be cited.

4. Bottom line, this site should be in the business of finding the titles of resources for people, not finding out how to access the literature itself. Why? Because some of us would like to just head over to Amazon or whatever and buy a hard copy, while someone may want a PDF. Some people are OK with sci-hub and the like, while others will want to get it the official way. Our site should not support any single stance, and it should not create an assortment of answers which all follow the same approach.

• All of the resource recommendations answers are "link only", so #3 is a bit of a red herring here. Note also that such answers are actually just fine for specific reference, which is how the questions are tagged... – Kyle Kanos Feb 27 '19 at 16:04
• @KyleKanos I disagree with the claim that all resource recommendations are link-only (or even title-only). I'd even disagree if you said most are link-only. The resource-recommendation banner clearly indicates that answers must contain details of the book/paper, and whether or not there's a link, there should be enough information to find the cited work even if the link rots. However, a solution manual can have no description. Bottom line, this site should be in the business of finding the titles of resources for people, not finding out how to access the literature itself. – user191954 Feb 27 '19 at 16:07
• @Chair specific-resource answers can just be link-only, though. Or not even a link. I think questions like "where can I find Dr. so-and-so's thesis paper in electronic form" are reasonable in a way "where can I find a solution manual for Shankar's Principles of Quantum Mechnanics online" is not. – Chris Feb 27 '19 at 16:10
• @Chris If such questions are on-topic (the tag-info for specific-reference indicates that they are), I don't like them, and I don't see a very large proportion of them in the top-voted, frequent, and active lists of the tag. Nevertheless, that should be the subject of a separate meta thread. – user191954 Feb 27 '19 at 16:14
• @Chair It's already the subject of How should we handle how-to-find-a-specific-reference requests?. The consensus seems to be that they're fine as long as the paper is demonstrably hard to find. It was six years ago, though, so I'm sure it's reasonable to revisit the topic. – Chris Feb 27 '19 at 16:18
• @Chris There's been no need to revisit the questions posed by the Susskind & Glogower thread - and very few instances of such questions in the first place. – Emilio Pisanty Feb 27 '19 at 19:38
• I basically agree, +1, but: -- it is extremely unlikely that any non-paywalled versions can be posted as answers without copyright violations It's not my job to enforce the copyright laws of the country where I live (which are bad laws), or the copyright laws of some other random country where someone else lives, nor do I have any way of knowing what laws apply in the OP's country. If this was Alabama in 1855, would we refuse to answer questions from slaves on the grounds that it was illegal to teach slaves to read and write, so they shouldn't be reading and writing on stackexchange? – user4552 Mar 1 '19 at 4:45
• @BenCrowell I'm not completely sure how these things work, but apparently Stack Exchange has a formal process for handling DMCA takedown requests. – user191954 Mar 1 '19 at 8:54

The questions should be off topic.

There is an obvious reason why students want to find "cracked" copies of solution manuals which exist but they can't obtain legitimately.

If an instructor wants to obtain a solution manual or check its existence, there is no need to come to Physics SE. A phone call or email to the book publisher will answer the question, even if the answer isn't obvious from the publisher's website.

Regardless of attitudes to intellectual property legislation, the only function of answers to such questions on Physics SE is to promote activity which is at best unethical.

As an instructor, I am fundamentally against sharing instructor resources. While it would be foolish to ignore the reality that many solution manuals exist and are out there, I don't feel it's right to promote the distribution of such material, as it only encourages students to spend their time searching for solution manuals rather than thinking about the problems.

It is IMO always possible for a poster to ask a conceptual question based on a textbook problem, and I don't see the need to supply more than the answer to such a specific conceptual question.

• I found solution manuals extremely helpful the few times I used them, but I also didn't use them the way this post suggests. As a self-study tool they are fantastic. Looking through the book's methods for worked examples after you believe you've completed the problem is a great way to make sure you've understood the material, and can teach you alternate approaches to the problem. Anecdotally, some of the courses I best understood came from doing multiple worked examples from books and then checking the solutions in manuals. – JMac Feb 28 '19 at 0:18
• @JMac I’m not denying they are useful to some, just stating their distribution should not be promoted here. – ZeroTheHero Feb 28 '19 at 0:53
• I don't disagree with that aspect either (I didn't actually downvote this), I just found the tone of it somewhat dismissive. – JMac Feb 28 '19 at 1:27
• honestly I don't think it is feasible to stop the distribution of solution manual in the age of the Internet. On the other hand: why don't instructors make their own problem-set? – Shing Apr 8 '19 at 23:56
• @Shing it is not possible to stop this but it doesn’t mean we should encourage it. Constantly producing your own problem sets is extremely time consuming unless the questions are trivial; the questions may not be as clear as you want, checking the solution is within reach takes a lot of time, etc. It is NOT the most efficient use of an instructor’s time, although in many case the widespread availability of solution manuals makes producing local questions inevitable. – ZeroTheHero Apr 9 '19 at 11:59

Yes, these questions should be on-topic as they satisfy the constraints of the specific reference tag that the solutions manual are a "short, non-open-ended list of resources". Either the book exists (and is publicly available) or it doesn't exist (or isn't publicly available). Answers would either provide the link (which is a suitable answer, as mentioned explicitly in the tag info) or state that no such manual exists.

We also have a mod indicating in one of the posts in question that

...this is a good use of the specific-reference tag. At least, it is among the type of question the tag is meant for. It could still be considered off topic, though; we'll see what others think.

Which seems to indicate that such questions should fall under the specific reference tag and, since no one raised the point for over 2.5 years, the community seems to have implicitly assumed the position that everything is fine.

• Sorry I wasn't clear, but I'm not only asking if they are on-topic, but whether they should remain so. If the questions have no value and should be downvoted on site, I should think our policy should be to also close them. – Chris Feb 27 '19 at 15:44
• I answer that question in the first sentence, had you read it. I even added boldface to emphasize that point. – Kyle Kanos Feb 27 '19 at 15:45
• I disagree about closing just because you feel it has no value. I don't think many of our HNQ have value, but they don't ever seem to get closed (even when they aren't even about real world physics!). I concur about downvoting content you think has no value, but adding the close vote for that reason seems overly petty. – Kyle Kanos Feb 27 '19 at 15:47
• I did read it. I'm just saying I'm also interested in your aside. Whether you believe the questions have any value. And I'm not saying it should be closed just because I believe it has no value. But if the community consensus is that questions like this don't belong on the site, we should make that clear rather than just downvoting the questions without a clear policy. – Chris Feb 27 '19 at 15:50
• What's funny is that I purposely ignored putting my two cents on the aside because I didn't want it to detract from the point of the topicality, but here we are with OP trying to derail the discussion. Good luck with that. – Kyle Kanos Feb 27 '19 at 15:52
• The core of my question is meant to be "do these questions belong on this site?" If it does not read that way, I'd certainly appreciate suggestions on improving the language of the OP. – Chris Feb 27 '19 at 16:03
• "the current text can be read as them being on topic" $\neq$ "they should be on topic". Both homework and specific-reference / resource-recommendations have plenty of specific handling characteristics and off-topic areas, and there'd be plenty of precedent for ruling out this class of question. So, yes or no: do you think allowing this class of questions would make the site better? (and, if yes: why?) – Emilio Pisanty Feb 27 '19 at 16:03
• @Chris that is not how one normally reads the question "are they on topic?" If you have a different intention, perhaps you should all that instead of hoping people would read your mind. – Kyle Kanos Feb 27 '19 at 16:06
• @emilio there are loads of questions that are not off-topic that I think don't make the site better, so I'm not sure the point you're going for here. – Kyle Kanos Feb 27 '19 at 16:11
• My wording was never "are they on topic?" It was always "should they be on topic?" But seriously, you understand what I meant to ask now, right? If it's not clear in the original question, I'd appreciate if you'd edit it so no one else has to read my mind. – Chris Feb 27 '19 at 16:13
• @Chris The answer I posted answers both questions: are they on topic (yes, as per a mods comments about the tag being designed for such queries) and should they be on topic (see my first sentence here). If you can't grok that, then why are you even here? – Kyle Kanos Feb 27 '19 at 16:19
• Why not ask me to define "yes" and "no" while you're at it? I'm asking for your opinion. Use your own judgement. – Chris Feb 27 '19 at 16:50
• It's clear you don't want to answer my question for some reason. Fine, I'm done here. – Chris Feb 27 '19 at 17:04
• @Chris I vote based on the content. If it's something akin to "I NEED THIS SOLUTION MANUAL HURRY", I might be inclined to DV. If it's something akin to "I'm self-studying using BOOK but am not sure when I am doing things wrong in the problem sets. Does anyone know if & where there is a public solutions manual?" I might be inclined to upvote, but I probably would not do anything. – Kyle Kanos Feb 27 '19 at 17:41
• This last point is an important distinction: the "I NEED THIS SOLUTION MANUAL HURRY" is not really different from asking a homework question. – ZeroTheHero Feb 27 '19 at 23:31