After an extended debate that lasted several years, our community seems to have settled into a pretty consistent treatment of homework-like questions. When such a question is closed, a banner appears under the question which currently says,

Homework-like questions should ask about a specific physics concept and show some effort to work through the problem. We want our questions to be useful to the broader community, and to future users. See our meta site for more guidance on how to edit your question to make it better.

However, this guidance is frequently misleading to new users, because it suggests that editing a non-conceptual question to show some minimal mathematical effort might make it on-topic. The community has been quite clear that check-my-work questions are not on topic, but some new users who attempt to follow our guidance don't seem to understand this.

The purpose of this Meta discussion is emphatically not to propose any change to the way that we process homework and homework-like questions, but to propose changing the close reason to better document what our community actually does for the benefit of outsiders and newcomers.

I suggest that "answers" to this question contain alternative messages to include in the banner for closed homework-like questions, to be voted up or down based on their suitability. (Please avoid suggestions that exceed the 500-character maximum length.)

Let's plan on coming to a consensus this month, and making any changes around the beginning of November.


I liked the answer by @EmilioPisanty but I wanted to simplify the language a little bit (after all, there are a lot of non-native speakers and younger people active on the site) and clarify the last sentence. I used this tool to "optimise" the readability of the text.

Homework-like questions and check-my-work questions are considered off-topic on this site, in particular when they ask about specific computations instead of the underlying Physics concepts. Homework questions can be on-topic when they are useful to a broader audience. If you intend to modify your question, please read the links above carefully before editing. Note that answers with complete solutions may be deleted!

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The result of the "optimisation" was that both of the school-grade based scores were reduced by more than 2 years (The Gunning-Fog index$^1$ decreased from 17.3 in Emilio's proposal, a college graduate level, to 15.1 in mine, a college junior level).

$^1$Note: The Flesch-Kincaid score was designed to grade from 4th to 12th grade so it's not appropriate in this case.

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    $\begingroup$ As of this writing, this late answer is essentially tied, vote-wise, with the earlier answer that inspired it. Furthermore this one has (currently) no downvotes or comments suggesting it could be improved. It's the winner! Thanks to everyone who contributed. $\endgroup$ – rob Nov 3 '19 at 20:05

Here's my go:

Homework-like questions and check-my-work questions are considered off-topic here, particularly when they are about specific computations instead of asking about the conceptual frameworks that underlie the calculations. Homework questions can be on-topic when they are useful to a broader audience, but please read the links above carefully before editing. Note that complete answers may be removed!

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    $\begingroup$ This addresses several valid criticisms of the suggestion I posted. I especially like the concise guidance about how to fix questions. +1 from me, and my post is now edited so that people can change votes if they like. $\endgroup$ – rob Oct 15 '19 at 17:26
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    $\begingroup$ I like this, but I think "complete answers may be removed" might not make much sense unless you already know that "complete answers" contrasts not with "incomplete answers" but with "answers that focus on the concept without showing the calculation." I am not sure how to phrase it better while staying in the word limit, though. $\endgroup$ – Nathaniel Oct 22 '19 at 10:56
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    $\begingroup$ ... "when they are about specific computations instead of asking about the conceptual framework that underlie..." $\rightarrow$ "...when they are about a specific computation instead of a concept that underlies..." $\endgroup$ – ZeroTheHero Oct 25 '19 at 3:01
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    $\begingroup$ @ZeroTheHero I agree that part needs some fixing $\endgroup$ – BioPhysicist Oct 25 '19 at 20:37

This is based on a canned comment frequently posted by ACuriousMind, but with an additional sentence to remind readers that answering homework-like questions may also be a poor use of everyone's time.

Please note that homework-like questions and check-my-work questions are generally considered off-topic here. We intend our questions to be potentially useful to a broader set of users than just the one asking, and prefer conceptual questions over those just asking for a specific computation. Likewise, complete but non-conceptual answers to homework-like questions may be removed.

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Edited so that votes can change, now that there's another new suggestion.

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    $\begingroup$ I might suggest removing "complete but," since we also remove nearly complete answers, and it detracts from the main point that both questions and answers should be about the concepts. $\endgroup$ – Chris Oct 8 '19 at 23:13
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    $\begingroup$ I am not sure that the last sentence is warranted for the close banner, considering it'd be posted on a question instead of an answer. $\endgroup$ – Kyle Kanos Oct 8 '19 at 23:38
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    $\begingroup$ I think it is a problem that the first link takes the new member to a page that states “As a general rule, we do not discourage homework questions.” $\endgroup$ – G. Smith Oct 9 '19 at 0:36
  • $\begingroup$ @G.Smith The link qualifies that statement though, and it's true. The community only discourages posting homework problems that are not conceptual and are really just looking for a solution or work to be checked. $\endgroup$ – BioPhysicist Oct 9 '19 at 4:37
  • $\begingroup$ I propose that we define a “homework-like” problem as one that asks to calculate or derive a specific quantity, expression, or equation at the level of a high-school, undergraduate, or graduate course, and make all such questions completely off-topic. Then explain that conceptual questions are fine, even if they were assigned as homework. However, such a change goes well beyond the close message. $\endgroup$ – G. Smith Oct 9 '19 at 4:48
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    $\begingroup$ @G.Smith we've had numerous discussions on the policy itself, and such a proposal probably has been made. It's also explicitly out of scope of the current question $\endgroup$ – Kyle Kanos Oct 9 '19 at 10:58
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    $\begingroup$ @KyleKanos As one of the frequent deleters of answers to homework-like questions, I'd like the statement about the likely fate of homework-like answers to be spread around more outside the confines of meta discussions and comments on deleted posts. But if you propose an alternate wording, I'll make a trivial edit here so that folks can change their votes on this one. $\endgroup$ – rob Oct 9 '19 at 16:16
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    $\begingroup$ I'd pick on the last sentence to say that even conceptual answers to homework questions would also be removed if they are complete (in the sense of answering the underlying question). Otherwise people might think that the fact that an answer doesn't include any math or numerical values is justification that it shouldn't be deleted, and that's not the case. $\endgroup$ – David Z Oct 13 '19 at 15:36
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    $\begingroup$ I'm not sure "Please note that..." is very appropriate wording for the start of a closure banner. It works on comments, but not when elevated to the Reason Why Your Question Was Closed, I suspect. $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty Oct 14 '19 at 10:44
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for the courtesy edit. I do like Emilio's refined one a little more, so I switched my vote over; but I don't think I would have a problem with either of these two. $\endgroup$ – JMac Oct 15 '19 at 20:53

I would also like to eliminate the word “homework” from the name of the policy as it creates an unnecessary emphasis on how you came to the question rather than the intrinsics of the question. I also think that you should give some understanding of why in this sort of policy.

Here is a 486-character rephrasing that illustrates what I would find preferable:

Direct applications and specific calculations, including homework-like and check-my-work questions, are off-topic here because it is hard for others to search for them to get their own questions answered. Please make some effort to work through the problem and figure out where you are stuck and why, so you can ask a deeper conceptual question that is more useful to a broader audience.

This would be called say the “direct applications” policy or something.

  • $\begingroup$ I agree with your point about de-emphasizing the word 'homework'. However, I dislike the phrase 'direct applications'. My understanding (perhaps wrongly?) is that questions that relate to potential applications of Physical concepts are ok, as long as there is still enough Physics content. $\endgroup$ – Time4Tea Oct 27 '19 at 12:32

Homework-like questions and check-my-work questions are generally considered off-topic here, particularly when they are about specific computations instead of concepts that underlie calculations. Homework questions can be on-topic when they are useful to a broader audience, but please read the links above carefully before editing.

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It's the present top-voted answer here with the following changes:

  1. Added the word "generally" in the first line, to make it a bit less aggressive.
  2. Various grammatical changes to ensure consistent pluralization in the section about "frameworks that underlie calculations".
  3. "Conceptual frameworks" is too much of a mouthful for people who don't speak English as a first language. "Concepts" works.
  4. That last sentence about deleting answers just doesn't belong here, and has been deleted. I get that you want more people to see that those answers can be deleted but this isn't a sensible place at all. It will be shown to 3k+ rep users when they cast close votes, and then it will be shown to everyone after the question is closed and answers cannot be added. That doesn't add up. It doesn't make sense to point people to close banners when you delete their direct answer to homework: the banner wasn't there when they wrote the answer. If they're answering such questions, they probably aren't the kind who'll read the help center thoroughly and look at close reasons on other closed questions before answering questions. The only option is to recommend that users who do moderation-related activities should include the point about homework answers being deletion-prone in the canned comments, because people who answer those questions probably look at comments under the questions.
  • $\begingroup$ Frankly, I think your changes to the grammar harm the readability instead of improving it. $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty Oct 18 '19 at 9:26
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    $\begingroup$ As for that last sentence, I'm fairly neutral to keeping it vs ditching it. $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty Oct 18 '19 at 9:27
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for contributing! Your changes #1 and #3 are improvements from my perspective. I disagree about your point #4 and have voted accordingly, but the question is here because this is the community's decision to make. Cheers! $\endgroup$ – rob Oct 18 '19 at 14:12
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    $\begingroup$ @EmilioPisanty Sorry, "when they are about specific computations instead of asking about the conceptual frameworks that underlie the calculations" is certainly wrong. I have no idea what that verb 'asking' is supposed to mean over there. Perhaps a comma somewhere would make my version more readable, but using 'asking' there just makes the phrasing clumsy. $\endgroup$ – cosak-mail-hub.top Oct 18 '19 at 17:44
  • $\begingroup$ @cosak-mail-hub.top You're obviously welcome to your opinion. So are others. $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty Oct 18 '19 at 17:47
  • $\begingroup$ I would change to an upvote if you included the sentence about deleting answers. While it might not always be useful in a timely manner, at best it is a useful reminder to users of the site, and at worst it doesn't ham anything. I do agree your first sentence here flows better than Emilio's though. $\endgroup$ – BioPhysicist Oct 19 '19 at 4:52
  • $\begingroup$ +1. I agree 100% with your point 4. I also fail to see the point in including a warning message to potential answerers in a banner for closing a question. How people might choose to answer is not the responsibility of the person asking the question. Imo, that comment would be better-placed in a banner relating to the deletion of answers that provide a full solution. $\endgroup$ – Time4Tea Oct 27 '19 at 12:29

My time machine took me back 6 years and found this alternate wording (updated to include the same check-my-work link and slightly changed to fit character limits):

Homework-like questions should ask about a specific physics concept and show some effort to understand the problem. The question must be about understanding the concept; questions that just ask us to check your work are off topic. We want our questions to be useful to the broader community, and to future users. See our meta site for more guidance on how to improve your question.

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This is an alternate wording that communicates similar messages. It is almost a hybrid of the existing close message and one of the proposed new close reasons.

  • $\begingroup$ I think the issue with this one is that it still has the "show some effort" part, which it seems like one of the things your post is considering removing. $\endgroup$ – BioPhysicist Oct 9 '19 at 4:41
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    $\begingroup$ Sure, I agree with that. I prefer rob's also. But, I think it is good to have another option to consider that has already had some discussion just in case somebody really likes the original message and wants something closer to it. $\endgroup$ – tpg2114 Oct 9 '19 at 13:59

I'm going to disagree. I believe that it is the current practice that needs to change in order to match that of SE policy. That may involve some rewording in order that mods won't close every homework-esque question that is still valid according to the policy and wiki.

The key phrases are show some effort, ask about a specific physics concept, and with a goal of being of future benefit to the community. Maybe "homework" should be removed. After all there is no fundamental difference between a good homework question and one that one encounters in life otherwise. But we do want to avoid "do my work for me" problems. You are right there. Rewording won't fix that kind of question.

I have seen a good amount of excellent questions put on hold by overzealous mods for no other reason than that it looks homework like. The poster is asked to reword it according to a link to the wiki that if they follow they find out, hey I already had it worded like that. It really leaves a bad taste for new users on the site and makes SE Physics an unwelcoming site with a culture that stinks like year old yoghurt.

Please mods. Show some moderation.

  • $\begingroup$ So what is this "SE policy" that this site needs to match? $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty Oct 26 '19 at 9:59
  • $\begingroup$ That would be as covered in the help centre, e.g. physics.stackexchange.com/help/on-topic and the link given in the close reason: physics.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/714/… $\endgroup$ – Paul Childs Oct 26 '19 at 10:16
  • $\begingroup$ You should know that it's not just mods who close off-topic homework problems. It's usually regular users as well. You should also know that this is not a site for purely "excellent questions". There has to be a cut off. I agree, there are excellent homework questions that exist out there. This site is not the place for them. Just like how this site isn't for in depth literary analysis or recommendations on where to get my car fixed (which could be seen as "excellent questions" as well). The goal of this site is not to be a homework help site, even though homework help is generally important. $\endgroup$ – BioPhysicist Oct 26 '19 at 14:27
  • $\begingroup$ Your opinion is noted and the observation of @AaronStevens on the mechanics of closing means that closing is usually a community decision. That being said, I don’t necessarily completely disagree with your but it seems to me at least that some of the answers provided here go a long way to addressing your concerns, or could be slightly modified to address your comments: if not maybe you can comment at the appropriate places. We all agree that “do-my-work” is bad, and the reality is that a great many of those are homework or homework-like questions. $\endgroup$ – ZeroTheHero Oct 26 '19 at 14:59
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    $\begingroup$ Unfortunately, there are very few good “homework-type” questions and “show some effort” is a necessary but not sufficient condition. See also physics.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/10938/… $\endgroup$ – ZeroTheHero Oct 26 '19 at 15:00
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    $\begingroup$ On Stack Exchange "moderator" denotes a community-elected moderator; this site currently has seven, they're listed here, and they're identifiable because they have a ♦ after their name. The bulk of the closures as homework is not done by moderators - they're done by regular site users with 3k reputation or more (who have therefore earned the cast close & reopen votes privilege). When talking about this site, conflating the two categories is not helpful at all. $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty Oct 27 '19 at 14:34
  • $\begingroup$ Regarding the "SE policy" - the on-topic section of the help center that you linked to was not written by SE; it was written by this site's community and it is open to change (if a strong consensus can be shown). The links you give, however, explicitly state that the questions you described are off-topic, so I don't understand your point here - can you give some specific examples of questions that you think should remain open but are currently getting closed? $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty Oct 27 '19 at 14:37
  • $\begingroup$ As for the history of the homework-and-exercises policy on this site, and why it's so hard to get anything about it to change, a good place to start is the links at the top of this answer. $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty Oct 27 '19 at 14:40
  • $\begingroup$ @Aaron, yes my bad. It is more frequently regular users rather than mods $\endgroup$ – Paul Childs Nov 8 '19 at 0:18

If you think that everything is fine how it is now, and we shouldn't change the wording of the close banner that appears under closed homework-like questions, you might upvote this answer to record that sentiment.


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