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One of my answers to an "homework and exercise" question was deleted on the ground of being "near complete".

In fact, knowing I was not supposed to give a complete answer, I was careful not to solve the problem to the end.

The concept of "near complete" is a bit "fuzzy", isn't it ?

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Looking back at the Q&A you are asking about (both Q&A have been deleted, but here is the link for 10k users), I would actually argue that the answer is essentially a complete answer. It's actually closer to "complete" than "near complete" in my view. The only step the answer omitted was solving a quadratic equation -- the answer even said which of the two possible solutions to pick from the quadratic equation.

In other words, the answer was complete in terms of the physics and the equations, the only step that was left was the math.

If the answer only described what sign convention to use and how to pick a sign convention, I probably wouldn't call it "complete" nor "near complete." The asker would still have to figure out how to take the general physics notions and apply it to their problem. They would still learn something by thinking through the process, by thinking through the translation from concept (sign convention) to application and solution. Instead, the answer only made them think through how to solve a quadratic equation -- it didn't even require them to think about which of the two solutions are valid.

In the end, it is a bit fuzzy about what "near complete" might mean. In the case of the answer you are asking about, I would say it isn't even close to being fuzzy. It's pretty clearly too close to a complete solution, rather than a set of hints and physical concepts to guide the asker to the solution.

When in doubt, think like the professor assigning the homework. How would they answer the question? It's unlikely they would walk them through all the equations all the way to the end and then say "Okay, now solve this equation, pick the positive root, and then write it down for a grade." The professor would probably ask them to draw the free-body diagram, ask them how they should define vectors (sign and magnitude), and then clear up any confusions on those two points. Beyond that, the student is on their own.

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tpg2114's answer is a great commentary on your specific post. For a more general view on answers that are "near complete" homework solutions, it seems to be a common trend that if a question should be closed as being an off topic homework question, then answers to this question will most likely be "near complete" solutions. Of course this is not a hard and fast rule, but it tends to hold up most of the time.

In this case the question was asking for work to be checked and for next steps in the solution. It was correctly closed as an off topic homework question, and all 3 answers to the question were also deleted due to being solutions to the homework question.

Therefore in addition to the advice of "thinking like a professor", I think this is also a good lesson in not answering questions that are obviously off topic homework questions.

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  • $\begingroup$ What is even less clear to me is when a "homework" question is "off topic", or rather, from what you write, how can a "homework" question ever be "on topic". Not that I intend to ask one, but to know when I should ever answer one in the future... $\endgroup$ – Alfred Nov 26 '19 at 4:24
  • $\begingroup$ @Alfred The links given in the close banner for closed homework questions is a good place to start. But you also get a feel for it the longer you are on the site. From what I can tell the site has become a little more strict on homework over the years, so keep that in mind when looking at much older examples. $\endgroup$ – BioPhysicist Nov 26 '19 at 4:38
  • $\begingroup$ @Alfred it is possible to have a homework question that is posted so as to emphasize a conceptual aspect of the question You are right in observing this is not easy to do - especially at the introductory level - but it can be done: see physics.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/10938/… $\endgroup$ – ZeroTheHero Nov 26 '19 at 14:56
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    $\begingroup$ Indeed not so easy to do. I think I am going to abstain from answering this kinds of questions until I get a better grip of the nuances. $\endgroup$ – Alfred Nov 26 '19 at 23:04
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    $\begingroup$ @Alfred That's a very reasonable thing to do. Thanks for being cautious. Here's a rule of thumb that may be helpful: the homework-and-exercises tag is meant for questions which were motivated or inspired by someone trying to solve a problem, but not for questions which are actually asking for help getting the solution to the problem itself. That's a key part of what makes the difference between on-topic "homework questions" and off topic questions. $\endgroup$ – David Z Nov 28 '19 at 6:39
  • $\begingroup$ @Alfred I think that's something a lot of users have to do when they start out here. I definitely had to watch myself when I started because I answered quite a few borderline homework questions that I probably shouldn't have. I may still make the mistake sometimes too, since everyone has slightly different opinions. $\endgroup$ – JMac Nov 29 '19 at 19:18

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