In the past week, I've had two different questions closed as homework questions. In both questions, I included textbook problems that motivated my conceptual question, but in neither case was solving the textbook problem the essence of my question. I am concerned that the voters, seeing that the questions were of a relatively elementary nature and included textbook material, have closed these questions on reflex without taking note of the substance of the question.

  1. Is the elastic modulus needed to solve this question?

    In this question, I asked if the question as posed in the textbook is internally consistent. I can do the computations and get an answer (close to) the textbook's answer, but the textbook also gives other information that may or may not be extraneous to the solution. My question is about whether elastic tension is capable of producing the geometry described: conceptual.

  2. Why do tension forces count towards the force-balance constraints, but not the torque constraint?

    I concede that this question lacks a bit of focus, but again, I made it clear in the post that I am not asking for someone to check my computations. I was trying to reconcile two different approaches to force-balance equations that I have encountered: one where you try to balance the forces "into" and "out of" each node, and another where you balance the $x$ and $y$ forces acting on the origin.

    I edited this question once to remove the details of the solution and emphasize my conceptual questions, but it was quickly closed again.

I have read the meta pages on homework and check-my-work questions and I cannot see which policy my posts violate. Could anyone shed some light on why they were closed?

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ This post is somewhat dishonest. For example, when the first question was closed you were not asking the conceptual questions you claim to be asking here. You seem to suggest the question was closed in spite of the conceptual questions being in the post, but they were not there when it was closed. In the second question you were primarily asking "is my work correct" when it was closed. Only after closure did you edit in more conceptual questions. Therefore, the issue here isn't that your questions were closed in spite of them being conceptual. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 3, 2020 at 12:46
  • $\begingroup$ My goal is to have my questions answered, not to be vindicated on meta, so yes, I went ahead and made some edits. But while I made the conceptual questions clearer in my edits, they were present in the original posts. $\endgroup$
    – Max
    Commented Jun 3, 2020 at 22:29
  • $\begingroup$ "My question is about whether elastic tension is capable of producing the geometry described this was explicitly added after closure, not before. The second question also was way more about checking your work before closure. You should have edited, but don't make it seem like the questions were just as good before closure. There is a difference between "should be reopened" and "shouldn't have been closed". $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 4, 2020 at 3:02
  • $\begingroup$ I think that the edits added clarity; you think they changed the substance. If that's your opinion, I can't change your mind, but as long as we agree that the new versions are better, perhaps you could participate in the reopen votes instead of speculating here about my intentions. $\endgroup$
    – Max
    Commented Jun 4, 2020 at 5:31
  • $\begingroup$ I have voted to reopen the second one. The first one still looks like a "check my work" question, so I have not voted to reopen that one yet. I don't see how there calculations and asking what is wrong with them is relevant. If you want to know if the scenario given in the problem is reasonable then ask that and explain why you think it is unreasonable. That doesn't involve trying to solve the problem and then asking why the calculations are wrong. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 4, 2020 at 11:30

2 Answers 2


Based on a quick look, I believe you're correct that these questions should not have been closed under our existing homework policy. Questions are supposed to be closed as homework-like when they are asking for help with solving the problem (or asking for solutions outright, or variants on that type of thing). If a question is asking something conceptual that happens to be motivated by a homework problem or educational exercise, as is the case with yours, that's fine.

I don't want to make a hasty decision, so I'm not going to act on this right away, but I anticipate reopening your questions unless other people want to post here and argue for them to remain closed (or unless there's something pretty major that I missed in my initial assessment).

One thing that I do notice is that your questions are a bit long, particularly the second one. That's not a problem in its own right, but it can make it difficult for readers to identify what you're actually asking and thereby convince themselves that your question is not homework-like. So, while you're waiting for responses here, you might want to review your questions to see if there are ways you could either shorten them or reorganize them to make it more clear what you're asking. Strategic use (but not overuse!) of paragraph breaks, headings, display-style equations, bold text, and other formatting can also make a question easier to parse even if it is long. (Though to be honest, I think you've done a better job of that than many people who post here.)

Another thing to note in your second question is that you're asking multiple distinct questions at the end. We tend to like our questions pretty focused, so it helps if you can reduce your question down so it only asks one thing, or at least has one main question and a few secondary questions that can logically be considered parts of the main one. That doesn't seem to be the case with the question I linked earlier in this paragraph, and thus people might want to argue that it should remain on hold with the "needs more focus" reason.

  • $\begingroup$ I don't see how the first problem is not a "check my work" problem. The OP has just included various attempts at the question. They aren't explicitly asking about any concepts. But maybe I'm missing something. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 3, 2020 at 12:12
  • $\begingroup$ "What explains the discrepancy between these answers?" is the conceptual question I identified. It's perfectly legitimate to have two methods of calculating something whose results don't agree and to ask for help understanding why they disagree. $\endgroup$
    – David Z
    Commented Jun 5, 2020 at 2:34
  • $\begingroup$ So if you ask "where did I go wrong?"(what I usually see on closed questions) then it's check my work, but if you ask "what is the discrepancy?" then it's not? Both methods given by the OP don't match the given answer. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 5, 2020 at 11:56
  • $\begingroup$ Pretty much, yeah. Of course I could imagine that a "where did I go wrong" question might be disguised as a "what is the discrepancy" question, so there's a bit of a judgment call to be made and there could be exceptions to this rule, but in general these "discrepancy" questions are more about explaining the methods, not just finding a mistake. I think it shouldn't really matter whether either of the methods give a correct answer, but then giving the correct answer and/or a correct method would be out of scope for the question. $\endgroup$
    – David Z
    Commented Jun 5, 2020 at 20:02
  • $\begingroup$ I see. I think I was viewing the question more from "what is the discrepancy between my attempts and the correct answer" rather than "what is the discrepancy between my two incorrect attempts". I guess I view a question that requires checking work and whose answer could be "this step has an error" as off topic, but I can see how there could be good questions that still require some level of work checking. Oh well, like I mentioned on a comment in the main post I have voted to reopen one of the two questions. Thanks for the discussion :) $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 5, 2020 at 20:08
  • $\begingroup$ Yeah, this is getting pretty close to the line between on-topic and off-topic. And actually on second thought, I might back off on what I said earlier: even a question asking "where did I go wrong" could be on topic if it shows some effort and is written in a way that focuses on understanding how to use the method correctly in the future. What we really want to avoid are questions that can be answered by "yes, this is correct". $\endgroup$
    – David Z
    Commented Jun 5, 2020 at 21:01
  • $\begingroup$ Well, I tried :( haha (even though it does look like a duplicate). $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 6, 2020 at 10:50

First, just so we are on the same page here, these are the versions of the first and second questions before they were closed. They did not have the conceptual questions you claim that they had when they were closed, and they are much more off topic than they are now.

It seems like what you have done is asked questions that should have been closed, but then came to meta and only pointed out the good parts of your posts (which were edited in after closure, not before like you seem to suggest). However, if you really were trying to ask the conceptual questions you have stated here, you can easily edit the posts to do this.

As a general note, just putting something in a question like

I made it clear in the post that I am not asking for someone to check my computations.

doesn't make it true. If your question looks like a "check my work" question then there is a good reason to close it, even if you say it is not.

Now, onto the questions:

For the first one let's start with the title:

Is the elastic modulus needed to solve this question?

This definitely doesn't help your case here. The title suggests that your goal is to solve the problem, not to ask a conceptual physics problem

Now onto your bold question:

What explains the discrepancy between these answers?

Since this is in bold, it seems to be your main focus. But this makes it look like a "check my work" question. "I have these different attempts, but they don't work. Why do they not work?" In addition to the title, this also gives the impression of the question being off topic.

Now onto what you claim the question was about in this meta post

My question is about whether elastic tension is capable of producing the geometry described: conceptual.

Then ask that! If you actually have a conceptual question, then make this the focus of the post; don't hide it in the middle of the question, make the title about solving the problem, and put in bold the "check my work" question.

As the first question stands, I still think it should be closed. It can be edited to bee worth reopening though.

For your second question, for now let's ignore that the many questions at the end of the post give reason for the question to be closed as needing more focus (which has been fixed since posting this).

IMO the entire homework problem and your calculations are nearly irrelevant to the questions you ask at the end. Just like before, if you have conceptual questions then ask them. I would strip down the homework problem to just the system and not even ask the entire problem. Include the picture with just the description, and don't include all of your work.

I also think this second question should be closed as it currently is.

In summary, the theme here is if you have a conceptual question then ask that conceptual question. Don't bury it in calculations and requests to point out what is wrong in those calculations. Additionally, do this from the beginning. Don't do this after the question was closed and then claim to have been asking the conceptual questions the entire time.

  • $\begingroup$ This is the sort of feedback that reviewers should provide in comments before (or along with) voting to close. "What am I missing?" (as I wrote in the earlier version of my first post) is still a conceptual question, if a vague one. The correct course of action here for a reviewer would be to comment, edit, or move to close as unfocused. $\endgroup$
    – Max
    Commented Jun 3, 2020 at 22:24
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Max I don't leave comments if I think the close banner provides enough information. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 4, 2020 at 3:00

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