There seems to be quite a lot of questions that demand for textbook answers. These are technically not homework questions - i.e., they are not asking for solutions to problems - but grounded in not having read the relevant chapter of a textbook. They are not necessarily trivial either - i.e., they may concern some advanced but still textbook topics, and often it is the material that the OP might have not studied yet.

My approach is to indicate in the comments where it can be looked up, and to propose closure of the question as a homework level. However, I would appreciate the opinions of the community on this subject (probably this has already been discussed).

Update Let me propose a definition of a textbook question: it is a one that can be answered by reproducing verbatim a sentence/paragraph/chapter from a textbook. (Assuming that it is a frequently used textbook or that there are many textbooks on the subject.)

Let me also note that many of us here have spent years studying, reading textbooks, thinking them over, doing homeworks, carrying out research and so on. While not everyone has equal ability, we do expect that people asking questions are making effort to learn things, rather than looking for a speedier way of obtaining knowledge: e.g., by typing a question on the phone instead of paging through a textbook or going to a library.

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    $\begingroup$ Do you have an/some explicit example(s) of the questions you are talking about? Also questions shouldn't be closed because they are "homework level" or because the answer can be trivially found in a book or elsewhere online. $\endgroup$ Mar 22, 2021 at 15:01
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    $\begingroup$ @BioPhysicist The problem with answering such a question is that one cannot post as an answer a reference to a book, whereas reproducing a whole chapter seems a waste fo time. Here is my today's example: physics.stackexchange.com/q/622970/247642 $\endgroup$ Mar 22, 2021 at 16:59
  • $\begingroup$ IMO that question should be closed for asking for a worked example. Do you have any questions that follow site policy completely but fail in terms of prior research? $\endgroup$ Mar 22, 2021 at 17:06
  • $\begingroup$ @BioPhysicist I will try to add examples as they come by (they occur regularly, but I do not keep track of them). $\endgroup$ Mar 22, 2021 at 17:11
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    $\begingroup$ I don't understand why you wouldn't want to teach a student who is simply attempting some textbook questions themselves. This seems like one of the main benefits of the site, facilitating self study. For questions assigned as homework, it makes sense to answer only in hints, or to close the question, however why would you close a question that is simply asking for a worked solution to compare against their (possibly incorrect) attempt? $\endgroup$
    – user400188
    Mar 24, 2021 at 11:03
  • $\begingroup$ Furthermore concerning your quote about "advanced textbook topics", "which the OP might not have studied yet" and your approach of proposing to close questions like these, why on earth would you do it? If a high schooler is curious about some university level physics, why not let them get their question answered? $\endgroup$
    – user400188
    Mar 24, 2021 at 11:08
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    $\begingroup$ @user400188 I don't see any point in copying whole textbooks on this site. On the other hand, giving just a reference does not qualify as an answer. Even if the mission of this site were teaching, the role of a teacher, in my opinion, is not to read aloud a textbooks - students are capable of doing it themselves - but to help through the difficult points and suggest the directions for future learning. $\endgroup$ Mar 24, 2021 at 11:14
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    $\begingroup$ @Vadim that's why you write an answer, instead of just directing the user to a textbook in a comment. The answer can be tailored, pointing out mistakes in the askers work or methodology to solving the question, increasing the chance that the student is actually taught. Also, since when has the purpose of this site not been teaching? Myself, (and I'm sure nearly everyone else), come here to learn new things. $\endgroup$
    – user400188
    Mar 24, 2021 at 11:17
  • $\begingroup$ @user400188 It is one thing when a person does not understand a concept that they have learned about, it is another when they simply have not read the relevant chapter in the textbook (either for laziness or because they are not sufficiently advanced yet). $\endgroup$ Mar 24, 2021 at 11:26
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    $\begingroup$ @Vadim if they are a curious student who is asking for help with something beyond their level, why wouldn’t you want to help them become sufficiently advanced to solve it? Even if you personally don’t have the interest or time, someone else might, so there is no need to close the question. Also, if they are lazy, how are you meant to tell? $\endgroup$
    – user400188
    Mar 24, 2021 at 11:32
  • $\begingroup$ @BioPhysicist Here is a good example: physics.stackexchange.com/q/623077/247642 This is technically not a homework question. But, if the author worked through the textbook math, the answer would be clear to them. You think it qualifies as the lack of prior research? $\endgroup$ Mar 25, 2021 at 10:54
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    $\begingroup$ @Vadim On the contrary. The OP has clearly done a lot of work looking through the content and even their lecture notes and thinking through the steps. I think it's pretty harsh to say there is lack of prior research there. (As an aside, the post is asking multiple questions, so if the wasn't a bounty I would VTC for lack of focus.) $\endgroup$ Mar 25, 2021 at 11:46
  • $\begingroup$ @BioPhysicist what about this one: physics.stackexchange.com/questions/626123/… $\endgroup$ Mar 31, 2021 at 15:59
  • $\begingroup$ @Vadim Seems like a valid confusion to me. The OP understands something about the definitions from their reading, but they are still confused. They even (poorly) said this was the case. $\endgroup$ Mar 31, 2021 at 16:03
  • $\begingroup$ @BioPhysicist Here is another such question - but, as you see in the comments, the person is honestly doing their work: physics.stackexchange.com/q/626047/247642 $\endgroup$ Mar 31, 2021 at 16:54

1 Answer 1


Back in the day we used to close this type of questions with a custom close reason:

I am voting to close this question as off-topic because it shows insufficient prior research.

with a link to this meta post.

I just checked the stats and it seems we haven't been using this anymore, I wonder what happened.

But anyway, that is always a valid close reason (if four more users agree, obvs).

  • $\begingroup$ But what would you select as the close reason then? $\endgroup$ Mar 22, 2021 at 16:18
  • $\begingroup$ @BioPhysicist Custom close reason: i.stack.imgur.com/fbNBX.png $\endgroup$ Mar 22, 2021 at 16:21
  • $\begingroup$ I wonder if there was a reason the explicit "insufficient research" option was removed. Also I'm fully aware of the custom close reason. $\endgroup$ Mar 22, 2021 at 16:24
  • $\begingroup$ @BioPhysicist I don't think it was ever a predefined option. It was just that a lot of users were using the exact same phrasing, consistently. Presumably, copying and pasting or using some web extension. ["A lot of users" or, perhaps, just a few but they (we?) were much more active a couple of years ago. Maybe burnout is what happened?] $\endgroup$ Mar 22, 2021 at 16:27
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    $\begingroup$ Ah ok. Interesting. I don't think I've ever used that reason before. I guess IMO if the question isn't a duplicate and follows other site policies then I see nothing wrong with answering it. Although I'm sure many "insufficient research questions" tend to have other problems as well. $\endgroup$ Mar 22, 2021 at 16:41
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    $\begingroup$ @BioPhysicist Indeed, it was (ideally) only used in the most blatant cases where the close reason was obvious enough for any reasonable person. $\endgroup$ Mar 22, 2021 at 16:54
  • $\begingroup$ It is true that some communities here (e.g., biology) use extensively "insufficient research" - they are striving for having real scientific quality questions and answers. I am too new to know whether Physics SE was intended in the same way - currently it seems a lot about explaining physics to beginners/undergrads (which is a noble mission as well). $\endgroup$ Mar 22, 2021 at 17:06
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    $\begingroup$ @Vadim I believe at some point we wanted that too, but that attitude was abandoned before I joined the community, so I don't really know the details. But I think there once was "theoretical physics SE", that later merged with the regular "physics SE" because of its low traffic. Also, "physics overflow" (mimicking "math overflow") was launched, but that is an independent community. So, all in all, I guess we wanted to strive for research level discussions but gave up? [I agree low-level discussions are noble, but honestly I would be much happier if we could raise the bar, however implausible] $\endgroup$ Mar 22, 2021 at 19:08

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