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Currently the "homework" close reason looks like this:

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, we get quite a lot of posts where someone posts a homework question, and then writes their attempt at a solution (without any real explanation, just the equations and numbers they used) and asks whether it's correct. Such "check my work" questions are also off topic according to the linked meta post, but the phrase "show some effort to work through the problem" could be taken as encouraging them.

Should we change the wording to make this policy clearer? Perhaps something like this (suggestions for improvements are welcome):

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 edit your question to make it better

This would make me feel better about voting to close such questions, because the user gets a clearer explanation of what they did wrong and how they can improve their post.

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  • $\begingroup$ This might be a good add-up to our current reason. But, you should've been there (in our chat) you know? ;-) $\endgroup$ – Waffle's Crazy Peanut Jul 21 '13 at 6:07
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    $\begingroup$ @CrazyBuddy I hadn't thought of this at the time - it's only through using the new close system that it came up. Also, the chat session was in the middle of the night for me. $\endgroup$ – Nathaniel Jul 21 '13 at 6:22
  • $\begingroup$ No worries. It's good that you posted in meta. If others agree, it will be edited into the post ;-) $\endgroup$ – Waffle's Crazy Peanut Jul 21 '13 at 6:23
  • $\begingroup$ @nathaniel we kept the proposed close reasons pending for a day for that reason :) $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Jul 21 '13 at 9:06
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    $\begingroup$ @Manishearth sure, the main reason I didn't suggest this before is that it only became apparent once the text was in use. If I'd thought of it before the implementation I'm sure I would have found a way to say something. $\endgroup$ – Nathaniel Jul 21 '13 at 10:05
  • $\begingroup$ @Nathaniel Makes sense :) $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Jul 21 '13 at 10:10
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This isn't so much a full answer as an extended comment...

One of the things we realized in our (incredibly long, there-goes-my-productivity-for-the-day) chat is that just about any wording we choose can be misinterpreted or at the very least mis-emphasized in the OP's mind. This is especially likely when the wording mentions some corner case that just doesn't apply.1 I don't worry too much about covering all the corner cases anymore as a result.

I for one used to have the exact same qualm about "here's my work, where did I go wrong?" questions - that the OP would miss the key sentence in the linked faq - and I even suggested a wording for that specific case here. While I don't advocate that being a default close reason, I copy/paste it as a custom close reason in these situations, where the OP actually does some work but in the end is using us as a computer algebra system.

Rather than trying to find a close reason that covers everything, I've personally settled for having a couple specific alternate wordings on hand for certain cases.


1 For a contrived example: OP has a practice exam with solution set, but the solution set just has equations but no concepts. OP posts a question and the given answer and says "huh?" We put on hold with our standard "homework must show effort" clause. If the OP reads a sentence saying "don't post equations and ask us to check them," it may be taken as "this question would be fine but for the fact that you posted too many equations," which is not at all the message we wanted to send.

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  • $\begingroup$ That makes sense. $\endgroup$ – Nathaniel Jul 23 '13 at 3:43
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There's a character limit on close reason, and that close reasons surpasses it.

Close reasons are supposed to be short, because the longer it is, the less likely someone is to read it. FWIW, while discussing the close reasons some users were against making it even that long.

Also, in this case I don't see how someone who can't be bothered to read both bolded parts will read the extra unbolded sentence.

I'm not too averse to removing the "show your work" bit entirely, it's really not as important. Homework posts that ask a conceptual question aren't really homework.

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  • $\begingroup$ If you let me know what the character limit is, I'll change my proposed text to fit it. It was only meant to be an initial suggestion. $\endgroup$ – Nathaniel Jul 21 '13 at 10:08
  • $\begingroup$ @Nathaniel 400. (Sorry, couldn't find it before, I was on a tablet) $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Jul 21 '13 at 10:10
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    $\begingroup$ The current length of my suggestion is 396 characters... $\endgroup$ – Nathaniel Jul 21 '13 at 10:13
  • $\begingroup$ Re: "I don't see how someone who can't be bothered to read both bolded parts will read the extra unbolded sentence" - what I worry about is that the meaning of the first bolded part might not be clear to an inexperienced user. Someone could easily think "my assignment is about momentum, therefore my question is about a specific concept." Being more explicit about it seems unlikely to hurt. $\endgroup$ – Nathaniel Jul 21 '13 at 15:49
  • $\begingroup$ @Nathaniel Again, the longer it is, the less people read it. Also, The question must be about understanding the concept (in the question) has the same problem. $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Jul 21 '13 at 15:53
  • $\begingroup$ I've posted some shorter suggestions in an answer. $\endgroup$ – Nathaniel Jul 21 '13 at 15:54
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    $\begingroup$ Manish, I estimate about 5% of your posts contain acronyms I have to google. $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty Jul 21 '13 at 19:01
  • $\begingroup$ @EmilioPisanty You're probably right :P The ones I use a bit too often are IMO, IIRC, and FWIW. I try to cut down on it though. Keep forgetting. $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Jul 21 '13 at 19:02
  • $\begingroup$ You probably spend too much time online in acronym-heavy communities ;). I know many of those but I think many casual users/viewers of this site would have trouble even with those three. $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty Jul 21 '13 at 19:19
  • $\begingroup$ @EmilioPisanty I actually don't, but I'm basically lazy and like to type less :P $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Jul 21 '13 at 19:43
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Ask about a specific physics concept is in bold for exactly this reason. Close reasons need to be fairly short if they're going to be useful, and accordingly the wording of the existing close reasons has been carefully tuned to say what needs to be said without using more words than necessary. In that respect, I don't think this change helps. We already have the big homework policy meta post to explain all the details of what an acceptable homework question looks like.

Now, I'm not saying the existing reasons are perfect, but we did put quite a bit of thought into them - they were extensively discussed in a chat session, and then posted for community feedback on meta (and earlier, here). When a few days passed without any additional comments, we decided the close reasons were good enough and implemented them.

Changing the close reasons is not something we should be doing often or on a whim; in particular, a small change like this isn't enough to justify it. If there is a major omission from one of the close reasons, then we can discuss it and change it to fix that.

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    $\begingroup$ How about just changing "work through the problem" to "understand the problem" then. It's not just an omission - the current wording actively gives the wrong impression. $\endgroup$ – Nathaniel Jul 21 '13 at 7:14
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    $\begingroup$ Also: why is changing the close reasons something we shouldn't do often, especially when they're new and all the kinks haven't been ironed out yet? What is the disadvantage to fixing it? $\endgroup$ – Nathaniel Jul 21 '13 at 7:16
  • $\begingroup$ (2 comments up) because we actually do expect some work on the problem, not just trying to understand what it's asking. (1 comment up) We can't just edit a close reason. There's a process of creating a new one, deactivating the old one, and installing the new one; also, the content of the close reasons is used to seed some of the prompts shown to question askers, which is a whole other process that is highly inconvenient to be going through repeatedly. $\endgroup$ – David Z Jul 21 '13 at 7:44
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    $\begingroup$ (first point) consider (1) a question that clearly explains why the user has trouble understanding a concept in a question, preventing any attempt to work through it; and (2) a question that says "I used F=ma and got 10N for the first part but I don't know how to do the second." I would say the first is fine but the second is (or should be) off topic, and is also pretty common. I would say that whether a user has attempted to work through the question is irrelevant for whether it's a good question, and the policy as described in the meta post seems to bear this out. $\endgroup$ – Nathaniel Jul 21 '13 at 8:06
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    $\begingroup$ (second point) I would consider that degree of inconvenience a bug. One of the main points of changing the close system was to avoid inconsistencies between the text of the close reasons and the actual reasons sites have for closing questions. Close reasons are something sites will need to get right, so if they're really that difficult to change then this is a problem. I could bring it up on the main meta, but it might be better if someone with a diamond does it, since I have no clue what the procedure is like from your end. $\endgroup$ – Nathaniel Jul 21 '13 at 8:10
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    $\begingroup$ @nathaniel the inconvenience is deliberate, it is to ensure that close reasons get properly discussed and voted on before being implemented. $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Jul 21 '13 at 9:07
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    $\begingroup$ @Manishearth right, so let's discuss it properly and then change it. Some problems were bound to become apparent only once the text was in use, and if it's impractical to do anything about that then there is a problem. $\endgroup$ – Nathaniel Jul 21 '13 at 10:00
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    $\begingroup$ Or discuss it properly and then not change it. Remember, I for one don't agree that there is a problem at all. (Just to be clear that this isn't purely bureaucratic red tape or anything like that.) $\endgroup$ – David Z Jul 21 '13 at 10:06
  • $\begingroup$ @DavidZaslavsky of course, sorry, if there's no problem then we shouldn't change it. I just meant if the inconvenience is the reason for not changing it then that's bad. $\endgroup$ – Nathaniel Jul 21 '13 at 10:10
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    $\begingroup$ Yes, I think the bold makes the policy very clear as it is. $\endgroup$ – Physiks lover Jul 21 '13 at 17:34
  • $\begingroup$ @Nathaniel I think show some effort is not needed. If the question is helpful and worth remaining, then the effort that the OP has spent is not important at all. For example see this and this that are specific problems, asking for the solution and yet have many upvotes. $\endgroup$ – Mo_ Jul 23 '13 at 13:36
  • $\begingroup$ @Mostafa I don't think either of those are homework questions though, according to the way it's defined in the policy meta post. $\endgroup$ – Nathaniel Jul 23 '13 at 14:13
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Here are some other suggestions for how the wording could be changed. The most minimal change would be this: (replacing "work through the problem" with "understand the problem".)

Homework-like questions should ask about a specific physics concept and show some effort to understand 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

Personally, I would prefer to be a bit more explicit about it: (This is the version in my original post)

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 edit your question to make it better

Manishearth suggested just getting rid of the "work through the question part" entirely, which I'd be happy with:

Homework-like questions should ask about a specific physics concept. 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

Or again being more explicit:

Homework-like questions should ask about a specific physics concept. Questions that simply quote a homework problem or just ask us to check your working 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 edit your question to make it better

Or shorter and not losing much:

Homework-like questions should ask about a specific physics concept. Questions that simply quote a homework problem or just ask us to check your working are off topic. See our meta site for more guidance on how to edit your question to make it better

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    $\begingroup$ I like the first one. The second one is too long. The third one is OK by me, but it has similar problems as per your second-last comment on my post. The fourth one gives off the impression (to me) that questions that do not simply quote a homework problem or just ask us to check your working are on topic. $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Jul 21 '13 at 15:57
  • $\begingroup$ @Manishearth I agree that the first one is probably the best. It solves the problem without making too big of a change. $\endgroup$ – Nathaniel Jul 21 '13 at 15:58
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    $\begingroup$ I think #1 is the best of the above (and slightly better than the current implementation). I don't mind HW questions when the OP shows lots of effort via words but doesn't have any equations, so the "work through" → "understand" replacement seems beneficial. $\endgroup$ – user10851 Jul 23 '13 at 3:04
  • $\begingroup$ @Manishearth do you think it's possible to change it then? We're still getting that type of question, and I still feel awkward about closing them with a message that's likely to result in feelings of "this is unfair, I did show some effort to work through it." There wasn't much response to my attempt at a voting answer, probably because it was posted after all the other answers, but the response in comments and answers seems to have been more positive than negative in regards to option (1) above. $\endgroup$ – Nathaniel Jul 25 '13 at 3:15
  • $\begingroup$ @Nathaniel Not enough votes, and plenty of conflicting valid arguments around (so no consensus yet). Either way, the easiest thing to do in such a case is to leave a short comment detailing exactly what needs fixing in the problem. Another thing you could try doing is adding a TL;DR section to the homework policy meta post. $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Jul 25 '13 at 7:46
  • $\begingroup$ @Manishearth fair enough about the votes, but can you list the arguments you consider valid against the first option in this answer? I think there have been some valid arguments against the other options (mostly the length issue), but I don't think anyone gave an argument against that option, apart from David Zaslavsky's general desire not to go through whatever awkward procedure has to be performed in order to change it. $\endgroup$ – Nathaniel Jul 25 '13 at 8:29
  • $\begingroup$ @Manishearth actually, never mind - I think we need a separate discussion about the policy, to work out whether we care about "working through the question" or not, and to then discuss the wording again after that. But for the moment I don't think it's worth putting too much more effort into discussion of this relatively minor issue. I'll try to start that policy discussion some other time. $\endgroup$ – Nathaniel Jul 25 '13 at 8:38
  • $\begingroup$ @Nathaniel Yeah. I personally don't see the point of the "work through it" part if we're only counting conceptual questions anyway. :) $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Jul 25 '13 at 9:57
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Please up/down vote this answer according to whether you think the wording should be changed to the following. (This is option 1 in my other answer - it's the same as the old wording, but changes "work through the problem" to "understand the problem.")

Homework-like questions should ask about a specific physics concept and show some effort to understand the problem. We want our questions to be useful to the broader community, and to future users. See [our meta site][1] for more guidance on how to edit your question to make it better

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