# Should we rename the homework tag as “problem-solving”, or such?

The "homework" tag is often controversial among new users who complain that their question isn't from a homework assignment (so they get offended, so edit wars happen, and posts get blocked -- e.g., which is unfortunate, because there actually some good homework-tagged questions here).

I suggest that we rename it (for example, as -- or . as suggested by David Z).

Let me emphasize that I'm not here suggesting to change the policy for homework-like questions, nor whether or not we should have a tag for homework-like questions. The scope and policy have been discussed in several other meta questions. Here I'm only asking whether we should change the name of the tag.

• I'd be okay with that. homework would just become a synonym. – tpg2114 Sep 18 '13 at 16:45
• Me too. This makes sense. – Manishearth Sep 18 '13 at 18:43
• Why is it a problem if people find the tag demeaning? We can't help them with their irrational emotional reactions. They could find it demeaning to work in a bank, which is inconsistent with their revolutionary anarchist world-view. They could find it demeaning to buy food in a shop that is run by someone who's of the wrong religion. If it looks like homework but isn't, they can state that in the question, and then nobody will bug them by asking whether the question is homework. – Ben Crowell Sep 19 '13 at 15:59
• @Ben well, there's something to be said for encouraging people to contribute to the site (setting aside the issue of whether people who post HW-like questions are likely to become good contributors), but mostly as far as I'm concerned it's just to ease up the confusion about why the tag applies to questions that are not actually from HW assignments. – David Z Sep 20 '13 at 3:29
• @DavidZ: it's just to ease up the confusion about why the tag applies to questions that are not actually from HW assignments Seems to me we'd get even more confusion by changing it, since "problem-solving" is broad enough to apply to nearly all questions asked here. I have seen zero evidence of confusion involving the current name. If there were such confusion, presumably it would show up as questions that fit the homework tag's definition, which weren't literally homework, and were not tagged as homework. Never seen one of those. What I see is occasional literal homework not tagged as such. – Ben Crowell Sep 20 '13 at 3:48
• @Ben I've seen many dozens of those questions which fit the homework tag's definition and yet aren't tagged with it, and aren't from actual homework assignments. They show up on probably a weekly basis. And it's not at all uncommon for the OP to complain about the addition of the homework tag in an edit. – David Z Sep 20 '13 at 3:53
• @DImension10AbhimanyuPS: And people finding it demeaning, means that there can be edit wars... Is the problem really that people find it "demeaning" (honestly, I really find that ridiculous), or is it that they feel that they are less likely to get an answer NOW NOW NOW to their question? The homework tag allows people like me who have no interest in answering homework questions to avoid spending a lot of time wading through homework questions. If that upsets people who believe they have a god-given right to my attention, then I have as much sympathy for them as for telemarketers. – Ben Crowell Sep 20 '13 at 3:54
• Perhaps this entire discussion and the disagreement it causes on all sides is just another reason why meta-tags should be avoided. Nobody argues about whether aerodynamics belongs on a question and nobody's feelings are hurt when it's edited on/off. – tpg2114 Sep 20 '13 at 4:36
• I thought that homework was meant for homework only - and it sounded demeaning because it should sound demeaning! And discourage people from using the website just in order to cheat in their courses or at school. – Luboš Motl Sep 20 '13 at 19:55
• So what happened to this? Everyone was for it, why not implement it? – Jim Sep 7 '14 at 22:38
• I 95th that notion – physicsaddict Sep 22 '14 at 20:42
• The truth is that the homework tag is being used for questions that are NOT homework but "Applies to questions of primarily educational value" regardless of whether it relates to school or not. The problem here is mainly that if you are NOT in school and DON'T have the option to ask a teacher or classmate (because you don't have a teacher or classmates because you are not in school), then what results is you will exclude a lot of answers who don't want to do others' homework thinking you are asking for homework help (which implies SCHOOL homework), when in reality you are just trying to learn. – physicsaddict Sep 22 '14 at 20:46
• Put another way, the "homework" tag excludes at-home diy-ers who have a physics question from getting a good answer, or in many cases from getting an answer at all, because answerers will overlook their question thinking it's related to SCHOOL homework. The problem here is that the TAG means "educational value" but the WORD implies "educational SYSTEM" which is COMPLETELY different. – physicsaddict Sep 22 '14 at 20:51
• @physicsaddict: I think you are right that the homework tag can be an impediment to useful transfer of information. In addition to the reason you put forth, I seem to observe that homework like questions and things with the homework tag are scrutinized to a level which other questions are not. In particular, questions which are good and relevant at lower levels of education get hosed by close votes more easily than similar quality questions on more advanced topics. – DanielSank Oct 4 '14 at 4:38
• @centralcharge Care to mark Qmechanic's answer as accepted on this one? – Emilio Pisanty Jun 29 '16 at 17:40

How about ? It is self-explanatory, and that way we still call a spade a spade while simultaneously leave open the possibility that it might not be actual homework.

• It's a bit of a mouthful, but it does basically the same thing as "homework-like" and it solves the major problem of the current tag name. So yeah, if everyone likes this one the best, it'll do just as well as some of the other suggestions. – Jim Sep 23 '14 at 13:46

I agree with a strong caveat. The tag wiki excerpt must function as an exceptionally well-tuned tool to catch the great homework/problem-solving questions, turn the borderline cases into good questions, and prevent bad questions as far as possible.

The way tag synonyms work at Ask a Question time is the following. You type in the tag you think you should use (say, "sound") and presto! A very visible prompt appears with the strong suggestion that the tag to use is, in fact, acoustics - and it flashes a blurb at them.

Thus, say we have a myopic user who did not read the guidance in the sidebar. They see they're asked for tags and, saying "hey", they type in homework. They are then presented with the suggestion that in fact they meant "problem solving," as well as a text that says

Problem-solving refers to questions whose value lies in helping you understand the method by which the question can be solved, rather than getting the answer itself. This includes conceptual questions about homework assignments, although not all homework questions are allowed. PLEASE CLICK LEARN MORE BEFORE POSTING HOMEWORK QUESTIONS.

The learn more link would then take them to a tag wiki with a succinct summary of the homework policy and numerous links to it.

The main advantage of this, as I see it, is that it encourages the right sort of homework-like questions we want, whilst taking (a probably small, but nonzero) action to prevent the bad ones from getting asked in the first place.

I really don't think we're at the fighting-ourselves-to-oblivion-over-homework-tags kind of stage that SO reached some time ago, and I have not seen anyone railing against a tag that did not yield to the first comment of "The tag applies to all homework-like questions" and subsequent referral to meta. I think our biggest problem is still fighting the constant tide of low-quality homework questions, and if we do this right it can help in that respect. If it helps in making the homework-like askers a bit happier about it then all to the better, but then that's only because yes, "problem-solving" does encapsulate so much better what we want in good homework questions.

• We can't add links to the excerpt, I'm afraid :( – Manishearth Sep 19 '13 at 7:48
• The link's already there :) – Emilio Pisanty Sep 19 '13 at 9:16

I think there is one real (or at least, really potential) issue with : it could be applied to almost every question on the site. Presumably people wouldn't go around editing it in willy-nilly, but it is likely that new users will apply it without discrimination to their questions.

I'm thinking "Oh, I have a problem, and I'd like it solved". It could be worse that in terms of misapplication.

• Is that a bad thing actually? Thinking about the questions that are "I have a problem and I'd like it solved," I think they tend to be the ones where people should be shown how but not just given the answer (ie. how we treat homework). But the majority of the questions are "How/Why does X do what it does?" which is less of a problem-solving question. I think anyway, not sure if I presented that very clearly... – tpg2114 Sep 19 '13 at 2:55
• If used and applied with care it wouldn't be a problem, but some users (and especially many new users) apply tags without a lot of care. I'm simply saying that "problem-solving" looks like one that will attract misuse. I'm not sure that is a showstopper for this idea, but I thought I'd put it out there. – dmckee Sep 19 '13 at 2:59
• No problem putting it out there, I just wanted to discuss it a bit :) – tpg2114 Sep 19 '13 at 3:06
• Exactly. "Homework" has descriptive value. "Problem solving" has none whatsoever. The point of having a homework tag is explained in the tag's description. When people want help on their schoolwork, "it is preferable to guide the asker to the answer rather than giving it away outright." This does not apply to all problem solving, only to schoolwork that is being assigned for a grade. – Ben Crowell Sep 19 '13 at 15:54
• @dmckee you have any better suggestion? Not saying this isn't a good point, but it's just a strike against problem-solving specifically rather than against the idea of renaming the homework tag in general. – David Z Sep 20 '13 at 3:32
• @David I've suggested [exercise] or [pedagogical-question] in the past, but I don't feel particularly good about either of them. I agree that [homework] is a cause of friction and a change could be for the better, but the more I think about it the less I like [problem-solving]. – dmckee Sep 20 '13 at 4:06
• I don't think it will be so confusing: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Problem_solving . Assuming that everyone who posts on this site knows it's one about Physics, they would' not really be so confused. By the way, the tag "pedagogical-question" you suggest in your comment is not a bad idea,. – Abhimanyu Pallavi Sudhir Sep 24 '13 at 16:47
• I completely agree that problem-solving could be misleading. I've added an answer suggesting pedagogical-question below, (probably too far down and too late to get any notice) – Shep Sep 21 '14 at 18:02

Yep, I've thought that this might be useful. I just didn't have any particularly good ideas for what the new tag should be. I was thinking , so let this answer be the proposal for that. (Although to be honest, I think sounds better.)

• Once the mod-voodoo is done to make it so, do we just replace "homework" with "homework/problem-solving" in meta.physics.stackexchange.com/q/714 ? – tpg2114 Sep 19 '13 at 0:34
• Yep, I imagine if/when we (mods) rename the tag we'll also adjust the homework policy to match. – David Z Sep 19 '13 at 0:35

This is a fantastic idea. I fully support it. I have noticed the same behavior you have: people don't like calling their question "homework," especially if it isn't part of an assignment. I have taken to saying "Homework tag applies, even if this isn't actual homework" in my edit summaries when I apply the tag. This proposal would better describe what kinds of questions are acceptable, and would encourage better tagging of such questions. And as tpg2114 says in his comment, this would be nearly trivial to implement.

• I've suggested "exercise" or something like it in the past, but there has not been a lot of interest. – dmckee Sep 18 '13 at 19:16
• I think "problem solving" may do better, as "exercise" still sounds like "homework." – Colin McFaul Sep 18 '13 at 21:53
• people don't like calling their question "homework," especially if it isn't part of an assignment. I don't get it. If it isn't part of an assignment, then it isn't homework, and they don't need to call it homework or use the tag...? – Ben Crowell Sep 19 '13 at 16:00
• @BenCrowell, imagine that I want to learn GR. I'm long past classes, so I'm studying on my own out of Schutz. I come to an exercise I don't understand, and ask it here. Under current homework policy, the homework tag applies. The current policy doesn't care if the question is part of an assignment or not. – Colin McFaul Sep 19 '13 at 16:49
• @ColinMcFaul: In your situation, what is the problem with simply using the homework tag? Is the disadvantage the psychic insult of the name "homework?" If so, then IMO the ego damage due to the word "homework" is inconsequential compared to the complete lack of descriptive power of the proposed alternative "problem-solving," which could cover nearly all questions on the site. – Ben Crowell Sep 20 '13 at 3:25

I agree that the name of the tag should be changed, but I also agree with some commenters that isn't the best name for it.

I would like to suggest as an alternative. It's broader than but still specific enough to be useful, and hopefully it would be less offensive to people who are doing exercises in their own time.

• I'm not sure if that is very clear. People may even apply it to this question. – Abhimanyu Pallavi Sudhir Sep 20 '13 at 2:00

QMechanic's idea is excellent (as 'problem-solving' has a different meaning), but doesn't eliminate the too-specific word 'homework', sometimes it is not really homework ( I personally had 2 sad experiences that are still smarting, I can't get over it, as I am no student). Why not use a broader term that includes 'homework'.

These below are quasi-synonyms of 'homework' and sound nice:

• Frankly I dislike all of the proposals. We shouldn't be meta-tagging anything. – tpg2114 Sep 25 '14 at 15:22
• +1 Of all the name suggestions, I like this one the most. – Pulsar Oct 20 '14 at 0:10

Want to post an answer in agreement with David Z and because this is an old thread, so maybe a new post will spark life into it.

I'm for a renaming, but I think would be more appropriate. dmckee pointed out that would be misused and pasted on too many questions. That might be worst case scenario, but it's definitely believable. Whereas would still get the message across about the type of question, but we'd also remove the problem of all the new users editing in the phrase "Edit: This is not part of my homework! I am just interested in finding out about it" or something like that. And seeing as there's an edit war going on right this second as I'm writing this over the inclusion of because the OP keeps saying it's not part of his homework, I think clarifying to could save us all some future headaches.

• I'm not opposed to this (considering it was kind of my idea!) but I would like to think really hard about whether there isn't some better name to use. Recently I've been thinking that we call the HW policy a homework policy because the original motivation behind it was to exclude homework questions - but what we're really trying to do is exclude a broader class of low-/no-effort, non-conceptual questions which are not in line with the goals we have for the site. So I think a name that doesn't make any reference to "homework" would be a big plus. – David Z Sep 18 '14 at 18:41
• @DavidZ In principle I agree, and if someone can suggest a name that better encapsulates the type of questions than "homework-like" does, I'd be for it. But remember, the tag has to not only be applied to questions we don't want but also questions we do want. But if we had something like "study-aid example" that's too broad. It requires more thought, but in the meantime, "homework-like" is still better than "homework" – Jim Sep 22 '14 at 12:54

Not my idea, but I thought I should add it as an answer. I did immediately think would be better than , but somehow the lone also sounds demeaning.

• that could work. But aren't most questions pedagogical questions? After all, we try to make all answers teach, so isn't that pedagogic? – Jim Sep 22 '14 at 12:58
• @Jim Well, the help center actually says that you should "You should only ask practical, answerable questions based on actual problems that you face.", and we are trying to distinguish those questions whose value is specifically educational rather than those for which the answer is valuable in and of itself (instead of the processing being valuable). But Physics SE has a very theoretical, scholastic feel at times. – dmckee Sep 22 '14 at 23:44

The truth is that the homework tag is being used for questions that are NOT homework but "Applies to questions of primarily educational value" regardless of whether it relates to school and the educational system or not.

The problem here is mainly that if you are NOT in school and DON'T have the option to ask a teacher or classmate (because you don't have a teacher or classmates because you are not in school), then what results is you will exclude a lot of answers who don't want to do others' homework thinking you are asking for homework help (which implies SCHOOL homework), when in reality you are just trying to learn.

Put another way, the "homework" tag excludes at-home diy-ers who have a physics question from getting a good answer, or in many cases from getting an answer at all, because answerers will overlook their question thinking it's related to SCHOOL homework.

The main problem here appears to be that the TAG "homework" means "educational(learning) value/purpose" but the WORD implies "educational SYSTEM (NOT necessarily for the purpose of learning)" which is completely different.

I think it all comes down to specificity. There should be two tags, or synonym tags, that include specificity.

school-homework
diy-physics-help

where both are synonyms of the homework tag,
but only school-homework actually means the homework tag, because to anyone who reads homework, what they see in their mind is really school-homework regardless of tag intent.

It is true, that it could be abused, but that's what we have moderators for.
It seems to me that the benefit from not excluding people from the site who could be valuable contributors is greater than the potential for abuse, which we have moderators in place to help with.

It seems to me that it will be obvious, over time, who are homework cheaters and who are honest DIY-ers. It seems to me, that someone cheating on their homework will not spend the time and effort to answer any questions or contribute anything to the site, and this pattern can be recognized rather quickly in most cases. DIY-ers with physics questions, on the other hand, are the polar opposite. By nature, these people have a desire to learn, and most people with a desire to learn have an unusually high desire to also help others.

By specifying SCHOOL-homework, there is no doubt as to whether the question is in regards to the educational system or not. It's a matter of clarity.

Do take note that several people in this thread already have clearly said they skip over homework questions because they don't want to do other people's homework.

Essentially, by not forcing anyone just wanting to learn (who are NOT asking school homework questions) into using a prohibitive homework tag (at least without specifying that it is NOT related to the educational system), you will not be excluding some of the most valuable potential contributors to the site.

• This answer (v1) essentially argues that we should change the scope of the site to allow all homework-like questions that are not actual homework. Besides the obvious difficulty in verifying the difference, this is not what this meta question is about: It is about possibly changing the name of the homework tag without changing the homework policy and scope. For discussion of changing the homework policy and scope, see several other posts here on meta. – Qmechanic Sep 22 '14 at 22:15
• Phrased differently: It is premature to discuss tag names if the policy is still up for debate. – Qmechanic Sep 22 '14 at 22:27
• Okay, well I was just stating my perspective and understanding. – physicsaddict Sep 22 '14 at 22:29
• physicsaddict: "I think it all comes down to specificity." -- +1. "anyone who reads homework, what they see in their mind is really school-homework regardless of tag intent." -- Right; and I can find nothing bad in asking questions about actually assigned problems, either. The homework tag should rather be applied and understood as guidance or warning not to work out the solution to the very end, but rather to provide useful hints, if it is certain that the (standard textbook) answer is obtained along this way. (IOW: full solutions should be removed by moderators.) – user12262 Oct 16 '15 at 19:42

I think that the main purpose of the "Homework" tag is to inform respondants that this question must NOT be answered explicitly without explanation. It should only be answered in a way that encourages the requestor to think--it should help him solve the problem and not solve it for him.

I don't really think it's a good idea to switch away from this context--if someone saw a "problem-solving" tag would they still be as likely to remember not to directly answer the question?

Perhaps "Educational" or "Learning"?

Also I think that part of the reason some people object to the "Homework" tag on their posts is that they are actually trying to get the internet to do their homework for them and they dislike the tag because it stops people from directly answering a question in such a way that that they can copy and paste it into their homework.