With all the current discussions about homework and changing site rules, I'd think we're missing something in the How to ask FAQ and I'd be interested to hear the members' views.

It seems to me that the single most important thing about the question is that some effort has gone into writing it. That is, we expect the OP to have done some Googling or other background reading and made an effort to make their question well posed i.e. clear and obvious what they're asking.

Homework questions tend to be the most egregious violators of this principle, but we also get the "tell me about relativity" type questions. At the risk of picking on someone this question is a recent example of an OP who hasn't done even basic research before asking a question.

Arguably, being well researched is more of an issue than being homework - after all a well researched homework question is almost inevitably about concepts rather than specifics, and therefore qualifies as a good question. So I suggest that rather than worrying about what exactly constitutes homework, we make our close/delete decisions on how well researched the question is. We should update the How to ask FAQ accordingly.

  • $\begingroup$ How to ask isn't actually editable. There are two help center pages that are, and a small portion of the tour. The sidebar is editable by comm team members; not sure about How to Ask and How to Answer. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 15, 2013 at 18:43
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    $\begingroup$ Alright, apparently the first full paragraph is editable, example vs physics. Aside from that, not possible. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 15, 2013 at 21:55
  • $\begingroup$ @Manishearth: did you find out if you can edit the first paragraph? If so should we start suggesting changes? $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 26, 2013 at 15:21
  • $\begingroup$ I asked someone from the community team, they told me and also provided me with the example. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 26, 2013 at 19:37

3 Answers 3


I propose the first paragraph of the How to ask FAQ be updated to:

To get the best answer it's a good idea to do some background research before you post and try and make your question as precise as possible. Any questions that could be easily answered, or at least clarified, by some determined Googling are unlikely to be well received. Questions that look like they've been copied and pasted from your homework are also likely to be ignored.

Please treat this as a first attempt and feel free to suggest changes.

  • $\begingroup$ Doesn't the second paragraph already cover this? $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 27, 2013 at 12:21
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    $\begingroup$ @Manishearth: you're assuming anyone will read down as far as the second paragraph ... $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 27, 2013 at 15:17

I agree that effort is the main decider between a good question and a bad one. Since my thoughts seem to be very close to yours, this answer is essentially the same idea expressed differently. Hopefully it can also make this meta post more active, because it seems to have slipped right past me to be honest, while I think it's a very important one.

Good questions show effort, regardless of the level at which they are asked. Be it about a layman's explanation of black holes, a particular problem from a syllabus posing problems to a student, a random everyday phenomenon noticed by a perceptive/curious mind or a research-level pondering of a professional physicist. If the question shows clear effort from the OP, outlining the problem and their own thoughts, it's likely going to be a good question.

The only way such a question could still be considered bad is if it falls outside the scope, it's offensive, it's a duplicate (which can also point to low research effort) or if it's not a question at all. A question about some crazy theory connecting the female menstrual cycle to minute trembles in the earth's crust is obviously off-topic. A question à la "Pay only 500$ and find your perfect partner." is not a question and obviously spam. I won't give an example of an offensive question, but I recall there has been at least one incident in the past where a single user got very personal and offensive toward another user in questions specifically asked for this purpose. Obviously this is intolerable.

So: questions which show sufficient effort should, if I haven't missed anything, be easy to classify as either good or bad on the basis of other clear features. Questions which show little to no effort should be put on hold with a close reason pointing out the insufficient effort, with no mention of homework. Of course the homework policy can still be maintained, but it just becomes part of a larger idea, which should clearly shine through to people asking a question. This idea is obviously already present in the close reason for homework, but there should really just be a general close reason for low effort question. This way, questions like "Explain relativity to me" are also included - as John already pointed out.

To summarize: a question should not be categorized according to whether it is a challenge to the people viewing it, it should be categorized according to whether the person to whom it is a challenge has made sufficient effort in describing the what and why of this challenge and their own thoughts/attempted solutions. Copy-paste homework questions are mindbendingly irritating because of the copy-paste part, not the homework part.

The first way to make this idea of sufficient effort clear for all questions is to put it into the text on the right-hand side of the ASK QUESTION page. This should be editable since a little text about homework is written there, with a link to the meta post dealing with our homework policy. The second way is to change the homework close reason to a general low-effort close reason, which will include cases of low-effort homework.


Good question. I have been struggling in asking recently. One reason is language. I just found a wiki article "Research question" about the issue.

There in "Types and purposes" is quite well defined "how to ask";

Here is Creswell's (2009) example of a script for a qualitative research central question:

_________ (How or what) is the _________ ("story for" for narrative research; "meaning of" the phenomenon for phenomenology; "theory that explains the process of" for grounded theory; "culture-sharing pattern" for ethnography; "issue" in the "case" for case study) of _________ (central phenomenon) for _________ (participants) at _________ (research site).


Here is Creswell's (2009) example of a script for a quantitative research question:

Does _________ (name the theory) explain the relationship between _________ (independent variable) and _________ (dependent variable), controlling for the effects of _________ (control variable)? Alternatively, a script for a quantitative null hypothesis might be as follows:

There is no significant difference between _________ (the control and experimental groups on the independent variable) on _________ (dependent variable).

And as I also studied the exact definitions for the terms, I present them here to help the other;

Independet Variable; Input, the "X" in Y = Xa
Dependent variable; Output, the "Y" in Y = Xa
Control variable; constant, the "a" in Y = Xa

In this site there is also forbidden questions. The Wikipedia has also a page for Question. And there was a quote from Buddha, where the questions were defined through the expected answers in four categories;

  1. There are questions that should be answered categorically [straightforwardly yes, no, this, that].

2. There are questions that should be answered with an analytical (qualified) answer [defining or redefining the terms].

  1. There are questions that should be answered with a counter-question.

  2. There are questions that should be put aside.

This particular site seems to be only for the category 2 questions.
1. Being too narrow or simple ones.
3. Being discussion generating and opinion based.
4. Being "please do me my (home)work?" - questions.

I think this physics forum has a particular Problem in the questions, as the need for defining or redefining the terms builds unclear to the structure, which makes the moderation really challenging.

The proposed Change in "how to ask" might help to cope with this challenge.

The reason for this post, is that I would found it helpful, if newcomers could immediately have such an clear example "how to ask" in the tour, or atleast this could be added on this help page; https://physics.stackexchange.com/help/how-to-ask


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