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Some time ago, John Rennie asked,

...in many cases it looks as if the OP simply can't be bothered to put any effort in. Do we have a policy for closing (or not closing) such questions?

The Meta question has received not a downvote (12/0 at time of writing). The answer by Ben Crowell says (emphasis mine)

The help section "What types of questions should I avoid asking?" does not say anything about insufficient research effort. This suggests to me that ofeeshul policy is to downvote these, not close.

This answer also received no downvotes (7/0 currently), suggesting the community agrees that this correct: insufficient effort questions should be downvoted and not closed.

Despite this, several 3k+ users have voted to close questions due to "insufficient effort." This leads to the question at hand:

Should we change current policy on insufficient effort questions?

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  • $\begingroup$ Do we upvote/downvote this question post to decide that, or do we write answers? $\endgroup$ – ACuriousMind Jul 29 '14 at 17:24
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    $\begingroup$ when in doubt, write an answer. This is a discussion after all $\endgroup$ – Jim Jul 29 '14 at 17:26
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    $\begingroup$ @ACuriousMind: You do not have to write an answer, but you should vote on the answers that arise. $\endgroup$ – Kyle Kanos Jul 29 '14 at 17:32
  • $\begingroup$ @KyleKanos If what you emphasized is true, then why is "Homework-like questions should ask about a specific physics concept and show some effort to work through the problem." an official close reason (off topic?) $\endgroup$ – Bernhard Jul 29 '14 at 17:56
  • $\begingroup$ @Bernhard: I am going to correctly presume that you did not read John Rennie's post because your point is covered there. $\endgroup$ – Kyle Kanos Jul 29 '14 at 18:07
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    $\begingroup$ @KyleKanos I see now that you selectively quoted that question. What is the definition of "homework-like"? $\endgroup$ – Bernhard Jul 29 '14 at 18:43
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    $\begingroup$ @Bernhard: Yes, I selected the relevant portion of the post, but I also intentionally added the link & ellipses to strongly suggest that it was not the only thing in the post. The definition is up in the air, see this recent Meta post. $\endgroup$ – Kyle Kanos Jul 29 '14 at 18:46
  • $\begingroup$ Something to keep in mind: We can VTC, but provide information to the OP in comments. $\endgroup$ – BMS Aug 13 '14 at 20:00
  • $\begingroup$ I think the question has gotten sufficient exposure so perhaps it's time to accept an answer? $\endgroup$ – David Z Aug 26 '14 at 16:07
  • $\begingroup$ @DavidZ: Yeah, I suppose (almost) a month is sufficient time. I've checked off the highest-voted (though I'm still not sure that I personally agree with it, it seems at least the community agrees with it). $\endgroup$ – Kyle Kanos Aug 26 '14 at 16:09
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The difference between downvoting and closing is that it's impossible to reply to a closed question. If I downvote a question I'm saying I don't like it, but if others want to reply to it that's fine. If I vote to close I'm saying this question shouldn't be here and no-one should reply to it.

We VTC homework questions because if we didn't people would keep getting replies to them and they would carry on asking homework questions. So voting to close rather than just downvoting is an important part of deterring homework questions. I think this principle is generally accepted, though where we draw the line continues to be a matter for debate.

When it comes to questions that (I think) show insufficient effort, the principle is whether we should reward these by answering them or not. I very much doubt that the OP posted the question as a malicious attempt to waste our time, and closing the question may seem an unnecessarily harsh criticism. But if we answer questions that have not been properly thought through then we encourage the asking of those questions and we will get more of them. That's why I sometimes vote to close if I think the OP has dashed out the question without thinking about it.

This site works well because we have a population of skilled physicists who are willing to spend time and effort answering questions. I think it's fair to require that OP's invest a similar amount of time and effort in asking questions.

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  • $\begingroup$ But don't we put question "on hold" nowadays? This gives people the change to improve their question, after which it is ends up in the reopen review queue automatically? $\endgroup$ – Bernhard Jul 31 '14 at 11:28
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    $\begingroup$ @Bernhard: On Hold is a temporary status that is functionally the same as Closed, but is "meant to convey that the question requires improvement and may be reopened if improved." $\endgroup$ – Kyle Kanos Jul 31 '14 at 20:09
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    $\begingroup$ @KyleKanos But my interpretation is that it also keeps room for encouraging people to improve their question. At least, that is what I hope to be the effect. $\endgroup$ – Bernhard Jul 31 '14 at 20:18
  • $\begingroup$ @Bernhard: If you clicked the link & scrolled to the answer (direct link this time), you'd see that is exactly the intent of "On Hold" instead of "Closed" $\endgroup$ – Kyle Kanos Jul 31 '14 at 20:20
  • $\begingroup$ @KyleKanos Yeah, I just stated the same a bit more friendly, I think the tone makes a huge difference with interpretation. I am sorry that I don't read all the links you post, but I am glad that I remembered correctly. $\endgroup$ – Bernhard Jul 31 '14 at 21:10
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We should downvote “Insufficient Effort” questions, but not vote to close

Offered bare to take a poll

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We should vote to close “Insufficient Effort” questions.

Offered bare to take a poll

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Now, at first I was pro-VTC based on insufficient effort. However, then I remembered something Shog9 wrote in a different meta post (and for the life of me I can't seem to recall what the post was about to find it). And I know, if I and/or many others were to be for this as a VTC reason, he would come back saying the same thing.

The gist of it I got from it was this: Where does it end? What is insufficient research? Sure, there may be some questions that are blatantly not enough research that everyone can agree with, but it's too slippery a slope to actually make it a VTC reason. Once we start judging some questions as insufficient research, some users will inevitably start using that reason as a bludgeon to suppress questions they don't like. And how do we determine where the cutoff is? How is it fair for anyone to decide that a certain level represents the cutoff of too little prior research.

Point is, though, it just comes down to the fact that there is too much room for this to be abused as a VTC reason. And even though we all hate to see some new user asking a question that hasn't been researched, it is also too unwelcoming to new and uninformed users.

And you can disagree with me all you want, but I guarantee that if this ever starts gaining ground, we'll have a mod from SO like Shog9 come and tell us the same thing. This is too subjective to be properly, fairly, and safely implemented

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  • $\begingroup$ By the way, if anyone remembers the meta post I was talking about and can find it, feel free to link to it. That would probably be helpful $\endgroup$ – Jim Jul 29 '14 at 17:54
  • $\begingroup$ Was it Mother Meta (Meta.SE) or this Meta (Meta.Phys) $\endgroup$ – Kyle Kanos Jul 29 '14 at 18:08
  • $\begingroup$ @KyleKanos Meta.Phys I'm pretty sure $\endgroup$ – Jim Jul 29 '14 at 18:24
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    $\begingroup$ I think the "where does it end" argument is mostly just FUD. You're right it is subjective but I think the community here will err on the side of leaving insufficient effort questions open unless they are really egregiously poor. $\endgroup$ – Brandon Enright Aug 15 '14 at 4:18
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    $\begingroup$ @BrandonEnright And I think we should err on the side of caution and not give them the opportunity to misuse it in the first place $\endgroup$ – Jim Aug 18 '14 at 13:45
  • $\begingroup$ Possibly this one: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/210840/… or this: meta.stackoverflow.com/questions/260828/… $\endgroup$ – Shog9 Aug 26 '14 at 16:49
  • $\begingroup$ @Shog9 Actually, I think I was piecing together bits and pieces from many different posts. The second one you linked plus meta.physics.stackexchange.com/a/4743/23473 (that's the bludgeon part) and some of meta.physics.stackexchange.com/a/4726/23473 (the how to decide part) and I know there was another post somewhere. Perhaps it might have been from another mother-mod. But since you're here, it'd be great to know if I've accurately interpreted your opinion or if I'm just wrongly putting words in your mouth $\endgroup$ – Jim Aug 26 '14 at 17:32
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Unless the question falls into one of the existing close reasons by virtue of being poorly researched - unclear what you're asking comes to mind - I think a downvote + comment explanation is better. To me the guidance when you start a custom close reason "This question appears to be off-topic because it is about..." draws a reasonable line - if I have to backspace to write "This question does not demonstrate sufficient research effort." I'm kind of getting away from the idea of it being "off-topic". If I was trying to be witty I might call this an off-topic-off-topic close vote.

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For those who are unaware, particularly unloved questions are automatically deleted.

A question with a -1 score or lower and no answers gets deleted in 30 days.

A question that is closed (not as duplicate), has no answers with score >0 (or accepted) and has not been edited in 9 days is deleted after 9 days.

So, in terms of keeping the site clean, for a majority of the types of questions we are talking about, the difference is getting it deleted only 21 days sooner if we vote to close rather than downvote.

I don't think that is enough of a benefit to argue against the intrinsic subjectivity that Jim mentions.

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One thing to consider is that it is very frustrating when you're in the process of writing an answer, put quite some effort in it, and then you find that it has been closed in the mean time, and all your effort was wasted (and possibly another frustration if it gets reopened later and you recognize that you should have copied your text somewhere to save it, but didn't).

Such frustration in tendency drives away people willing and able to answer, or at least makes them put less effort into their answers.

So when considering to close, always keep in mind that you not only affect the one who asks, but also those who answer. While the effect on the questions will likely be higher quality, the effect on the answers will likely be lower quality.

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    $\begingroup$ If you feel there is enough of a question in there and it gets closed, you should really edit it into a form that brings that out and push for it to be reopened. The OP will definitely thank you for it. If this is not possible and you're getting this often then you should reconsider the types of questions you take on - if they're too low effort to be reopened then they harm the site, and if they get answers the OP, and others after them, will just post more of that. $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty Aug 14 '14 at 1:21
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As I understand it, this is not a homework help site, so I don't see what all the fuss is about here. People who post questions should not have to put in any effort attempting to answer their own questions. What is helpful is if they can formulate their questions clearly enough for it to be addressed properly (which may in some cases imply that the poster does have to put in some effort, but this really depends on the question that is asked).

To deal with the problem of students who abuse this site to get their homework done by us, other measures need to be taken. If someone frequently posts questions about the same topic that are all suspiciously homework like problems then one can ask the poster to stop asking questions about that topic and block the account if the poster refuses to comply with this demand.

Students should, however, be free to post homework questions here, but they should be honest about this and in that case it is reasoanble to demand that the student shows a significant amount of effort. But it is unreasonbable for this site that it not primarily a homework helo site to treat every question as if it were a homework question.

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    $\begingroup$ It's unclear exactly what your point is. There is a pretty firm consensus that low-effort questions are unwanted, and particularly so if they're do-my-homework ones. The issue at hand is, roughly, what to do with them (i.e. close vs downvote). $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty Aug 14 '14 at 18:39
  • $\begingroup$ My point is that we need to have a more of a zero tolerance attitude toward the "do-my-homework" posters (block them from this site after a few such postings) so that other posters don't have to be bothered by "homework rules" that don't apply to them. E.g. some time ago I asked what I thought was an intersting question and that fell foul of the "homework rule" despite the fact that it should have been clear that I'm not studying physics. There can be good reasons why you don't want to post part of the solution (e.g. you don't want to spoil the problem). $\endgroup$ – Count Iblis Aug 14 '14 at 21:09
  • $\begingroup$ But no-effort questions are often not homework or homework-like questions. $\endgroup$ – Brandon Enright Aug 15 '14 at 4:21

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