# Homework questions, on hold

As a newcomer, I'd like to give you my contribution to improve this wonderful site.

In general, homework help is the gold mine of such sites, you do not shows statistics, but the sites that do that show that guests are 30-50 times more numerous than regular members and homework subforums take 80% of the views. I have seen the discussion on this topic and I strongly suggest that you do not exclude homework questions. ..... But as long as you accept them you probably should improve the service. The system of putting questions 'on hold' is probably authomatic (at least I hope) as it is rather superficial and unsatisfactory.

I have been myself the victim of such a mechanism (https://physics.stackexchange.com/q/129521/): my request to know if there exists a formula has been blocked. Since when a formula is considered 'homework'? And I did not even ask for it, but just to know if it existed. I have given the result of the problem and later offered to add any further explanation in order to unblock the question, but to no avail, and I was not even considered worthy of a reply.

I'like also to call your attention to another question on hold (Average Velocity of a body moving in a circle with constant speed $v$): here Tesla has done his homework, as far as I Know, in a flawless manner, has showed it and is asking for help because the received result is probably wrong. What is the sense of blocking such a neat question? I was not allowed to comment as I had not yet 50 points, now I reached that benchmark and will leave a comment and reassure him. I thank you for your attention, and hope my remarks can be of any use to the community.

@Jim,

if you want to have a site for an élite of scholars you'd better drop the Homework question altogether, if you want to widen your audience and raise a new generation of physicists without driving out the scholars, you can have a separate forum for homework.

But you can't have it both ways, that was the gist of my contribution. I was pointing out what probably escapes you from your perspective: that your current policy appears non-consistent, and probably is. I hope you get the following as a sincere attempt to help you and not as criticism (or Cicero pro domo sua):

Tesla has done some impeccable homework, his result doesn't match and he calls for help: what is your response? you first let someone give him a wrong answer/advice and then block the questions commenting:

"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

I, for one, was intrigued by this (rather silly) concept: he asked about 'average velocity in circular motion' and did an excellent job. You do not think so?, fair enough, then be consistent: close/eliminate/delete the useless question.

I hope you can agree that keeping it on hold forever with a wrong answer attached, is not a wise decision, is a botched-up compromise, confuses, misleads less competent readers and does not leave a good impression. Can you let me give the correct answer?

Probably I'll be showered again with down-votes, but I articulated and argumented my post, you give me the short-shift with a click. I felt it my duty to tell you what impression a student gets, and I promise will abstain in future, if you think I am a nuisance. Keep up the good work.!

• Related: meta.physics.stackexchange.com/q/5152/2451 and links therein.
– Qmechanic Mod
Aug 6 '14 at 12:29
• Aug 6 '14 at 14:58
• Be aware that voting on the meta site differs from that on the main site. The down votes you are receiving here probably reflect a disagreement with your assertions rather than a judgement on the quality of the post. In either case there is no effect on your reputation, nor on your access to site privileges. Aug 6 '14 at 17:33
• It would seem that if there are other sites which consider homework questions a "gold mine," than such questions should be asked there, right? Trying (unsuccessfully) to convert a rather different site to becoming a homework site seems, well, misguided. Aug 6 '14 at 21:53
• @dmckee, that's a precious comment Aug 7 '14 at 4:18
• I have updated my answer in the hopes that it addresses your revised question. If you still feel we are doing it wrong then I recommend patiently observing how the site operates for a while and maybe reading some of the many meta and mother meta posts on the HW question issue. I guarantee your opinion will change with time. Everyone's always does
– Jim
Aug 7 '14 at 13:40
• "if you want to have a site for an élite of scholars" We never said that, and it is not the way yhe users have voted the several times that the issue has come up. They have voted---consistently---that this should be a site for physicists of all levels. That makes the policy of expecting question to be written in terms that a physicist would use perfectly consistent. Nor is it the case that all students find this very difficult, though most do. Aug 8 '14 at 0:23
• ^ To expand on that, we're perfectly okay with basic questions. Basic homework help questions? Nope. Basic conceptual ones? Sure; we have tons.\ Aug 8 '14 at 4:00
• you can have a separate forum for homework. The entire Stack Exchange network is a Question & Answer site, not a forum. Aug 8 '14 at 15:52

In general, homework help is the gold mine of such sites,

There is a pretty good argument that homework help drives out the real experts and prevents the site from hosting large numbers of really good questions and answers that will continue to help others in the future.

Whether you believe that argument or not the users of Physics SE have made a conscious and deliberate decision not to be a homework help site in the sense that you are using the phrase.1 You have already received several links to meta discussions surrounding that decision. We also consciously include "Is my solution right?" questions in the homework-like category. Both the closures that you use as examples are in accordance with site policies.

You can get help with introductory physics, but you are going to be required to pull the underlying concept out of the context of the question in front of you and present it in a clear by widely applicable context. Take note that "Is there a formula for ...?" and "What is the formula for ...?" will almost never be acceptable. At a workshop for early-career physics professors that I attended this summer someone said "Students ask about formulas, professors ask about principles." and the more I have reflected on that and paid attention to the dialog of my students and colleagues the more truth I have seen in that line.

What it comes down to is that Physics SE expects you to approach your question more like a professional than like a student, even if you are a raw beginner. That's going to be pretty tough at first, but I believe the exercise will help you rather a lot.

Good luck.

1 And the site has continued to grow.

– Jim
Aug 6 '14 at 17:40
• In my experience grad students talk largely like professionals. A little bit unfinished, maybe, but they were successful enough to in their undergrad education to want continue which means that they "got it" to a fairly high degree. Aug 6 '14 at 17:50
• w00t, I speaks like an profeshunal
– Jim
Aug 6 '14 at 17:52
• @dmckee What if someone does not understand how a certain piece of calculation was done? I'm self-studying quantum mechanics and it happens from time to time. I find it hard to ask principles if you can't calculate things. Jan 27 '15 at 12:57
• @Mark In all seriousness, you might try chat (which will be hit or miss, just because it is not always populated), or you might need to find a different resource to help you past those hurdles. Jan 27 '15 at 13:39
• Understand that most users on this site are pretty decent people and are willing to help out a up-n-comer from time to time, they just don't want to be drowned in flood of the same basic questions over and over again. Jan 27 '15 at 13:58
• @dmckee I might try chat then. I understand that feeling, as I constantly vote to close dozens of questions in Mathematics.SE. However, I haven't yet tried to ask a single question here to see how the community acts (it may be somewhat basic, but nevertheless not mere "help me"). Jan 27 '15 at 14:03

The "On Hold" is not automatic. Users such as myself with over 3000 reputation review new questions and determine if they fall within the spirit of the site, if they are understandable, if they have been asked before, and if we think they are answerable. If a question fails any one of those tests, a user will vote to put a question on hold. If at least 4 other users agree, then the question is put on hold. You can call this system superficial and unsatisfactory, but it is the system we choose to use.

Questions about homework like the ones you linked to are not within the spirit of the site. We recognize that the number of members and visitors to the site would dramatically increase if we were to answer all homework questions, but that is not what we are here for. There are many posts in the physics meta that discuss our policy and the reasoning behind it concerning homework-like questions. So I will not go into it here.

Having said all this, thank you for your effort to improve the site. Your intent is noted and appreciated

Having also read your updated post, I want to respond in order of how you said it; so please forgive me if I repeat myself or if it seems disorderly.

In fact we can and do have it both ways. We encourage homework-like questions that ask about the physics concepts pertinent to the question. We discourage questions that ask us to solve someone's problem for them. What we like and don't like is, of course, entirely up to us (meaning a majority of our trusted users) to decide. You can see our decisions at this meta post. The appearance of non-consistence may (and I stress the "may" since I cannot be sure about anyone's understanding but my own) be due to a difference between how you understand what we accept and what/why our standards for question are and how we understand it.

For the record, I do recognize that this is a sincere attempt to fix a problem that you feel we may be overlooking. It is a criticism, but a constructive criticism. As I stated before, we do appreciate the effort you put into this. The downvotes are not a dislike of your post as in the main site, they represent the opinions of our users; by downvoting, they are disagreeing with your opinion.

Homework-like questions is continually an issue we discuss. We recognize that there are some homework-like questions that are very well posed and have answers that would be valuable to a wide range of readers. What you must recognize is that we are trying to allow homework questions that teach the physics of it, we do not want this site to be one where little Jimmy can come to have a professional physicist solve question 2.18 from his grade 10 physics textbook for him. Similarly, we want our answers to be useful to more than just the asker. I won't deny that occasionally a question is closed that shouldn't be, but no community is perfect and we strive to reopen questions that we feel shouldn't be closed. However, we had to make guidelines that could cover most of the potential types of homework-like questions. These guidelines may occasionally make a useful question be put on-hold, but overall they do more good than harm and we are still always re-evaluating them to ensure that we allow the maximum number of HW questions while still maintaining as best we can the ideal of this site.

Moving along, you seem to misunderstand the concept of "On-Hold". A question is not put on hold indefinitely. After a few days, the [On Hold] status turns to [Closed]. After more time, closed question are often deleted. The reason we put questions [On Hold] initially is because the word "Closed" seem kind of onerous and permanent. The fact is, the [On Hold] status is meant to encourage the asker to improve the question. Any time a closed question is edited, it becomes visible to all 3k+ rep users and we vote whether or not to reopen the question. On-Hold is a temporary status that means a question should be edited to fit the site's requirements. Once we feel it is better, we often do vote to reopen a question. Alternatively, if you feel a closed question should not be closed, you can flag it for reopening. Five high-rep users must agree on reopening just as five must agree on closing. So you see, we do not leave questions on-hold forever. Just until we think they are sufficiently improved. If they aren't, the question is closed and/or deleted.

Let me close with this: This site is not intended for just elite scholars. It is also not intended to widen the audience and raise a new generation of scholars. It is also not a forum as the word is commonly used nowadays. This is a Q&A site. We strive to answer questions about physics; mainstream physics. The idea is that someone can come to the site wondering about anything from the physics behind an everyday phenomenon or about the principles needed to work through a high-level research problem and we volunteer to strive to answer their questions and answer in a way that everyone else reading it might learn something new or interesting from it. There are a myriad of HW questions that fall under this description; but Jimmy asking how to solve problem 2.18 does not.

I have not looked at Tesla's question because it isn't relevant here. If you want to start a new meta post discussing how you think Tesla's question falls within the scope of the site, that's one thing; it's possible it was unfairly closed, I don't know. But you are finding so much opposition here because we have worked hard on our homework policy and we feel there is no simple way of making it better while still maintaining the ideal of the site.

We don't think you are a nuisance. However, I will admit that at least I personally feel you have perhaps been too quick to form an opinion on our overall policy when it seems you don't have a full understanding of it. But thank you regardless for the effort to improve the site.

• nice comment,Jim, I see your point. Most didn't see mine: Tesla's question has a wrong answer and no one is allowed to set it right. This is one of the unfortunate cases where guidelines may fail. Aug 8 '14 at 4:18
• @bobie If the answer is only a little wrong, you can still edit it. If the core message of the answer is wrong, there's nothing you can do. Well, you could put an answer in the comments if you wanted to. But the people who voted to close it seem to think it shouldn't be here in its current form to be answerable anyway. Wrong answer are posted all the time, however. And sometimes we can't do anything about that
– Jim
Aug 8 '14 at 14:13
• In fact, one of my answers is wrong. I realized that a month or so after I posted it. I haven't done the math to make it right and I just don't want to spend all the time it would take to do the math. I want to delete it but it was accepted by the asker and the asker hasn't visited the site since. Thus I'll never be able to delete it and I can't quite fix it. It will always remain as the top answer for that question. The only thing I could do was leave a comment saying the answer is wrong. My point is, sometimes we have to accept the limit of an imperfect system and move on
– Jim
Aug 8 '14 at 14:16

# On homework:

The Help Center has the link What topics can I ask about here?; half-way down this list is a short summary of questions that are not on topic:

Some kinds of questions should not be asked here:

• "Do my homework"-type physics questions
"A 4kg ball is traveling at 8m/s in the x direction, how do I find..."
Physics - Stack Exchange is not a homework help site. If you have a question about a homework problem, or any problem of an educational nature, narrow it down to the specific concept that is giving you trouble and ask about that. You can find more information about acceptable homework questions on our meta site.
• Non-mainstream physics, including pitches for personal theories
We deal with mainstream physics here. Anything that couldn't be published in a reputable journal is not appropriate on this site.
"Could a warp drive get you out of a black hole?"
Questions about physics of fictional worlds which are not sufficiently grounded in real physics are off topic here, but they may be on topic at Science Fiction & Fantasy.
• Implementation details of computational tasks
While computational physics is on topic, we are not a programming site. If your question is about implementing computational code - in particular, if it's about writing, compiling, debugging or optimizing code, or about a specific language or library - then it is off topic. It may be suitable for Computational Science or Stack Overflow, however.

As linked in the comments, homework questions are overwhelmingly rejected again and again as part of the site's content. Note also that homework isn't simply "Problem X.Y from ," we have carefully crafted the following meaning:

A "homework question" is any question whose value lies in helping you understand the method by which the question can be solved, rather than getting the answer itself. This includes not just questions from actual homework assignments, but also self-study problems, puzzles, etc.

Having a question put on-hold does not make you a "victim" of anything. It means that your question was deemed not to be within the bounds of the site's desired content. Note that this is not an automatic thing, requiring 5 votes from users with 3,000 or larger reputation or 1 vote from a moderator (which happened for your case).

Any edit you make puts the question into the review queue for the 3,000+ rep users to review and judge whether it is still off-topic or has been changed enough to be on-topic. Simply adding an edit that says, "This isn't homework" isn't enough to get a question reopened, you need to change the content of the question to make it on-topic (this will likely take a lot of work & effort on your part, and it may even be the case that you find your answer while doing the rewrite--though, if this does happen, I heartily encourage you to still rewrite the question so that future visitors to the site can learn from you).

# On site traffic:

I don't think this is an issue. According to StackExchange's All-site traffic page, we have averaged over 25,000 visitors per day the last two weeks (putting us at #25) with an average of 53 questions asked per day (#9 overall) over that same time-span.

• I am curious as to the downvote... Aug 6 '14 at 20:35
• ,you put Tesla on hold after it had got a wrong answer, do you agree it was a hasty,superficial decision, anyway?" Aug 8 '14 at 5:27
• @bobie: if I recall correctly, when I voted there was no answer to his post. It does happen sometimes, that someone answers a question (correctly or not) before that question is closed, but I can live with it because it's not really a big deal. This site isn't meant for homework, it's meant for conceots, which is why it's such a great place & why I want to contribute here. Aug 8 '14 at 10:47
• @bobie: Also, if the answer given is incorrect, the appropriate course of action is to downvote & leave a comment as to why the answer is wrong. Aug 8 '14 at 15:51