# (How) do we make it explicit that “please check my work”-type questions are off-topic?

This is an outgrowth of the discussion in chat, following this earlier question by Daniel Sank.

I think we, as a community, agree (for the most part) that "please check my work"-type questions are off-topic here. I (among others) have observed the trend that these questions tend to get closed under the homework close reason. However, when this does lead to the closure of a question, there is no part in the appearing block of text (which is supposed to explain the reason of closure) which refers to the "please check my work" clause we have established.

The question is now twofold:

1. Do we need to incorporate a clause like this in the homework close reason, should we make a new close reason, or is everything fine as is?

2. How do we actually implement the decision of part 1 of this question?

For reference, the current "homework" close reason is

"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"

• I've added in the current HW close reason & the link – Kyle Kanos Sep 26 '14 at 18:14
• As an aside, aiming more for mods, is there a character limit to close reasons? – Kyle Kanos Sep 26 '14 at 18:15
• @KyleKanos Not sure off the top of my head, but I am quite sure that users will simply not read a really long close reason. – dmckee Sep 26 '14 at 18:18
• @dmckee If the user has spent time and intellectual effort in writing the question and it is rejected, he/she will surely be interested to find the reason for the closure and read to the end. One cannot be satisfied , if the effort is more than "some" and there are physics terms in the question. – anna v Sep 27 '14 at 4:06
• @annav You would think so. But the example of the q-ban on stack exchange is instructive: every attempt by a banned user to post generates a simple message linking them to an explanation of what has happened and the instructions for getting unbanned. None the less, many such uses complain on meta.stackoverflow in terms that make it clear that they have not read the message. The maxim "Users don't read" is obviously overly general, but it is a good guide when you start thinking "We should just tell them what is going on." – dmckee Sep 27 '14 at 5:02
• @dmckee well, I would expect a physicist or an intelligent person asking physics questions should be allowed more intelligence than cranks or abusive people, – anna v Sep 27 '14 at 5:16
• @dmckee: The issue isn't the length but the relevance of the close reason. The problem with the close reason on this question (physics.stackexchange.com/questions/137121/…) is that it's not the actual reason the question was closed. – DanielSank Sep 27 '14 at 8:25
• @DanielSank Once again, see David's answer. The position advocated there is that 1) the text does apply 2) we don't have to explain every detail of the policy, because we provide a link where anyone can read it for themselves. – Danu Sep 27 '14 at 8:27
• @Danu: If what you all said in chat about why the question was closed is true, then the text in the close message is not actually the reason for the close. Regarding the link, if dmckee says users are too lazy to read a long message then why are we assuming that they're willing to follow a link and then read a long message? – DanielSank Sep 27 '14 at 8:36
• @DanielSank I really don't think you're reading David's answer carefully, especially the third paragraph. Anyhow, David's position is not really mine (which is why I have a different answer of my own), so I don't think we should get into a discussion about this ;) – Danu Sep 27 '14 at 8:39
• @Danu: The notion that the absence of a physics concept was the reason for the close is unsatisfactory given that questions like this (physics.stackexchange.com/questions/137131/…) are not closed. – DanielSank Sep 27 '14 at 8:40

The close reason was never meant to be (and in fact can't be, because of a 400-character limit, of which we already use 339) a complete listing of what kinds of low-effort and/or homework-like questions are not allowed. It presents a high-level summary and then links to the meta question, which does provide the full details of what questions are not allowed.

I disagree that anything needs to be changed, for two reasons. First, the close reason refers to the meta post precisely because it applies to all categories of questions that are prohibited by that meta post. It's the full homework policy that determines which questions are inappropriate, not the 400-character summary. The argument that a specific case is not a valid reason for closure because it didn't make it into the summary is just not practical.

And second, perhaps more importantly, questions which just ask for us to check the OP's work are not asking about a specific physics concept. That's one of the big reasons we put the word "concept" in the close reason in the first place, to exclude check-my-work questions. So I would argue that check-my-work questions actually are covered by the language of the existing close reason.

As part of our long-term plan to revamp the homework policy (and tag), assuming that plan ever comes to fruition, the close reason will be changed. So while we're crafting the new one, whenever it comes to that, we can take into account feedback that arises out of this question.

• I would point out that clear communication to the asker about why their question is closed should be the top priority. Requiring that person to click on a link and read the full documentation is actually too much. A short, clear, concise reason for closing should be immediately apparent on the OP. – DanielSank Sep 26 '14 at 19:16
• @DanielSank I don't quite agree with that. Yes, there should be a concise reason that gives some indication of why the question was put on hold, but I doubt that we can have a 400-character summary that immediately makes it clear to every OP why their question was put on hold. Inevitably there will be some people who don't understand the reason for the hold based on the short summary alone, and the meta post is to give them the details. (Or posters can also comment "I don't see why this applies to my question" or the like, and get an explanation that way.) – David Z Sep 26 '14 at 19:23
• The question (physics.stackexchange.com/questions/137121/…) which spawned this whole discussion was put on hold with text saying ""Homework-like questions should ask about a specific physics concept and show some effort to work through the problem." The OP of that question definitely put in and displayed effort and was asking about a concept at least as specific as this other one (physics.stackexchange.com/questions/137131/…). – DanielSank Sep 26 '14 at 19:35
• My point being that the tag simply doesn't contain the right information. This confused me thoroughly and I use this site a lot. I imagine the OP was even more confused. This doesn't help anyone. – DanielSank Sep 26 '14 at 19:37
• You mention the importance of relating to a physics concept. Where is there an explicit reference to a physics concept in this question (physics.stackexchange.com/questions/137131/…)? – DanielSank Sep 27 '14 at 8:39
• @DanielSank "explicit reference" is your wording, not mine, and neither does it appear in the close reason or homework policy. That question is asking about the concept of whether a given operator is reasonably defined. Now that you mention it, though, we did expand the scope of the site to include more mathematical questions more recently than the close reason was written. If the close reason were a bit more detailed, it might currently read something like "...specific physics concept or a mathematical concept in a physical context" to make clear that some pure math is allowed. – David Z Sep 27 '14 at 23:20

Some history and background, too long for a comment:

Once upon a time the close reasons were universal across all SE sites. But different sites saw different types of problem questions, and so we were granted a set of universal reasons plus custom off-topic reasons. The question was what should our off-topic reasons be?. Especially of note is that we would get three reasons, no more (except maybe by asking higher powers very nicely).

People looking for us to solve their homework for them have always been a problem around here, so we were pretty much in agreement one of the reasons should be about homework. This ultimately left two reasons to use on non-mainstream stuff and engineering.

We had a lengthy discussion covering multiple bookmarked chats about wording the homework reason. I think we largely felt that what we came up with was the best compromise. We couldn't cover every detail in 400 characters, nor would we necessarily want to. People not showing any effort and not asking about concepts were the two biggest problem then, and that influenced the wording.

Now it seems people are noticing an increase in "this is physics; here is my extensive work; please check it and tell me if I'm off by a factor of 2" questions. Even back when we came up with the close reason, we noticed these things and moved the obscured

It's not enough to just show your work and ask where you went wrong.

up to the top of our homework policy, but those words didn't make it to the close reason. Perhaps we need them there; I'm not sure. There will have to be compromises, and we don't want to burden the bulk of people receiving this message with corner cases.

On a related note, if you can cast close votes then you can fill out a custom off-topic reason. Even back before we had this ability, I would sometimes leave comments making it clear how the question violated our policy. In particular I used the wording now found at the top of our policy:

As per our recommendation on asking homework questions, "It's not enough to just show your work and ask where you went wrong. If you just need someone to check your work, you can always seek out a friend, classmate, or teacher. As a rule of thumb, a good conceptual question should be useful even to someone who isn't looking at the problem you happen to be working on."

You can copy and paste this if you want into a custom close reason or even just a comment:

As per our [recommendation on asking homework questions](https://physics.meta.stackexchange.com/a/715), "It's not enough to just show your work and ask where you went wrong. If you just need someone to check your work, you can always seek out a friend, classmate, or teacher. As a rule of thumb, a good conceptual question should be useful even to someone who isn't looking at the problem you happen to be working on."

• I like this answer, though I would add (for readers) that I think it's better to use one of the standard reasons when it does apply, and separately add a comment if you think more clarification is needed, rather than entering a custom close reason that's just a rephrasing of the standard one. Not really a big deal, but it does help us collect statistics on how much use each close reason gets and how many questions the standard ones aren't applying to. – David Z Sep 26 '14 at 19:58

An option that seems particularly attractive to me is the following:

Answer to part 1: We modify the "homework" close reason, adding a clause that specifically refers to "please check my work"-type questions.

Answer to part 2: There should be a slight modification to both the text that shows up in the review queue under the "homework" close reason, and the grey block of text that appears after a question has been closed. As far as I'm concerned, this can be as basic as adding the following sentence:

On this site, questions that essentially boil down to "can you please check my work" are also grouped under "homework-like" and considered off-topic cf. this meta question

• I would point out that "can you check my work" really isn't well described by the word "homework". I'd push for that to be separate. Clear communication to the person asking the question should be the top priority. – DanielSank Sep 26 '14 at 19:14
• I think that this last sentence of yours is actually a point of contention (see David's answer). – Danu Sep 26 '14 at 19:15
• If it's a point of contention then I'm voicing my opinion :) – DanielSank Sep 26 '14 at 19:17
• I think you should write your own answer, to gauge the response from the community. – Danu Sep 26 '14 at 19:21