Always do I have seen most of the homework tagged questions are hold, with a close reason to show minimal effort. I thought Phys.SE wanted the asker to show his attempt. But recently, I got amazed when my homework-tagged question was put on hold by a moderator (I am not disrespecting him!). For what? The same reason. That question was an off-topic and that I haven't showed any effort. Really? See my question. Is this not an effort? Why was it put on hold? What is, then, effort actually?


2 Answers 2


There are multiple criteria for a homework-like question to be acceptable here, as detailed in our policy. In no particular order three of the most important criteria (the ones I feel are most often not met) are:

  1. Show some effort. Don't just dump your work in our laps for us to do.
  2. Ask about something specific. There are many issues that can arise in trying to solve a problem, and we can't read your mind to see what you do and don't understand.
  3. Ask about a physical concept.

The last point is where your question fails. Lately we've seen a lot of this, where users focus on my point (1), showing a whole lot of effort, and forget about point (3). It's unfortunate, because when you put that much work into something it naturally feels like you deserve an answer.

But alas, we are not a homework help service. In particular, as the policy notes right in the summary,

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.

Asking about sign errors (like your question) or missing factors of 2 are the paradigmatic examples of things we don't allow, since ultimately they are just about a symbol manipulation mistake rather than something physical. It's not just about effort.

Now you can try to turn the question into something that is acceptable. There are conceptual physical questions related to what you asked, for example, "Can the moment of inertia be negative?" My general suggestion for questions of this type is to go through the steps, try to figure out the boundary where "everything before this is definitely right, and everything after this has something wrong" and see if you can ask something along the lines of "I thought this quantity was calculated this way, but that conflicts with my feeling that the quantity should be positive, so is my intuition right?" for example.

If the community feels a revised version of the question no longer conflicts with our policies, they will reopen it.


I'll give you two answers, one to the question you actually asked and one to the question that I think you actually wanted to ask.

What you asked: what counts as effort?

Working through a homework problem is like exploring the branches of a tree, or walking through a maze. You start at the problem statement - the ground, or the entrance - and you try taking some step that you think will get you closer to the answer. Maybe it turns out not to work, in which case you back up and try another tactic. Or if it does work, then you look for another step that will get you even closer to the answer. As you proceed through the problem, you'll accumulate a bunch of "dead ends" corresponding to problem-solving strategies that didn't work for you.

Showing effort basically amounts to telling us about those dead ends.

There are a couple of reasons for this. First, we only like to help people who help themselves. If you don't put any effort into answering your own question, why should anyone else put effort into answering it for you? (Sometimes there are such reasons; maybe the question is really interesting and people answer it for their own amusement, but homework-like questions are generally not.)

But more importantly, showing us the dead ends you've hit lets us give answers that will actually help you, rather than duplicating work you've already done. Maybe you missed some strategy you could have tried. Maybe one of the dead ends actually works, but you made a mistake and concluded that it didn't. Or if nothing else, showing what you tried is one of the best ways to convey your level of knowledge, so people can write level-appropriate answers.

This question gives some general guidelines on what sort of preparation one should do before asking a question here. It applies to all questions, not just homework questions, but most of the things listed there are problem-solving strategies that should be in your list of "dead ends" before you post your question.

You do not have to list out everything you tried, but you do have to give potential answerers enough information to understand how you got from the problem statement up to the point at which you were unable to proceed further, and how you tried to work past it.

Here are some things that generally do not count as sufficient effort, and will get your question put on hold very quickly:

  • Any variation of the phrase "I don't know where to start"
  • Any variation of "What do I do next?"

I happen to think this question is a very good example of how to show effort. So is this one (and it's actually quite a short question).

What you actually want to know: why is my question on hold?

Actually, the main reason your question is on hold has nothing to do with how much effort you showed (or didn't show).

Note that the close reason for homework says the following:

Homework-like questions should ask about a specific physics concept and show some effort to work through the problem.

Homework questions should ask about the concept that confuses you. Isolate the reason you got stuck, and ask how to work past it (after showing some attempts to do so yourself, as I discussed earlier).

Here are some things that do not count as asking about a specific physics concept, and will generally get your question put on hold very quickly:

  • Any variation of the phrase "I don't know where to start" (yes, this qualifies under both parts of the homework close reason)
  • Most variations of "What do I do next?"
  • Any variation of "What did I do wrong?" (this is your case)
  • $\begingroup$ +1 .Thanks sir for the response. I have understood the problem. But still one comment would be better before putting a hold to the question so that he may modify it. Thanks again:) please don't get angry at my behaviour! $\endgroup$
    – user36790
    Nov 29, 2014 at 16:42
  • $\begingroup$ And forgive me for bothering you unnecessarily:-> $\endgroup$
    – user36790
    Nov 29, 2014 at 16:43
  • $\begingroup$ Well, the post notice is meant to explain why your post was put on hold, so that we don't have to leave individual comments every time. We used to do that, but we wound up finding that it was pretty much the same few comments all the time. If something isn't clear about the post notice, then you can leave a comment asking for clarification, or come post on meta, as you did. $\endgroup$
    – David Z
    Nov 29, 2014 at 17:05
  • $\begingroup$ I would just say that what is and is not considered a "concept" question on this site has never been clear to me. There is a very strong bias toward specific sub-fields of physics; questions in those sub-fields enjoy an enormous benefit of the doubt by those who seem to readily close questions in other sub-fields with similar levels of conceptualness. Someone even responded to a meta post I made saying that they judge whether or not to close based on what's interesting to them. This is not a fair judgement of what is and isn't a conceptual question. $\endgroup$
    – DanielSank
    Dec 11, 2014 at 9:33
  • $\begingroup$ @DanielSank that would make a good meta question, especially if you include some examples of the questions that illustrate the inconsistency you see $\endgroup$
    – David Z
    Dec 11, 2014 at 9:40
  • $\begingroup$ The concept of "hold" is that questions can indeed be improved. I will often leave a more individualized comment (rather than let the system generate its default message) when I think a question can be salvaged - but that won't always happen. The onus is on the person asking the question to ask "the best question possible" - it should be more effort to ask the question than to answer it, given the (supposed) asymmetrical benefit derived. $\endgroup$
    – Floris
    Dec 11, 2014 at 14:41

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