Recently I asked a question on physics stack exchange. It was closed with a reference to faq guidelines.

Here is the question that was closed: Maximum period of a vertically spinning ball.

Please note that while this was not a "homework" question, I can understand that it is classified as a homework question according to the faq referenced above. The wisdom of applying "homework" tag to my question is still mysterious to me since the definition of that tag is so general that it can be applied to almost any question that asks for application of general concepts to a particular problem. But that's not the issue that I want addressed. Let's assume that it is indeed a "homework" question.

The issue that I want to address is (1) how this question is inconsistent with the faq guidelines?

Although I do not find any inconsistencies with the guidelines myself, I have to assume that such inconsistency does exist since it was closed. If that inconsistency can be pointed, I'd also appreciate a pointer or two on (2) how to ask an "acceptable" question that qualifies as "homework" under the guidelines. By "acceptable" I mean a question that won't be closed.


For the record, we ourselves consider those guidelines a bit of a mess. But I'll bypass that issue and just answer based on the existing homework policy as it stands.

...how this question is inconsistent with the faq guidelines?

The guidance in that FAQ can be summarized in two points:

  1. Ask a specific conceptual question
  2. Show some work toward answering that conceptual question

Your post certainly meets condition #1; there is a specific conceptual question, namely whether the stated assumption is correct. But in its current form, it fails condition #2: it doesn't show any attempt to understand whether the assumption is correct.

Even in the revision at which it was closed, I think the same is true. In that revision you show work toward solving the underlying problem - in fact you have a complete solution - but none of that work addresses the issue you're asking about, namely whether the assumption is correct.

If you ask me, to make this clearly not close-worthy/hold-worthy, it would need to expand on the issue of whether the assumption you've made is correct. A good place to start would be identifying some reason you think it might not be correct. For example, is there some alternative assumption you could make that also seems reasonable? Or do you get nonsensical results by making the assumption? Are you unable to find a justification for the assumption in any references you have access to, despite expecting that it should be justified somewhere? Do you find it necessary to make the assumption even though you think it shouldn't be necessary? Or so on.

  • $\begingroup$ +1 You make a very good point. I was hoping the answer would have been about the points you mentioned. Granted that I did provide "details" of how my assumption would lead to an answer to the problem, and that there was a big conceptual mistake in those details, and to be perfectly honest, that's why I accepted the answer. But you are right. The bases of my assumption, which no one questioned, was never adequately addressed by me. Had anyone asked for it, I'd have given my reasoning based on curvature of a parabola and a circle in the 2nd quadrant. $\endgroup$ – mhp Mar 3 '16 at 13:25
  • $\begingroup$ I am tempted to accept this as an answer. But I like to wait to see if the question is reopened and the valid criticism raised here is requested as a comment. I still like to know if my line of reasoning for arriving at that assumption is valid. $\endgroup$ – mhp Mar 3 '16 at 13:49
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    $\begingroup$ @mhp Why wait? Edit the question to take into account the points here and you'll likely get more reopen votes (editing makes it go into the reopen queue). Your comment comes across as "If I don't need to put in the work to make my question better, then I won't" even though you know it will be a much better question after the edits. I recommend you do it without waiting for it to reopen or for somebody to put the same information from this answer in the comments. $\endgroup$ – tpg2114 Mar 3 '16 at 17:57
  • $\begingroup$ okay, sounds good. I did that. $\endgroup$ – mhp Mar 4 '16 at 8:35
  • $\begingroup$ The assumption was correct, but was not the reason why the OP initially got the wrong answer. After the edit, my answer (which addressed the actual conceptual error - namely that you can just take the average between velocity at beginning and end to get average) seems to come out of left field. This one would have been better left alone. $\endgroup$ – Floris Mar 4 '16 at 12:42
  • $\begingroup$ @Floris well, perhaps so. We may be in the situation where any edit that would make the question reopenable (in my opinion) would invalidate your answer. So there are two choices: the question stays closed, with your answer remaining relevant, or the question gets edited and reopened, with your answer becoming irrelevant. You could make the issue go away by deleting your answer, or editing it to answer the updated question, but in principle you shouldn't be expected to do that. I'm not really sure what the best option is. $\endgroup$ – David Z Mar 4 '16 at 13:40
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    $\begingroup$ For what it's worth, this is why I encourage people not to answer questions that look like they're going to be put on hold. $\endgroup$ – David Z Mar 4 '16 at 13:42
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    $\begingroup$ I can't even delete the answer until it is unaccepted... At any rate I like my answer to the original question... I frankly think the original question could have stayed open. 'nuf said. $\endgroup$ – Floris Mar 4 '16 at 13:43

The question at the time of closure contains a lot of fluff which makes it an easy target for the gray area around the homework policy. The question in its current form is far from excellent but it passes the test as it explicitly asks a conceptual question; I have voted to reopen it and hopefully others will agree.

Note, however, that your edit invalidates much of the existing answer, which is a big sign that the question was ill-posed to begin with.

Regarding your general point - the guidelines are not inconsistent, but they do include a significant amount of value judgement which, when applied incorrectly, is resolved exactly as you have - by posting here on meta. There is a long-standing effort to reduce this ambiguity but that is a hard problem; the latest bout is here. If you have any constructive suggestions we'll be glad to hear them out - just be aware that this is a long and storied problem, and you do need to understand both what the problem is, what the previous solutions have been, and what their pitfalls were, to have a real chance at proposing something that will work.

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    $\begingroup$ Thank you for your reply and your vote. I also hope the question is reopened. I have browsed the threads you have referenced, but to be honest the policies (or should I say politics) of how this site should operator is of little interest to me. I pose questions, form time to time, across many stack exchange sites. I try to to abide by the rules of each site. Since I find rules of this site grossly inconsistent with other sites, all I'm asking is for clarification. $\endgroup$ – mhp Mar 3 '16 at 12:33

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