Okay, so the last time we had a focused discussion of the homework policy was August 2016. Blech.

So, let's start thinking about this again. And before you collectively groan, this first post isn't that painful because there's only one thing in here for debate.

Let's rename the homework policy.

Not change it. Rename it.

This was Daniel Sank's idea. Daniel's post got 29 upvotes, and his answer - that we should - got 24 upvotes. This was way back in October 2015, and nothing's happened. Let's get something done on the homework policy that pretty much all of us agree on. Some mods (I can't speak for all) agree on this - ACuriousMind said this here and DavidZ agreed with it in a comment.

Okay, so it's pretty clear we agree with renaming/rewording it.

So how do we rename it? Well, first, here's the stuff we need to reword (links lead to various options proposed, numbered in no particular order):

And that's what I'm asking for in this question - proposals for each of these.

A note:

I know this was long and painful to read. (Hopefully not too painful.) But if you agree or disagree, don't just vote, comment on why you agree or disagree! Some of the mods judge community approval based on comments, not just votes.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ I'll point out here, as I've said in chat, that I support this (or at least am not opposed to it) only with the caveat that I believe there are major problems with the homework policy that this proposal does not address, and accordingly this is not where I would like to see our policy wind up in the long term. However I think it's acceptable as a temporary step. $\endgroup$ – David Z Mar 29 '17 at 23:06
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    $\begingroup$ For what it's worth, my groan came out before I even made it to the line that said not to... $\endgroup$ – tpg2114 Mar 30 '17 at 15:06
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    $\begingroup$ Honestly, I think that all the time spent here in discussing the homework policy would have been better spent by answering good questions, regardless of the label. $\endgroup$ – Massimo Ortolano Mar 30 '17 at 20:08
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    $\begingroup$ @MassimoOrtolano Answering all the crap that turns up in the review would actually damage the site - I think a lot of us know the websites that are flooded by low quality questions and soon begin to shrink ... $\endgroup$ – Sanya Mar 30 '17 at 22:06
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    $\begingroup$ @Sanya I don't propose to answer all the crap, e.g., I'm not in favour of answering homework dump, but I think, too, that long discussions usually bring to nothing, and one should take a practical point of view. $\endgroup$ – Massimo Ortolano Mar 30 '17 at 22:14
  • $\begingroup$ @MassimoOrtolano I am sorry for having misread your comment. I can see your point about there having been long and mostly fruitless discussions - at the same time, I do think it's a sore topic for the community and it is worth another try to solve it. $\endgroup$ – Sanya Mar 30 '17 at 22:17
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    $\begingroup$ @MassimoOrtolano The point of these discussions is to determine what exactly counts as a good question. If we don't have the discussions and just answer stuff, how can we be sure we're not wasting time; that the questions we answer ARE actually good and fit with the site? And don't just say it's obvious, because if it was obvious then this discussion would have been over a long time ago. But I like the spirit of the message you were getting across (especially since there was a clear sub-tone of humour/sarcasm in it). See my next comment for an obligatory comedic follow up to your comment $\endgroup$ – Jim Mar 31 '17 at 12:33
  • $\begingroup$ Heck, with all the time we've spent discussing the homework policy, we could have instead brokered peace between Israel and Palestine, or even taught Shaggy how magnets work $\endgroup$ – Jim Mar 31 '17 at 12:43
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    $\begingroup$ @Jim I was not sarcastic, and your next comment is off-mark. I'm a strong believer in common sense in life: if the time it takes to discuss a policy becomes comparable to that it gets to improve relatively bad questions, or to answer them in a way that it useful to a wider audience, than I think that it's much more useful to do the second. $\endgroup$ – Massimo Ortolano Apr 1 '17 at 14:54
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @MassimoOrtolano I know you were being serious. My first comment was serious too (I simply can't be completely serious for long without having to follow up with a joke of some kind). And I think you'll be hard-pressed to find someone who does not believe in using common sense in life (although, definitions of what constitutes common sense are often diverse). But my point remains valid. If we knew which questions were a good fit for the site and could just go answer them, there'd be no need for discussion. You can't charge off and just do "it" if there's no clear understanding of what "it" is $\endgroup$ – Jim Apr 3 '17 at 12:27
  • $\begingroup$ May I suggest that any change in policy be such as to exclude acronyms in the title? $\endgroup$ – ZeroTheHero Apr 4 '17 at 13:58

Before I continue I'd suggest that the underlying (and probably unsolvable) problem is that users don't read rules.

That's not a unique problem to this website or even in the wider world. It's just how some people are.

With that in mind, adding rules or making them more complex doesn't, in my view, deal with people who will, regardless, post questions we're not going to deal with.

Rename it ?

This is a rather bureaucratic sounding "solution" and hardly in the spirit of a site that deals with physical science. I see no purpose in this.

Some questions will always be homework-like and it makes no sense to rename it (and not have a homework-like policy or tag). We need the policy and the tag.


I've become more convinced that the homework tag is less than useful and maybe could be retired. It may even have a slight "stigma" to it and maybe it turns members off questions.

I'm currently still of the opinion we need a homework policy, and am leaning towards Heather's argument that clarification may be needed, in particular to explain to non-voters why questions are closed (something I'd neglected considering in my original post).


Make it more specific or add sub-categories ?

This strikes me as, again, seeking a bureaucratic approach to the issue (categorizing things as a substitute for dealing with them).

Surely we need simple rules that allow flexibility in response for this type of question ?

I think it removes the freedom of users (and moderators) to allow new users, in particular, the chance to either modify questions to be acceptable under broad homework-like policy (and many do) or gain some insight in comments (as many do).

I think those are reasonable, flexible and effective ways to address homework-like questions.

More or different categories doesn't really help anyone. It's not constructive and inevitably expanding rules makes them more complex and difficult to enforce fairly than allowing some application common sense would.

We need to trust our members and moderators to make sensible judgment calls.

We should not be surprised, particularly in the era of the instant "internet-will-fix-it" generation, that we're going to get questions from people who don't care what the rules are.

  • 4
    $\begingroup$ This is true; we know that users don't read rules, but it's nice to have something to point them to when they start asking questions after their question is closed. Most of our rules are crafted with the intent that a high-rep user will say "go read this" after the fact, rather than expecting everyone to read all the rules before they start participating in the site. (With the notices that appear on closed questions, one hopes that a decent fraction of users will read them themselves.) $\endgroup$ – David Z Mar 31 '17 at 6:29
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @david-z : While it may seem tempting to add and refine categories to the rules to give us something to direct new users to (as you say), my concern is that more rules are simply a turn off to new users and divert existing users from answering question constructively to picking through rules. I'm a great believer in common sense over explicit rules in human matters. $\endgroup$ – StephenG Mar 31 '17 at 7:22
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Well, I invite you to have a talk with all the people who, when told to do something that seems like common sense, complain about there not being an explicit rule about it. ;-) $\endgroup$ – David Z Mar 31 '17 at 7:23
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ The whole point about empowering a moderator to employ common sense is that we must allow them to deal with this sensibly. I've done moderation elsewhere and I found that people determined to have it their own way will use any expedient argument and you simply have to at some point ignore them or ban them. You could never have enough rules to argue with these people in that way, You'll find that their case is, according to themselves, always different. My experience is that more rules simply give them more ways to argue, not less. $\endgroup$ – StephenG Mar 31 '17 at 7:44
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I think the bigger problem is that our reviewers are not all completely clear on what constitutes an acceptable vs unacceptable homework-like question. That makes it difficult to determine whether to close some of the more grey-zone cases. That aside, while I'm hesitant to say that I think renaming the homework policy will fix anything at all, I'm not going to just say we shouldn't bother trying it. As scientists, we should be able to put our intuition aside and do the experiment, just in case it winds up working out; at least in cases like this where it's pretty easy to try it $\endgroup$ – Jim Mar 31 '17 at 13:21
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ The point isn't about a "bureaucratic solution" or even a "solution" at all. This is, first of all, a first step, not the entire solution. Secondly, this is something that's already agreed upon in Daniel Sank's post - this question is about the specific implementation. Finally, I disagree with the entire premise of this post. There are two reasons for close voting: preventing questions detrimental to the site from being answered - in which case your "flexible" close reason makes sense - and also telling OPs why their question is not a good fit in which case a flexible close reason is... $\endgroup$ – karatechop Mar 31 '17 at 20:37
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ ...confusing and unhelpful. The homework policy as it stands is flexible (ish) but it's incredibly confusing to new users and even to some reviewers (where's the line drawn? what counts as a "homework/exercise" question and what doesn't?) - meaning it's only serving half its purpose. That's why we're starting the rewriting process here - because the term "homework" is truly only confusing for a lot of people. It is no longer as useful as it was when the policy was created. This is removing all mention of the homework policy because just homework was never the point... $\endgroup$ – karatechop Mar 31 '17 at 20:40
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ ...While this isn't the end of all discussions about close voting on meta, I'd like to think it's a well agreed upon step that can help bring back the second reason for close voting, while still retaining some of its flexibility. $\endgroup$ – karatechop Mar 31 '17 at 20:41
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    $\begingroup$ @heather : My issue is this concept of "where's the line drawn?". I'm suggesting (and personally believe) that trying to draw a rigid line is the wrong approach to a human problem. How can I put it : guidelines are fine, but we need to trust ourselves to draw outside the lines. I like fuzzy lines. I want to discourage people from arguing like lawyers about whether things fit the rules or not - this way madness lies (IMO). $\endgroup$ – StephenG Mar 31 '17 at 20:53
  • $\begingroup$ @StephenG, I agree with you that drawing a perfectly rigid line that could never be bent is the wrong approach. But no line at all is also clearly a problem. The trick is finding the right balance, of course. I would like to think that this question isn't about arguing like lawyers, but rather just changing and testing to see how it goes. $\endgroup$ – karatechop Mar 31 '17 at 20:57
  • $\begingroup$ Again, I might emphasize the point that while close voters can (generally) tell "yeah, this question should probably be closed", the OP who has a closed question can't always tell. I'd argue that the many reasons we currently close a question as a homework question are not obvious to those who aren't close voters =) $\endgroup$ – karatechop Mar 31 '17 at 20:57
  • $\begingroup$ @heather : So if I understand you, you are arguing that providing better or more detailed policy and categories may clarify things to non-voters. Interesting point - I had not given consideration to non-voters in this context. I'm not entirely convinced, but I'll give that some thought. $\endgroup$ – StephenG Mar 31 '17 at 21:04
  • $\begingroup$ @StephenG, yes, that's my main point. Of course, I also think it's useful to provide some basic guidelines to close voters - not everyone is as experienced as a moderator. The close reasons provide guidelines to close voters as well, and flexibility is provided by custom close reasons. $\endgroup$ – karatechop Mar 31 '17 at 21:06
  • $\begingroup$ Looking at your updates, it strikes me that again, you believe that I'm arguing that we should make the close reasons more specific by renaming them, or add sub-categories as we rename them. That's in fact not what this post is about at all - if you look at the only proposed rewording of the close reason so far, it's just as general (if not a little more general) than the current reason. The point is simply removing the word "homework" from our policy name, because it's not really about homework questions, and I can't tell you how many people that's confused. $\endgroup$ – karatechop Apr 2 '17 at 0:54
  • $\begingroup$ Again, I might emphasize that the custom close reasons provide any flexibility one needs. $\endgroup$ – karatechop Apr 2 '17 at 0:57
  • tag wiki
  • tag wiki excerpt
  • tag itself

Do we really need these? No, seriously. Do we need the tag? I propose that we in fact don't need it. Why?

  1. It's a meta tag. And that is bad, for many reasons, which we won't get into here, because there's plenty of stuff on meta explaining this and hashing out this reason.
  2. Under the homework policy, it was a bit of a "trash" tag - either the questions in it were closed, or they didn't really need it, because they were formulated so that they were conceptual, and not really exercises.
  3. If we're rephrasing the whole homework policy to remove the word homework, it doesn't even serve a purpose as a "trash" tag. Which IMO wasn't a great purpose anyway, but whatever (and for those doubting the whole "trash tag" thing, see this comment by Manishearth).
  4. Chemistry.SE, for example, is starting a spring cleanup that includes burninating/nuking the homework tag, for some of the reasons I mentioned above and others that are more site-specific. By which I mean, it isn't just us.

(Editorial Note - if this post gets voted up decently well, I'll post a more formal burnination request/proposal.)

  • $\begingroup$ Copy what chemists do ? On Physics SE ?!? That's practically treason. :-) All kidding aside, what are the chemists doing instead of a homework policy and/or tag - it would be useful to know ? And can you replace "burninating" with a word us old folk actually understand ("nuke" leaps to mind, as I find it so often does, but "retire" might be a better choice ? ). I still don't think getting rid of the homework policy is a good idea, although I'm more convinced that the homework tag may be pointless. $\endgroup$ – StephenG Apr 1 '17 at 3:36
  • $\begingroup$ Canonical reference: physics.meta.stackexchange.com/a/1483/50583 I'm confused about your point 3 - your question says we are renaming and clarifying, not removing, who said anything about removing the policy? Getting rid of the tag strikes me as a major change in policy that runs counter to the focus of this meta post, which I thought to be sorting out clearer reformulations of the current policy. $\endgroup$ – ACuriousMind Apr 1 '17 at 8:30
  • $\begingroup$ @ACuriousMind, thank you for pointing out that poor phrasing - see the edit. $\endgroup$ – karatechop Apr 1 '17 at 14:18
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @StephenG, that's the thing though - I'm not proposing we get rid of the homework policy, merely that we rephrase it to make it more clear. $\endgroup$ – karatechop Apr 1 '17 at 14:20
  • $\begingroup$ One reason to keep the tag (possibly the only one?) is that it can then be added to the ignore list, which can help sharpen the signal-to-noise ratio for some users. It's a good question on how necessary this is nowadays, though. $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty May 26 '17 at 21:54
  • How-to-ask sidebar

    Questions that are only asking how to do a specific calculation are not allowed on this site. Please focus on asking about a concept or method. See our policy on meta.*

*Link to appropriate policy to be added once said post is completed.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ If you disagree, comment as to why, so I or others can improve it, please. $\endgroup$ – karatechop Mar 30 '17 at 21:49
  • $\begingroup$ Not bad. Many HW-askers might try to argue that they aren't asking for a calculation per se, just a little help with the concepts. Of course, they are really just looking for the answer. However, it might slow down the 'post a picture of the problem in the book' type questions (for which I have evolved quick reflexes). $\endgroup$ – Jon Custer Mar 31 '17 at 1:57
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I see you used the word "specific". I think that word makes this more acceptable. $\endgroup$ – Jim Mar 31 '17 at 13:04
  • $\begingroup$ You say that asking for the actual calculation is off-topic but asking how you actually go about solving it (i.e., the method) is on-topic!? How on earth do you expect that to work? Every single chump asking for their HW to be solved will start saying "I don't want the answer, I want the method." which makes the entire change useless. $\endgroup$ – Kyle Kanos Apr 1 '17 at 18:03

New close reason:

Unfit for Physics.SE

On Physics SE, questions are supposed to both show a certain level of own research and thinking and potential answers are supposed to be of interest to a broader audience. This question has therefore been closed as unfit for this website.

The title is a bit general and the text may be a tad straightforward, but this is more or less what I do often think when voting to close as homework.

  • $\begingroup$ For the record, in the last three months, out of the 2880 questions that have been closed, 1043 of them were closed because they were homework-like questions. Moreover, out of the 87 the questions that have been closed as off topic using the custom message option, 33 mentioned lack of research effort. $\endgroup$ – AccidentalFourierTransform Mar 30 '17 at 22:35
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ It seems to me that generally the HW-asking folks think that there (unsuccessful) work to date to solve the specific problem shows their research and thinking. Now, the 'of interest' clause might be a good addition, but many of our good questions/answers don't get that many votes to begin with so 'broad interest' is hard to objectively define. $\endgroup$ – Jon Custer Mar 31 '17 at 1:54
  • $\begingroup$ @AccidentalFourierTransform what fraction of homework questions does 1043 represent? $\endgroup$ – ZeroTheHero Mar 31 '17 at 2:38
  • $\begingroup$ @JonCuster it might be hard to define what is broad interest, but what it isn't is quite easy to identify. $\endgroup$ – ZeroTheHero Mar 31 '17 at 2:40
  • $\begingroup$ We circle back to 'I know it when I see it' which is fine to me but can't be precisely defined... $\endgroup$ – Jon Custer Mar 31 '17 at 2:43
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    $\begingroup$ @ZeroTheHero in the last three months, 9889 questions asked, 2876 questions closed, 1043 of which were homework-like. Therefore, closed HW questions are 10.55 % of the total, and 36.27 % of the closed questions. Moreover, in the last three months, around 1300 questions used the homework-and-exercises tag (maybe more, I don't have the full statistics about that, I can only find information about the non-deleted HW questions from the last month). $\endgroup$ – AccidentalFourierTransform Mar 31 '17 at 8:20
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    $\begingroup$ I think I like the general direction of this, but I think that saying it is 'unfit' might be a bit harsh. I also think the undirected 'certain level' is too vague, much as the current policy stands, at least to some $\endgroup$ – Kyle Kanos Mar 31 '17 at 11:17
  • $\begingroup$ To be slightly more extreme than what the esteemed Kyle Kanos said, I also think that the part about "of interest to a broader audience" is not a good addition and should be removed. That line (given the AND statement) allows users to VTC question that they think are simply boring, which may include more advanced material they don't understand. It also presents the potential for this to devolve into "Well, this question is only interesting to active researchers or professional physicists; not a broad audience like the general public. VTC!" $\endgroup$ – Jim Mar 31 '17 at 12:55
  • $\begingroup$ We shouldn't be deciding to VTC or even giving the impression that it's okay to VTC based on whether or not a question is interesting to us or would get lots of views (because a generally interesting question is one that's more likely to get more views; there is a logical progression of interpretation here). Good physics questions may not always be interesting, but they are still good questions. We're a knowledge-base for expert answers, not a sponsored blog catering to our readers' interests $\endgroup$ – Jim Mar 31 '17 at 12:59
  • Close reason

Questions are supposed to both show a certain level of one's own research and thinking and potential answers are supposed to be relevant or useful to a broader audience. This question has therefore been closed as too specific - focused on one problem with no broader context. Try rewording your question so it is more conceptual in nature. See our meta post for more guidance.*

*Link to appropriate policy to be added once said post is completed.

  • What to call it

The "too specific" policy

  • Meta post on homework policy: the question

Are homework questions allowed on Physics Stack Exchange?

What is the policy on asking homework questions on Physics Stack Exchange?

  • Are homework questions allowed?
  • What kinds of questions are considered homework questions?
  • What should I do if I want to ask a homework question?

Note: this is exactly the same as the one proposed by Emilio Pisanty here - I think it's pretty clear why the question shouldn't change.

  • Meta post on homework policy: the answer

The short version:

Homework questions are not allowed on this site. If you can identify the concept you're having trouble with and ask a question about it, then we'll be happy to help.

What kinds of questions are considered homework questions?

A "homework question" is a question about a set problem instead of the concepts behind it. This includes questions from actual homework assignments and textbooks, as well as self-study problems, puzzles, etc.

The general purpose of our policy regarding homework questions is to prevent people from asking questions specific only to their specific situation. This is a good general rule of thumb: if you or someone doing your specific problem are the only people who would benefit from your question, it is probably too specific and not conceptual enough.

Can I ask a homework question here?

This site is for conceptual physics questions. It is OK to ask a conceptual question if it comes up while doing a homework or self-study problem, but questions about such assignments are generally off-topic. Keep in mind that Physics Stack Exchange is not a homework help site, and it takes more than just showing your work for your question to be on topic.

What should I do if I want to ask a homework question?

  1. Identify the concept you're having trouble with

    It is crucial that you ask about the specific concept that's giving you trouble. Questions asking us to check your work, asking for hints, tips, or how to solve a homework-like question, or which simply re-state a textbook problem, are not well received and will be closed. If you ask about the concept, instead, you produce a resource that is more relevant to others who might have the same problem later, and additionally you provide grounds for a more interesting answer.

    If you find you can't change your question into one that's about the topic you're studying, rather than the specific problem you're trying to solve, you may need to go back to your textbook or teacher to look for a general explanation. If you just need someone to check your work, you can always seek out a friend, classmate, or teacher.

  2. See if an existing question helps you

    Check and see if someone has already asked a question that gives you the information you need. The search box at the top right corner of the page will be pretty useful here. You can also try looking at tags that are relevant to your question.

    If you find a prior question that seems relevant but doesn't clear up your confusion, mention it and provide a link when you write your own question. That gives the people answering a better idea of what kinds of explanations don't work for you, and what might be more effective.

  3. Reference the source

    If you have a conceptual question that's based on a homework problem, you should still provide the original problem. This is to provide context to your question, and makes it easier to answer. If this comes from a textbook you should include the book and the problem number. Quote the original problem in full, as it may provide crucial information that you might have missed. Again, this should not be the entire content of the post, but rather a useful piece of context for your real question.

    It is OK to ask a conceptual question that is embedded in your solution to a homework problem and depends on that context. You should provide your working to the problem, and you should ensure that you make clear what your conceptual question is. Do this visually as well: it will do wonders in helping answerers navigate your question.

    If your question is about a homework assignment, or any sort of work under a honor code, you should check with your instructor and with your learning institution (middle school, high school, college, etc.) whether it's OK to consult other people before posting your question. Your institution may also have an honor code or rules and regulations, as well as specific class policies, on whether you can post the exact question on the internet, and you should check before you post.

  4. Do a sanity check.

    Is your question applicable or useful to people other than those taking your class or doing your homework problem? If it isn't, it may be too specific to the problem, and not conceptual enough.

What should I do if my question was put on hold, or closed, as homework?

If your question was put on hold, or closed, as homework, you will see the message

Questions are supposed to both show a certain level of one's own research and thinking and potential answers are supposed to be relevant or useful to a broader audience. This question has therefore been closed as too specific - focused on one problem with no broader context. Try rewording your question so it is more conceptual in nature. See our meta post for more guidance.*

This usually happens if the conceptual question you're having trouble with is not clear, or if it looks like you're asking us to 'do your homework for you'. In this case, you should do all you can to make it crystal clear what concept you're struggling with. It can also happen that it simply isn't clear what you want us to answer, in which case you should make that clear as well.

If you don't understand why your question was put on hold or closed, you can leave a comment below your question asking for clarification. (You can always comment on your questions and any of their answers.)



These questions are based on homework problems but they make it clear what the specific conceptual question is that they're about.


These questions are simply restatements of homework problems, don't show any effort put into solving the problem, and don't go beyond obtaining a solution to the set assignment. They are too specific to be of use to anybody except the person asking, and that makes them inappropriate for this site.

Note: derived from Emilio Pisanty's work here. *Or whichever close reason we choose.

  • Help center
  • Questions that are overly specific and inapplicable to a broader audience, including (among other types of questions) homework problems. On Physics Stack Exchange, questions should be conceptual in nature and relevant to many different people. Questions about how to solve a homework problem or how to solve a specific problem that might come up in one's research aren't allowed here, while questions that focus more on the conceptual ideas behind the problem are. You can find more information on our meta site.*

*Link to appropriate policy to be added once said post is completed.


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