I find myself all too frequently voting to close a question and having to give a custom reason along the lines of "Homework questions with no attempt at a solution are off-topic". In fact I see a fair few others doing the same thing.

Although actually in a few cases (like this one) I see that someone has said "I'm voting to close this as off topic", but seemingly not actually having used the "close" button - in that linked question for example the number of votes to close shows zero despite the comment.

While this Meta question is somewhat related, that is specifically about flags, not the close vote.

I question why there is not an off-topic close reason which is specifically for "Homework without any attempt at a solution". This does seem to be a valid reason for closure, and quite rightly in my opinion. In fact a fair few of the questions I've voted on with that as a custom reason have been closed by others voting the same way.

What are your thoughts on adding this as a specific reason rather than having to manually type the same custom reason over and over again? (I personally must have voted closure for that reason a dozen times or more).

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    \$\begingroup\$ Whether it goes under the Off-Topic heading, or is just placed as on its own; that would be incredibly helpful. There are far too many instances of students trying to use this site to 'get the answers' to an assignment, rather than putting work themselves, IMO. \$\endgroup\$ – Robherc KV5ROB Feb 22 '16 at 13:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ +1, it would be very helpful. Also, in regards to my comment and lack of close votes, I'm not sure what happened there. I'm pretty certain I flagged the question, but perhaps not :) \$\endgroup\$ – uint128_t Feb 22 '16 at 15:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ @uint FYI: "recommend deletion" in review, or an "off-topic" flag <> close vote. Casting close votes requires >=3K rep (we're almost there now). \$\endgroup\$ – Robherc KV5ROB Feb 22 '16 at 17:05
  • \$\begingroup\$ @RobhercKV5ROB Yup, that's it. \$\endgroup\$ – uint128_t Feb 22 '16 at 17:37

Simply put, it's not off-topic. I'll admit this is a bit of semantics, but changing the effort put into the question does not change the topic. Considering that homework questions are explicitly on-topic, this should not be a reasonable close reason.

Personally, I like the "Too Broad" close reason. Think about what we like to see in homework questions - effort put towards solving the question. This gives you enough information to focus on what issues the student is having with the problem, or why the student is getting the wrong answer.

There's a reasonable argument for "Unclear", but I think I like the implication and the expected effort direction of "Too Broad" better.

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    \$\begingroup\$ None of them really fit bad homework questions well. I guess we'll just click on the nearest handy close reason and move on. \$\endgroup\$ – Olin Lathrop Feb 22 '16 at 14:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Olin I think too broad often covers it - when there's no indication of effort you don't know what the OP knows. Imagine how long it would take to explain a simple analysis question to someone (even if generally intelligent) if they didn't have a concept of voltage or that squiggly lines were resistors. \$\endgroup\$ – PeterJ Feb 23 '16 at 10:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ @PeterJ Such questions are often phrased as "find the voltage across R1". How on earth is this "broad"? (or "unclear" for that matter) \$\endgroup\$ – Dmitry Grigoryev Mar 2 '16 at 14:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ @DmitryGrigoryev The "student" thinks all they need to know is the answer, but practically they need to be able to solve the problem. It's "Too Broad" because I don't want to solve the whole problem, or "Unclear" because they didn't specify which parts were giving them issues. \$\endgroup\$ – W5VO Mar 2 '16 at 20:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ The "Too Broad" close reason has been substantially reworded, and honestly, it's not gotten better. Especially, it now, when applied to homework, reads more like "copy and paste more of the textbook", than what it should tell OP: Please tell us what you've done and considered, and where you're stuck. I don't know whether it's a reaction, but signals.SE recently got a "homework with no sufficient attempt" close reason, and it's been very good for the community; it's good for the readers, because there's a clear consensus on how to deal with these questions, \$\endgroup\$ – Marcus Müller Mar 31 '20 at 11:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ and it's good for the askers, because it clearly says "hey, would be on-topic if you...", without the readers having to leave loads of comments. I very much prefer this to "too broad" and the new, now not-matching "needs more focus" close reason. \$\endgroup\$ – Marcus Müller Mar 31 '20 at 11:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ @MarcusMüller I haven't been keeping up with the close reasons or changes. I'm not a member of signals.SE, so I don't know anything about their homework close reason. Is it one of the custom off-topic close reasons, or something else? Either way you'd probably be better served by tracking down a moderator or starting a new meta.EE question about getting the new homework close reason. \$\endgroup\$ – W5VO Apr 1 '20 at 13:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ @W5VO yes, it's a custom off-topic close reason. You're right, \$\endgroup\$ – Marcus Müller Apr 1 '20 at 13:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ @MarcusMüller If I remember correctly, you could get an additional close reason if you asked SE really nicely (and showed that you really needed a 4th instead of revising your existing 3). \$\endgroup\$ – W5VO Apr 1 '20 at 14:04

IMO 'serious lack of effort' would be a good addition to the set of reasons why a question should be closed.

Somewhat related is 'asking for a full design'. Now such a question is often closed as 'too broad', which is a reasonable match, but that doesn't really state the problem.

  • \$\begingroup\$ We can't add new close reasons, only change existing ones. \$\endgroup\$ – W5VO Feb 22 '16 at 15:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ @W5VO: But that's someone's artificial limitation, which therefore can be changed. If the number must be limited, then one should be "Not a fit for this site, read the rules." and leave it at that. It's annoying that the "other" close reason makes you waste time teaching the rules. More and more I'm just going to pick a random close reason if you make it difficult. Sometimes its useful to NOT be explicit. Make them read the rules and be extra careful next time. \$\endgroup\$ – Olin Lathrop Feb 22 '16 at 15:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ @OlinLathrop unfortunately, moderators really do not have any control over what StackExchange decides to implement or not. They can only beg, and usually be refused with no reason given. The StackExchange decision-making process is so arbitrary and unresponsive to individual requirements that it's usually better for one's blood pressure to accept it as a force of nature. Visit Meta.SE if you want to see this in action. Please don't start voting randomly in frustration; this will ultimately be counterproductive by causing confusion over why/whether something should be closed. \$\endgroup\$ – Oleksandr R. Feb 22 '16 at 21:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ On Mathematica.SE, we had decided to phrase this close reason as "Requires the services of a professional consultant." As in, if you want an answer to that, or for someone to do all the work for you, then you'd better be prepared to pay someone for it. \$\endgroup\$ – Oleksandr R. Feb 22 '16 at 21:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ @OleksandrR - My take on why SE/SO employees behave like you describe is that it is incredibly difficult to keep a system like theirs the success it is. It's difficult to achieve the right balance between every aspect, from reputation to voting to moderation, so the less change the better to make things stable. It would be impossible to accept every feature change request from all users from all stacks. On the other hand, they don't want to say no to power users like you, so they keep quiet... \$\endgroup\$ – Ricardo Feb 23 '16 at 18:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ @OleksandrR - Given that the system works 99.99% of the time (i.e., we are discussing edge use cases), it's actually good that they don't do all we ask. \$\endgroup\$ – Ricardo Feb 23 '16 at 18:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Ricardo I used to agree with this sentiment, but then I noticed that they'll implement any stupid idea of their own, even over protests, such as the idiotic messages added to empty user profiles. This is not only completely pointless but was widely opposed, and yet was not a problem to implement immediately, apparently. I've lost all respect for the way they make their implementation decisions. It's their business, so they can do whatever they want, but the sham democracy (or even technocracy) is especially irksome. In reality it is absolutely, completely arbitrary. \$\endgroup\$ – Oleksandr R. Feb 23 '16 at 22:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ @OleksandrR - I see what you mean. This is probably a side-effect of the fact that the community they helped to build is orders of magnitude larger than their company. A community that has plenty more brain power combined than they have. That must be humbling. In that situation, some companies do one or two stupid things just to show how the boss is. But in the SE/SO case, they mostly do things in good faith, I suppose. The fear of loosing a winning product should be enough to keep them from making big mistakes, though. \$\endgroup\$ – Ricardo Feb 23 '16 at 22:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Ricardo yes, I suppose so. This approach is understandable to some extent because there will be people who complain bitterly about any change, no matter how positive it may be in the aggregate. Originally they claimed to be data-driven, but now I think they are just risk-averse (or perhaps lacking sufficient personnel to engage in serious development efforts). In particular, they have consistently refused to make the review queue experience any better than it currently is. Considering that all users are expected to use the queues, this seems quite unreasonable. But, that's life. \$\endgroup\$ – Oleksandr R. Feb 23 '16 at 22:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ @OleksandrR. I wish we had this close reason on every SE site. For the record, SO has the "we are not a coding service" comment which often appears on closed questions with no effort shown. \$\endgroup\$ – Dmitry Grigoryev Mar 2 '16 at 14:23

This is an ongoing point of discussion/contention/etc. over at Physics SE. We have an off-topic close reason which reads as follows:

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.

Here is the meta post to which the close reason refers: How do I ask homework questions on Physics Stack Exchange?

This close reason gets a lot of use and really helps keep down the junk level. However, the close reason does have some problems. In a nutshell, it's not really clear what "homework" means. I can post a question which came up in the context of research but which is in all ways qualitatively like a homework question (i.e. I just want to know the numeric answer and I'm not asking anything conceptually interesting). As pointed out by others here already, whether or not a question is homework isn't the issue so much as whether or not it's just asking for the answer to a problem without any interesting conceptual core or lacks research effort.

We recently considered renaming the "homework policy" to reflect this. Here are two relevant meta posts:

I'll be following this meta post as a source of inspiration for our own improvements in the physics site.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I like that as a good starting-point. It'd five me something reliable/descriptive to click on the 18-odd useless homework questions that've been posted in the last 3 days. New semestsr started & now we're flooded with so many garbage "give me the answer" questions that it's nearly impossible to find/answer the truly interesting 'project questions' and 'concept questions' through the screaming-high noise threshold. ): \$\endgroup\$ – Robherc KV5ROB Mar 1 '16 at 12:53

Good idea.

I just cast the 4th close vote. I'm getting tired of explaining each time why a question needs to be closed. I really don't want to be wasting my time on that, and I don't want to encourage the dweebs to experiment in finding where the line is in closing.

More and more I think bad questions should be "Closed, screw you, read the rules" while giving as little information as possible. Make them be extra careful next time. It's kinda like not telling you which letter you got wrong in a password.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Ooooh and I am not supposed to call people idiots ;) \$\endgroup\$ – RoyC Dec 25 '16 at 20:47

If the question is on topic, it should not be closed. If the question is bad, it should be down voted. That's why "Research Effort" was removed as a close reason a year or two ago.

Specifically, the tool tip on the down vote arrow says:

This question does not show any research effort; it is unclear or not useful.

Heavily down voted questions do not show up on google, the front page, and people often do not read them at all, so there is no risk of it bringing down the quality of the site.

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    \$\begingroup\$ If a question doesn't belong here, it should be closed. If there isn't a canned close reason for it, I'll make one up or pick a existing one. If the OP doesn't get the right message, oh well. Wait, let me check --- --- Nope, considering how those that post crap here get treated isn't on my list of things to waste thought on. \$\endgroup\$ – Olin Lathrop Feb 22 '16 at 17:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ @OlinLathrop it takes less effort to down vote than it does close. 1 less click. \$\endgroup\$ – Passerby Feb 22 '16 at 17:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ But it doesn't have the same affect on the question and the system. \$\endgroup\$ – Olin Lathrop Feb 22 '16 at 17:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ @OlinLathrop doesn't it? Removed from the front, not indexed, greyed out, heavily down voted. Have you looked at meta.se? It works great for them. \$\endgroup\$ – Passerby Feb 22 '16 at 17:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Passerby I've never seen any down-voted question be greyed out or removed from the front page - is there a threshold for that to happen? e.g. on meta.ee.se I can see at least 4 questions at -3 on the main page that aren't greyed out, and have seen -5 ones on the ee.se main page. \$\endgroup\$ – Tom Carpenter Feb 22 '16 at 21:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ @TomCarpenter threshold varies, and I don't think it applies to meta.ee. Meta.SE is significantly different. Look at electronics.stackexchange.com/questions/218764 It's -5, so its not on the front page, unlike other questions asked at the same time. \$\endgroup\$ – Passerby Feb 22 '16 at 21:36
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    \$\begingroup\$ This answer makes complete sense. Research effort is orthogonal to subject matter, thus are handled by separate site features (voting and closing, respectively). \$\endgroup\$ – Ricardo Feb 23 '16 at 18:12

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