We have recently had this question and this one.

Both questions practically contain an answer within the question and ask "is this correct". Assuming the answer they give is correct (like in the example above), what should we do?

  1. answer it with "your solution is correct"
  2. close as "not a real question/too localized"?
  3. leave it open, with no answers?
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    $\begingroup$ A possible 4th option where appropriate (not great for the two examples though) would be to edit the question and make the answer component an actual answer. $\endgroup$ – Luke Mathieson Feb 18 '13 at 6:18
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    $\begingroup$ Yes, we even have check-my-proof. $\endgroup$ – Raphael Mod Feb 18 '13 at 9:11
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    $\begingroup$ See also this older, related question. $\endgroup$ – Raphael Mod Apr 30 '13 at 8:38

Such questions as you reference are almost always bad, but it can be hard to nail down why. It sometimes seems as if you have to know the answer before you can know whether the question is a good one.

Here is what definitely works for SE:

  1. A question that states a problem, a proposal for solving it and a focused question about a specific aspect of the proposal that is unclear.
  2. A pair of question and answer that are of general nature and thus likely to help others.

If neither applies, we usually have some variant of "this is my attempt on the latest exercise, please check it before the TA so I can get maximum points!" (assumption on my part). This is bad, although the problem is subtle.

  • If the attempt is wrong good answers can be given, pointing out the mistake and proposing (hints for) fixes.
  • If the attempt is correct, nothing can be said but "yes, it's correct".

The second case is a problem. Even if the OP can not know the case applies, they could have phrased the question so that it can not occur. Therefore, I suggest we shoot down all questions that are not 1. or 2. without hesitation (as NARQ).

If a questioner wants their work checked, they should be able to pinpoint their doubt and providing a question that allows meaty answers either way (i.e. for "yes" and "no" answers). This, for example, would be okay:

So I got exercise problem A. Here is my attempt: [...]

I am unsure about step (*). It seems to hold because of X, but how do I take care of Y?

Whether the attempt is correct does not matter, answers have explaining to do either way.

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    $\begingroup$ +1 I think too localized is more suitable as closing reason: "This question is unlikely to help any future visitors; it is only relevant to a small geographic area, a specific moment in time, or an extraordinarily narrow situation that is not generally applicable to the worldwide audience of the internet. For help making this question more broadly applicable, see the FAQ." $\endgroup$ – Kaveh Apr 23 '13 at 4:46
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    $\begingroup$ General check my solution/answer type question definitely fall in this category, they are unlikely to be helpful to any other person. Another way to fix these questions can be to remove OP's own answer and ask the OP to post it as an answer not in the question. $\endgroup$ – Kaveh Apr 23 '13 at 4:47
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    $\begingroup$ @Kaveh Right, "too localized" applies. I'm not sure about telling people to post as answer as a general rule; I feel like that should only be done if the proposed answer is apparently correct (at least not obviously flawed) and the question is not too localized in itself (e.g. the 233th "build an NFA for this language" question without any distinctive features). $\endgroup$ – Raphael Mod Apr 23 '13 at 6:49

This was initially written as a question. But since it would largely be a duplicate of this one, which is now 2 years old, I prefer to include it as an answer, shedding some light on what this is leadin us.

Raphael's answer, fairly highly upvoted, suggested a policy, fairly tolerant. I do not have the feeling that that is what we are currently doing. I am discussing it around the example of a very recent question, but I have been bothered by it for some time, while reviewing questions.

Policy against questions containing an answer is getting excessive, and we should be less systematic and consider foremost whether the gestion may be of interest to users, remembering that users are not necessarily experts. And neither are all posters of questions.

There is a clear inconsistency in the policy regarding question:

  • on the one hand we tell them they are expected to have researched the problem, and to show that they have;

  • on the other hand, if they went so far as having a solution that they are not sure of, they get blamed for asking a yes-no question.

Staying in between is a difficult exercise, and I think we are overdoing it, and we should be more tolerant, both with remarks in comment and downvoting

What motivated this remark is a recent question Categorizing P and NP problems, (now deleted, so that it requires enough rep to be read). It is 4 related questions (really 4 sides of the same coin, if I may say) aiming at testing understanding of polynomial reduction and equivalence.

This also questions the "only one question per question" policy, which should not be taken too litteraly. In this case, it is really one question, with 4 facets. I am saying that for completeness, but I do not want to be accused of raising an independent problems in an answer.

It may be more interesting to me as I have little experience in this view of complexity, though I do realize it is elementary for many CS users. But I think my less expert view is an advantage, since the site is not supposed to help only experts.

As it is, I found the question interesting (I did not check whether it was a duplicate). It made me think about these issues, and get a better understanding of what is implied by polynomial equivalence.

Having these questions, less obvious to me than I first thought, and the answers of the poster, together with his reasonning (which may call for more than yes/no answers) was an opportunity to discuss the issues, because some answers are wrong (I think) and because some are true, but maybe not for the reason given.

Fearing the question might get closed (from 2 downvotes, from 1 closing vote, and from the first comment), I edited the question to attempt to give it more conformance to question standards. I might also have risked an answer, I do not know. Unfortunately it seems that the users got the first messages (he has 10.2k rep on Stack Overflow, so he knows the rules of the game) and deleted the question himself, which I regret.

This question is only an example, and the opportunity to voice more precisely issues that have been bugging me. And at the same time, it may reopen the issue and raise awareness of the policy.

  • $\begingroup$ agreed it was a halfway decent question. but it was deleted by the user after being scared off by -2v and a critical comment by higher rep user. seems it always takes a bit of bravery to ask questions on any se site... and new users esp sometimes face an uphill battle... $\endgroup$ – vzn Jun 23 '15 at 23:03
  • $\begingroup$ Just to recall past comments (that, not so surprisingly, link back to this thread): meta.cs.stackexchange.com/questions/627/… $\endgroup$ – Ran G. Jun 23 '15 at 23:05
  • $\begingroup$ @vzn And there is no way to call him back ... short of a comment in an unrelated question on StackOverflow $\endgroup$ – babou Jun 23 '15 at 23:06
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    $\begingroup$ Can you explain why you think we should be more tolerant? What is the value? Those discussions articulated why we usually don't want "please check whether my solution is correct" questions: they're rarely of value to anyone else (since it's unlikely that anyone else will happen to come up with exactly the same solution and want to know if it is correct, and even if they did, it's not clear how they'd find it). Another way to look at it: if we turn this site into one where we're asking site members to act as "volunteer graders", I suspect participation might go down. $\endgroup$ – D.W. Mod Jun 23 '15 at 23:06
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    $\begingroup$ I think that question you link to is a prime example of something I wouldn't want on the site. They're asking us to grade their multiple-choice question. There's little or no evidence of effort on their part. The author doesn't show us their detailed reasoning -- we should set higher standards (authors should take the time to think through and write out their reasoning carefully; often this enables them to find their own mistakes). Why would I want to encourage lazy, not-very-useful questions like that? $\endgroup$ – D.W. Mod Jun 23 '15 at 23:09
  • $\begingroup$ was it really a multiple choice question? only one answer was correct? thought it was T/F on each answer which is far less trivial. (2^4 possibilities). a bigger issue is that its virtually impossible to reopen questions on this site, it rarely happens. maybe due to se design? top user impatience? if there is any doubt lets just reopen them. $\endgroup$ – vzn Jun 23 '15 at 23:10
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    $\begingroup$ Also, I don't see why you think that question calls into doubt our policy on "1 question per question". If someone else has the same question, are they going to find that post? The title isn't going to help them. Even if they do happen to stumble on that question through search, then they have to wade through other stuff that's irrelevant to them. And you can still have the problem of partial answers. Those kinds of questions should be split into 4 separate questions. $\endgroup$ – D.W. Mod Jun 23 '15 at 23:10
  • $\begingroup$ @D.W. I thought I had explained that with my example. What really matters is usefulness to other users. I chose my example precisely because I thought it was useful to me. It is true that I may not need the answer because I have experience and can probably do the correct reasonning, even though I know little of the topic. Doing so did teach me. So I conclude that having the right answers given might be useful to less experienced users. Regarding titles: this is our job. You annot expect a good title from an unexperienced user. I often edit them. I edit questions too for the same reason. $\endgroup$ – babou Jun 23 '15 at 23:27
  • $\begingroup$ @vzn, yes, you are right, it was true/false, rather than multiple-choice. The rest of my comment still applies. $\endgroup$ – D.W. Mod Jun 23 '15 at 23:50
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    $\begingroup$ I still don't think it's a good question. The user says "Here's my answer, I show my reasoning [in one sentence or less], but I'm afraid my reasoning might not be correct". However, it doesn't say why the user is afraid their reasoning might be incorrect or give any specific doubts. We don't want those kinds of questions. $\endgroup$ – D.W. Mod Jun 23 '15 at 23:53
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    $\begingroup$ It's one thing to have a question that says: "Here's my reasoning, but I have doubts about this one particular step, and here's why I doubt it". It's another to say "Here's my answer, check whether it's correct" -- imagine if every student did that for every homework exercise they ever did. We'd be inundated. We expect users to articulate more specifically what their specific uncertainty is, and what efforts they made to try to resolve that uncertainty on their own. Seems reasonable to me. Of course, here I'm articulating only my own view. I do accept the validity of your view. $\endgroup$ – D.W. Mod Jun 23 '15 at 23:53
  • $\begingroup$ @D.W. We can of course argue on how deeply the user should discuss his answer and the reasons for his uncertainty. But the main point for me is that the question (and I see it as a single question) is of a general nature that give more understanding in the topic. It is a lot more interesting than "can you check my FSA for this Regex" which is applying an algorithm rather than understanding a concept. As I said. it interested me. I am not surprised it does not interest you: you are a specialist. The site is not for specialists only $\endgroup$ – babou Jun 24 '15 at 0:07
  • $\begingroup$ but wait, lets look at the skill level of the question leaving aside the users attempts at a self-answer. its nontrivial & penetrates fairly deep into the theory, as B is pointing out. so maybe a policy that recognizes that some CS exercises are trivial, and others are more difficult (all the way up into grad school) therefore & worthy of including makes sense. the homework/ exercise distinction seems artificial to me. any question on any SE site could be turned into a homework/ exercise by a teacher. wonder if DW can even briefly state a correct answer or point to the theory it embodies. $\endgroup$ – vzn Jun 24 '15 at 0:51
  • $\begingroup$ B if you try to repost the basic idea in an acceptable way, you have my vote for 1, agreed it maybe has subtleties & seems to elucidate a basic/ key concept of theory :) $\endgroup$ – vzn Jun 24 '15 at 0:56
  • $\begingroup$ @babou FWIW, we can undelete self-deleted questions. $\endgroup$ – Raphael Mod Jun 24 '15 at 11:18

On math.SE these are sometimes accepted, tagged with proof-verification But you need to have more than just an answer to qualify. As you may expect, it's an obvious target for people posting crank proofs to famous conjectures, but those get mega-downvoted and closed/deleted quickly enough there.

I see there's a here, but the name is a bit unfortunate because checking only the answer is sometimes what a machine can easily do. Insofar I haven't seen this problem here [to the same degree], but on SO, EE.SE and math.SE there's sometimes a burst of "check my answer to this Boolean/propositional minimization problem", usually from newbies who haven't yet learned that such problems can be solved (and thus the answer checked) by standard software. Hardly anyone wants to be the typist for such problems... See nasty reaction on EE.SE for example. Yeah, it's true that one can also check at least some kinds of proofs via a computer (via Coq, HOL, and what not), but that's way more intricate than what some kinds "check my answer" questions involve... So I would suggest raising the bar to "check my proof".

On the other had, physics.SE has much tougher stance on such issues:

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.

Perhaps another distinction along those lines is that the aforementioned physics.SE policy encourages the use of a [homework tag] (at point 4), while a similar tag on math.SE was burned down.

It seems to me that the practice on CS.SE falls somewhere in between math.SE and physics.SE.

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    $\begingroup$ True. What was your intention with this answer, make a new proposal or give context? I agree more with Physics than the others (see my above answer), but we don't use "homework" as a classifier (see our policy). $\endgroup$ – Raphael Mod Feb 19 '15 at 10:58
  • $\begingroup$ @Raphael: I guess it ended being a kind of "thinking out loud" of where the line should be drawn... but I can't say I came up with a definite conclusion. On M.SE I was recently told that almost any such "check my work" question is good. Obviously every user has a personal standard, but what's more interesting is that the community-average standard differs significantly between SE sites. $\endgroup$ – Fizz Feb 23 '15 at 21:56

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