Since the beginning of the north hemisphere term, we've seen a sharp increase in questions that consist solely of a dump of a homework assignment, where there is no question, only “solve this”.

Our homework policy states:

We do not try to decide which questions are homework, and we don't use a special tag. (…)

Most homework-dump-style questions should be dealt with by usual quality-control

The “usual quality control” includes the built-in close reasons, in particular

  • unclear what you're asking
    Please clarify your specific problem or add additional details to highlight exactly what you need. As it's currently written, it’s hard to tell exactly what you're asking.

  • too broad
    There are either too many possible answers, or good answers would be too long for this format. Please add details to narrow the answer set or to isolate an issue that can be answered in a few paragraphs.

Most homework dumps fall under the heading “unclear what you're asking”, since they lack a question. However, this is not immediate and tends to require an explanatory comment.

Should we have a custom close reason for this? Custom close reasons combine a canned comment with closing, so they seem well-suited for this purpose.

We should take care that the wording makes it clear that questions about a homework assignment are ok, and provide advice (probably with a link, since the close reason needs to be at most one sentence or two) as to what the asker can do to improve his post.

This meta post has some interesting opinions and advice on dealing with homework dumps.

  • $\begingroup$ Not an invalid suggestion, but downvoting to express my opinion that this course of action is not what I'd like to see happen. On an unrelated note, I'm tempted to edit and reopen the closed question linked in the "not immediate" meta post. Objections? $\endgroup$
    – Patrick87
    Commented Nov 22, 2013 at 22:27
  • $\begingroup$ @Patrick87 I linked to two of them, so I don't know which one you mean. Could you write an answer to explain why you don't want a custom close reason? $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 22, 2013 at 22:30
  • $\begingroup$ think this whole question is evading the basic issue of "not playing homework detective" [policy est in other meta question] and assuming/starting from a presumption that homework questions are obvious to detect. $\endgroup$
    – vzn
    Commented May 5, 2014 at 22:40

3 Answers 3


Any "this is homework" close reason must include something along the lines of "shows no work." "Unclear what you are asking" is fine, but in that case it should have an alternative of "Unable to find out where OP's problem lies" (or something such; I'm no native speaker).

  • $\begingroup$ Perhaps make that "Can't help you learn if we don't know where you got stuck" or so... $\endgroup$
    – vonbrand
    Commented Feb 3, 2014 at 4:06
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ I would not even include the term "homework" in the close reason; we don't care whether it's homework or not, even though my default comments differ slightly. $\endgroup$
    – Raphael
    Commented Feb 3, 2014 at 12:34

We all agree that questions about homework problems are fine, as per our policy. We have been quite rigorous about closing questions that are problem dumps -- homework, self-learning or whatever.

The usual process is:

  • Comments of the form "What have you tried? Where did you get stuck?"
  • Some close votes, mostly "unclear".
  • Sealing the close with e.g. the reference comment.

Because of the sheer volume of such questions I am all for the custom close reason: it allows to communicate effectively with both voters and askers about the reasone for closing. We often see that newcomers only read (and respond to) the bold "unclear" which is not helpful.

Here's a candidate wording:

This is a problem statement, not a question. We expect questions to show some independent (research) effort. Adding such detail and a specific question (e.g. about the wording of the problem or concrete steps an own attempt at solving it) may render the post suitable for the site. See here for a relevant discussion; further advice can be sought in [chat].

1 character left

An aside: we definitely should close dump questions. Not only are they bad in SE terms¹, answers on them also

  • can not address the underlying issue the asker has (since it is unknown),
  • hence may not even help the asker learn,
  • are furthermore often of little use to future readers (since they apply only to a specific instance of a problem class) and
  • last, but not least, encourage academic misconduct (if the asker is a student and dumps their homework).

As a minor note, it has been suggested that the fate of this site depends on how well we deal with junk, i.e. get rid of junk effectively.

  1. The downvote button says, "This question does not show any research effort; it is unclear or not useful".
  • $\begingroup$ Tone of the phrase "problem dump" aside, I question the underlying assumption that all "problem dumps" are bad and bad for this site. Closing (or putting on hold, whatever they call it now) is an acceptable interim solution, but questions should get comments explaining how to make them suitable. I can't imagine any homework questions, copied verbatim from a textbook or otherwise, that would be of such low quality that they'd add no value here. Academic misconduct is not any more our concern than it is the police department's concern whether you brush your teeth twice a day. $\endgroup$
    – Patrick87
    Commented Feb 5, 2014 at 19:13
  • $\begingroup$ I am against this wording because effort is not the point. $\endgroup$ Commented May 7, 2014 at 21:43
  • $\begingroup$ @Gilles: Proposals? "Thought" instead of "effort"? $\endgroup$
    – Raphael
    Commented May 7, 2014 at 21:49
  • $\begingroup$ Perhaps we could change "some independent (research) effort" to "some independent research". @Gilles $\endgroup$
    – D.W. Mod
    Commented May 10, 2014 at 1:27
  • $\begingroup$ @D.W. That's a horse of the same color. $\endgroup$ Commented May 10, 2014 at 1:35
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Gilles, OK, got it. Do you have some alternative proposal you prefer instead? If you would care to post your answer to this question with your own thoughts, I would find that interesting reading. I would be interested to see you make the case for your perspective in detail (and explain why your suggested policy is right for CS.SE; it's not obvious to me that what's right for StackOverflow is necessarily right for this site, though maybe it is). $\endgroup$
    – D.W. Mod
    Commented May 10, 2014 at 2:00

I disagree with this proposal on the grounds that a new close reason seems unnecessary. Perhaps this isn't a very creative answer, since it's calling for what amounts to the status quo, but hear me out.

First, despite our homework policy (which, granted, may not be visible or intuitive enough for new members), questions which appear to be homework questions (and, let's face it; they probably are homework questions) receive pretty rough treatment around here, or at least that's been my impression over the last few months. I think there's a clear danger in creating a new close reason to make targeting homework questions even easier... it invalidates the spirit of the homework policy and legitimizes closing what are probably nearly acceptable questions.

Second, as has already been pointed out, there are existing close reasons that cover most of the questions that actually deserve to be closed. In particular, I'd estimate that lots of new homework questions could pretty trivially be closed as Duplicate or Unclear. While having a custom close reason isn't entirely without merit, it's not necessarily adding a lot of value... especially when one considers that we should be leaving explanatory messages on all closed questions, and having a custom close reason shouldn't be an excuse to stop doing so.

Third, closing questions isn't the only option for dealing with homework questions. The nature of homework questions is that people who have a solid grasp of the material probably know enough to at least rephrase the question into something passable for this site. Why not change homework dumps like "Show that X implies Y." into "I know that X implies Y, but how do you show this?" or "Find W such that Z." into "Is there a W such that Z? How do you find it?" Note that we have plenty of questions that don't show much, if any, work, and which we've left open. Targeting questions by new, presumably novice, members might be off-putting. If the question isn't clear enough for a reword attempt, then it's probably unclear enough to close as such.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ What's the point of editing "Show that X implies Y" to "I know that X implies Y but how do you show that?"? It's obvious that these mean exactly the same thing and it's absurd to insist that every question has to be literally a question, ending in a question mark. If you set an exam with the instructions "Answer all five questions" and a student objected that there were no questions, only imperatives, you'd tell them to stop messing around. If they handed in a blank script, still complaining about the lack of questions, they'd fail. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 23, 2013 at 0:35
  • $\begingroup$ @DavidRicherby: But SE is not an exam. We offer to help people, not solve exercise problems. $\endgroup$
    – Raphael
    Commented Nov 23, 2013 at 12:30
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ Changing the questions as you suggest is not a solution because we don't know what the actual problem the asker is having is. That's the reason for closing, as it is. $\endgroup$
    – Raphael
    Commented Nov 23, 2013 at 12:36

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