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I've heard several comments lately saying that we don't allow questions asking us to "do your homework for you," and I wanted to check since I'm not aware of it as an official position. Note, I may be missing a duplicate meta post. I see these:

Anyway, I'd like to open the conversation again so we can arrive at a unified and nuanced position. I'm sure the hows and whys have been hashed out on SO, but our needs aren't always the same. Seems to me there are a lot of reasons that someone might want to close homework questions, some more productive than others:

  • A moral judgement. Getting others to "do your homework for you" is cheating, and we don't want to help people cheat. I've come to the reluctant conclusion that my D&D alignment is Lawful Neutral, so I understand the sentiment that wants to "punish" the asker for their laziness or lack of ethics. This viewpoint might also simply be irked that we're expected to do work that the asker wasn't willing to do.
  • A "teach a man to fish" perspective: If they come with a complex problem and a "just give me the answer" attitude, the answer won't help them in their learning much. This perspective would probably want the question edited; turn "what is this chord" into "Wait, what is a predominant and how does it work?" or the like.
  • A concern that such questions are of little use to future seekers. This touches on a long-standing argument that affects many questions—are we here to provide individualized help as needed, or to build a "reference work". This has been hashed out before, and it seems to me that our perspective is that a question being useful only to one person isn't itself damning, but it weighs heavily toward something being opposed. And yes, we're more a reference work than a help desk.

It seems to me that most of these perspectives would allow for "good homework questions" as well as "bad homework questions." For instance, there's a regular user here who is teaching themself theoretical analysis, and often comes with questions to clarify their reading. This user hasn't been assigned this work, isn't "cheating" for a grade, and is putting their best effort into their own understanding. The Lawful Neutral objector ought to be satisfied.

For the "teach a man to fish" objector, as noted, they might object to simplistic "cut to the chase" questions, but approve of questions that invite us to, well, teach them to fish; questions that are about the how and why.

The "we're not a help desk" objector ought to be satisfied by "homework questions" that are conceivably of value to future searchers, like, I dunno, something like "What the heck is a German 6, and why don't we just call it a dominant 7th?"

So my take on the above is that most of the valid objections aren't really based on the fact that homework is involved, but would be valid objections for any question. IMO the Lawful Neutral guy needs to take a breath and remember that we're not here to punish, that the asker's motivation doesn't really matter to the validity of the question, and if we're offended by being asked something basic maybe we just need to take a break and avoid burnout. Aside from that guy, the others seem to simply be asking that questions be sufficiently well explained and of value; that's true any time.

So maybe there's nothing against "homework questions" as such, just against bad questions?

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    Since joining the site, I've always understood there was an informal policy against homework questions: informal, because sometimes they are valid and valuable (say, "help me understand X" as opposed to "What is the answer to Y". The particular user you refer to is well established as self-learning, so gets the benefit of the doubt (it seems to me). Leaving aside the more or less gray areas, what I think we're clearly trying to avoid is questions obviously copied directly from a test paper. (Can't immediately find a good example, but will post if and when found.)
    – Aaron
    Commented Jul 7, 2022 at 16:36
  • [quick addendum]: Looks like the mods are doing a good job of deleting "true" homework questions: i.e., those obviously copied from, say, an exam paper.
    – Aaron
    Commented Jul 7, 2022 at 16:43
  • Also, acknowledging that it's very difficult to get questions reopened, there are two mechanisms for reopening questions if one finds the close reason inadequate or inappropriate: 1) Vote to reopen; 2) Post a reopen request on meta. IMO, that mechanism is sufficient to address the ambiguity in the "homework question" issue.
    – Aaron
    Commented Jul 7, 2022 at 18:18
  • "I'm sure the hows and whys have been hashed out on SO" for those who are curious on how SO reconciles with homework questions.
    – Andrew T.
    Commented Jul 11, 2022 at 9:20

2 Answers 2

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Good question, good points! Personally, I have no time for the abrupt 'I can't answer this homework - do it for me' question, which does appear blatantly from time to time. Those need closing pronto for me. The folk who offer some sort of 'well I've tried this and that, but I'm still stuck' deserve solutions, but maybe not direct 'this is the answer'. but it depends somewhat on what we're set up for. If it's simply a compendium, like a user-friendly Wiki, then direct q and a maybe ought to be allowed. If that were the case, I'm walking!

The questioner you mention really does appear to have spent time and effort trying to reconcile various problems, apparent in the way the questions are asked, so should get full attention and good answers, which generally speaking happens.

There are also the 'noobie' questions which maybe get some raised eyebrows, but we all had to start somewhere, and without basic knowledge and understanding, it's well nigh impossible to build on one's own data bank. So simplistic questions, asked in good faith (sometimes hard to tell) are o.k. by me.

It's the questions that appear from folk who seem to have made no effort that get me - they're the ones that need closing!

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I was very excited to see there is a music stackexchange. A few weeks later I stopped using it because the few questions or comments I made were all kicked out for one reason or another. I fear "HW" questions may fall into that.

I totally respect your approach examining reasonable objections, but I think they can largely be avoided by the community. Asking people to consider the following before answering any question:

  • is this a duplicate question? i.e. already existing/similar question?
  • is the question better served in another stackexchange? Sorry, not going to solve your math problems here.
  • do I have a moral/ethical/legal concern about this question? For example, is this plagiarism or am I being asked to do "work" for free? Is this a braindump?
  • am I able to answer this question?
  • do I have time to answer this question (better than an already existing answer)?

If I get through this list with no concerns, then the three aforementioned objections are probably moot.

  • Moral: Addressed in moral/ethical/legal. This is largely personal. I think the crowd defines this pretty well on their own.
  • "teach a man to fish...": There will often be a diversity of answers. I tent to offer ideas and concepts. Others can give direct answers. I don't think this is a problem that needs to be solved. Do you? As long as I am not working for free (please compose a song for me), I generally don't have objections if I have time.
  • "little use to future...": this is the one that irks me the most. I stopped using this site because within a couple of weeks of discovering it b/c my questions were considered "off-topic" even though they were both voted up and have about 70 views each. Why are we policing this? The best defense against this are (1) remove duplicate (duplicate sounding) questions and (2) let people decide if they have time to answer. If they have time to answer, then the question is probably relevant. If OP's aren't satisfied, then they can go somewhere with a better quality of service. :D

I would love to come back to this site and be a part of the community, but it needs to stop wasting so much time on policing. If you want a concise encyclopedia, don't crowdsource! JMHO Cheers!

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    This is what the help center is for. By reading through it when joining the community, all of the items covered in your list are addressed. That way, rather than asking these questions every time someone posts, that person can just browse the help center and then refer back to it as needed.
    – Aaron
    Commented Jul 18, 2022 at 19:25
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    It's also worth mentioning that the site does automatically search for and suggest possible duplicates when a new question is being composed.
    – Aaron
    Commented Jul 18, 2022 at 19:26
  • Yes, I am well aware of well-intentioned rules and automation. Even still, stackexchange relies heavily on the crowd. To kind of sum up, I believe most people do this naturally and therefore a set of highly-defined (and over-policed) principles are just not necessary.
    – rfportilla
    Commented Jul 19, 2022 at 19:43
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    I guess I'm not sure what you're suggesting, then. Stackexchange's raison d'etre is to be crowdsourced and crowd moderated. Users are asked up front, by way of the rules and automation, to post relevant questions, and then it's left to the community, by way of a voting system that allows for both closing and reopening of questions, with a backup system of elected moderators, to manage the content. What sort of change do you have in mind?
    – Aaron
    Commented Jul 19, 2022 at 19:53
  • "... crowdsourced and crowd moderated..." YES!!! This is what I am suggesting. My point is that homework-a-close-reason is probably not a significant issue and we should probably let the crowd sort it themselves without add'l policing. The question "Is HW a close reason?", probably not.
    – rfportilla
    Commented Jul 21, 2022 at 6:14
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    I don't mean to rant, but when I first started here, 2 of 3 questions were immediately closed by an overzealous moderator who considered my questions "off-topic," even though they were related to music and the community supported it. This is over-policing and goes against what the crowd wants. Sadly, I stopped participating 2 weeks after I joined. How many others do the same? I have been on several other SE sites and never been welcomed this way. The reason I was given was that this site should become encyclopedic. Blah!! That's what wiki is for, not SE.
    – rfportilla
    Commented Jul 21, 2022 at 6:21
  • These last couple of comments were really helpful to me, at least — the context they provide clarifies your post quite a bit. Your frustration is understandable. I read the "2 of 3 questions" and you did manage to walk into a site minefield — questions like those have been continually debated as to whether they are on or off topic, and their handling is inconsistent.
    – Aaron
    Commented Jul 23, 2022 at 21:33
  • My personal experience with the site is that if you stick around long enough and read enough posts, you get a feel for the "pacing" of what is clearly on or off topic and what are grey areas where the wording can make all the difference.
    – Aaron
    Commented Jul 23, 2022 at 21:33
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    @Aaron That's just it... I WON'T stick around here long enough and I don't care. I figured the name music.stackexchange.com would tell me what is on-topic without having to read the fine-print. Hey, it's just my opinion.
    – rfportilla
    Commented Jul 27, 2022 at 14:57

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