Users often post homework questions to MSE without tagging them with "(homework)." If I suspect a post is such, I treat it with skepticism. I will either ask if it is indeed homework or not answer it at all.

Other users often post problems from book which they are studying on their own without mentioning their self-study. I treat these as those to which I refer in the previous paragraph. If the user had mentioned this was indeed self-study, I would be more charitable in my response.

While it would not fix the second problem perfectly, I think a "(self-study)" tag might help. What do others think? Is there any reason not to provide such an option?

  • $\begingroup$ Why the downvote? Thanks a lot. $\endgroup$ Jul 30, 2013 at 19:45
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    $\begingroup$ Voting is different on meta, @Stephen. $\endgroup$
    – Alexander Gruber Mod
    Jul 30, 2013 at 20:25
  • $\begingroup$ There has already been a lot of discussion related to homework vs self-study; see, for instance, here. $\endgroup$ Jul 30, 2013 at 20:52
  • $\begingroup$ Yea, on something like this a downvote means that someone disagrees that the request is necessary, though it's still reasonable to quip for an explanation s to why... $\endgroup$ Jul 30, 2013 at 20:53
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    $\begingroup$ This tag already exists, but it's spelled (self-learning). $\endgroup$ Jul 30, 2013 at 23:55
  • $\begingroup$ It's worth pointing out that stats.SE use [self-study] rather than [homework] (meta thread); not everyone there agrees this is a good idea. $\endgroup$ Jul 31, 2013 at 11:27

1 Answer 1


Such questions would be appropriately tagged as . Let us not forget that homework is a type of question, not the circumstances under which a question was asked. A question from a book, formally assigned or taken on by choice by a tenacious student or self learner, has certain key features which I believe make them categorically identical:

  1. The question wasn't conceived by the asker. Because of this, a person could potentially copy the entire question verbatim here, without putting a single thought into it. This is very much part of the reason why homework questions are treated with such sensitivity. We have to kind of "enforce" that the asker do some thinking of their own.
  2. These are questions that it is often more helpful to give a helpful hint than it is to give an outright solution to. It's best to take a "teach a man to fish" approach to these, in contrast to other questions where a full solution is normally the best way to answer.
  3. They are very duplicate prone. After all, there's only but so many functions with closed form anti-derivatives, and more often than not every single one of them will be contained in a single textbook. Moreover, often times a single textbook will be used by literally thousands of math students around the world. The potential for two of them to have the exact same question verbatim and ask it here is fairly high. This is no different in the case of students self learning from said textbook.

These are some of the key features that I think makes homework questions a unique animal here, and all of them equally apply to the self study situations that you describe. So I think the homework tag is appropriate in those cases.

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    $\begingroup$ I suspect more people who are learning on their own would not think to characterize their questions to be about "homework"; at least, I wouldn't. Also, if I know the that the poster may receive class credit for an answer, I would construct my answer differently than for someone who claims to be learning on their own. In any case, if the "(self-learning)" tag exists, then my request has already been satisfied. $\endgroup$ Jul 31, 2013 at 4:11
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    $\begingroup$ Broadly speaking, I disagree with this post. I especially disagree with the second line, which reads "Let us not forget that homework is a type of question, not the circumstances under which a question was asked." Anyway, if you are 40 years old and self-studying then you are going to find it pretty condescending if a maths site decides that the questions you are doing are "homework"! $\endgroup$
    – user1729
    Aug 1, 2013 at 9:48
  • $\begingroup$ @user1729 I'm not sure why. I mean, is there some stigma attached to the word homework? It means work you do at home. Not necessarily "assignment". $\endgroup$ Aug 1, 2013 at 12:56
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    $\begingroup$ Yes, precisely, there is a stigma attached to it. $\endgroup$
    – user1729
    Aug 1, 2013 at 13:00
  • $\begingroup$ I believe the consensus on math.se has been that the homework tag is not a type of question, and is, in fact, the circumstances under which the question was asked. See meta.math.stackexchange.com/questions/3838/… $\endgroup$
    – user23784
    Aug 3, 2013 at 3:34
  • $\begingroup$ @rar I see. I'm too used to physics SE, I suppose. I'll keep in mind that here is different. $\endgroup$ Aug 3, 2013 at 4:46
  • $\begingroup$ A poster of a homework problem is sometimes just interested in getting an answer they can use to satisfy their assignment. A poster of a self-study problem is (speaking for myself) trying to see if my answer is correct or if it should be better. This second motivation, of course, could also apply to "homework" problems, so it may be a matter of degree (no pun intended). $\endgroup$ Jun 5, 2014 at 20:14

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