# Guideline for using “lack of context” and “homework” close reasons

Since a few days, we have the new predefined close reason about "lack of context".

It would seem to me, that, even if a question superficially looks like homework, this is the appropriate close reason for PSQ-ish questions without the tag.

The "homework" close reason is to be reserved for questions actually tagged, or otherwise specified as, .

Much to my surprise, there is still a considerable fraction of users that uses the "homework" reason where the "lack of context" reason seems to be intended.

So, once and for all: Please use the "lack of context" reason!

If you would like to respond to this plea, you can do so by answering this question:

How should the "lack of context" and "homework" reasons be used?

• It seems to me that the "homework" reason is not needed any more at all. Just use "lack of context" instead. – azimut Sep 27 '13 at 7:15
• @rschweib: Actually, I think that misses the point. The description under the homework reason states the crux of the matter: Homework questions must seek to understand the concepts being taught, not just demand a solution. Showing your work and stuff doesn't actually matter if the student still just wants a solution (and answerers provide that solution rather than try to teach the concept), although we believe there is some correlation between being able and willing to go through such an exercise and moving away from the 'demand a solution' side of the coin. – user14972 Sep 28 '13 at 5:24
• @Brian: The real world is grey. The fact we don't have 100% certainty is completely irrelevant to making real world decisions. – user14972 Sep 28 '13 at 7:06
• @Hurkyl: Yes, it is. If you recognize that, why do you insist on painting it black? – Brian M. Scott Sep 28 '13 at 7:07
• @Brian: I don't: I want to acknowledge that dark grey is not white. – user14972 Sep 28 '13 at 7:08
• @Hurkyl: You do. You consistently assume the darkest possible interpretation, or worse. – Brian M. Scott Sep 28 '13 at 7:12
• @Brian: Posters can give give some pretty strong tells that they want to learn the concepts. For example, asking about concepts. Asking how to make an approach work. Asking why what they did was wrong. Or even just asking generalities like "how do I solve quadratic equations" rather than "how do I solve x^2 - 3x + 2 = 0?" – user14972 Sep 28 '13 at 7:28
• @BrianM.Scott I am getting a bit annoyed by your tendency to give an answer to meta questions in comments. The answer box is devised for that. It provides more room for nuance and backing arguments for your point of view (although I personally know where it comes from, having been around for a while). And I don't think it matters that you wrote it as a response to Hurkyl's comments. – Lord_Farin Sep 28 '13 at 7:29
• @BrianM.Scott But this is a discussion. Everything will be a "statement of opinion". I also contend that you (generally) spend more time reading the replies originating from misunderstanding because you cut corners to make the 600 characters than it would take to write a proper, detailed answer. More importantly, we could then get a proper vote tally on your point of view. Your behaviour is essentially defeating the purpose of a Q&A meta -- if everyone did likewise, we would just have a messy forum thread with the 600 character restriction. – Lord_Farin Sep 28 '13 at 8:02
• @Hurkyl : the correct place to clamor for more closing reasons, or to argue for a revision of the "context missing" text, is in a new thread should you wish to open one. The homework reason is on its way to being removed, in line with what was advertised and voted on in the meta. If you are looking to reinstate defunct close reasons, "too localized" will be significantly more popular than the arrogant text on homework that apparently is on its way out. If you want new close reasons, "no sources" will be infinitely more productive than "homework". – zyx Sep 28 '13 at 12:42
• @zyx I have no desire for ad-hominem or ad-baculum horrors. I hazard a guess that the perception of opposing opinions may not be as unilateral as you suggest -- a clear answer supported by argumentation and paying attention to nuances will not be downvoted into oblivion because of disagreement (as opposed to "get some downvotes"). But I may be naive here. It's at the very least not up my alley to behave that way. (ctd) – Lord_Farin Sep 28 '13 at 17:38
• Moreover, I consider it overly reductive to speak of "every new variant" in the present situation. Your hyperbole is close to intentional misinterpretation in my ears, and I don't want to be associated with practices like those in your last sentence. You know by historical evidence that such is not how I behave. – Lord_Farin Sep 28 '13 at 17:39
• @BrianM.Scott "The homework reason [...] should be removed". That seems an opinion to me. As does the last paragraph. I was obviously talking about the general tone, not the facts that are used as arguments. // Fine, I'll reword to "do not elaborate enough to make it clear to everyone in one or two reads what you mean". // Agree to disagree. – Lord_Farin Sep 28 '13 at 18:32
• @BrianM.Scott That's why I edited in "I was obviously talking about the general tone, not the facts that are used as arguments.", which may have crossed with you writing your comment. // There's no need for accusing one another of things that are manifestly unreasonable. – Lord_Farin Sep 28 '13 at 18:41
• Or at least an interactive elaboration of the particular points in the presence of objections and differing views. With answers people tend to respond less flexibly to a view, as though the answer is a fixed target but comments allow for back and forth. – zyx Sep 28 '13 at 19:16

Just a quick note:

We have recently gone ahead with the change. Now the "homework" close reason no longer exists. Only the "lack of context" one remains.

(And for visibility: if there are suggestions for other "off-topic" closure reasons, please post a new Meta thread or reply to this one.)

• Thanks for the recent and earlier attention to the matter (and to Arthur and any other people who might have been involved). I agree with LF's comment that the text you wrote as the 'context' close reason was quite good (no matter what one's opinions are about closing) and it is probably part of the reason for the lack of any strong interest in changing the close-reasons. Well done. – zyx Nov 18 '13 at 20:03
• @zyx: you also deserves thanks! If it weren't for you reminding us about it, it would've slipped our minds for another several months. – Willie Wong Nov 19 '13 at 9:46

The "homework" reason was a temporary placeholder, apparently taken from some other Stackexchange site or devised by SE ad hoc, for the (at that time, not yet written) "lack of context" reason derived directly from the meta.MSE discussions, and should be removed now that the latter exists.

The discussion on meta, over a period of weeks or months, evolved from subjective criteria (smells like homework) to an objective test ("postings that contain nothing but a problem statement") and support for the different iterations of the proposals increased with every round of fine-tuning that moved the formulation further and further from the idea of homework. There was nothing whatsoever about a separate additional interest in closing postings tagged as homework, nor did the idea ever appear from the pro-closing camp that such tags made any difference to the argument.

Procedurally, neither reason should have been introduced without a meta thread soliciting proposals on how to use the full set of three 400-character close reasons in MSE. It would be extremely likely, had such a thread started, that something very similar to the current "lack of context" reason would be selected as one of the final $3$, so I don't think it would be fruitful to insist on proper procedure in this case. As much as I hate to promote the creation of more closing reasons, the logical thing to do at this time would still be to have two threads for proposal and selection of closing reasons (considered as a totality of three, not only individual reasons on their own), one for MSE and one for meta.MSE.

• 3 really means "3 or fewer". SE2.0 allows up to three custom site-authored close reasons in the off-topic category. – zyx Sep 27 '13 at 0:09
• While it was not best advertised (my bad), I did solicit proposals on ideas for the off-topic reasons here soon after I first made the announcement. After that I made the original proposal for the "lack of context" reason. Given the number of votes and views on that post, I'd be inclined to say that the community has largely decided that no other off-topic reason would be needed at the present moment. – Willie Wong Sep 27 '13 at 8:23
• I agree that new close reasons should be polled by the community, where they can be refined and their intended reach can be discussed before they enter the arena. One could argue that this thread contains the sought discussion. That said, I still think that a "context missing close reason redux" for determining the exact form of the comment would've been good. Nonetheless I think the formulation turned out quite fine. – Lord_Farin Sep 27 '13 at 8:24
• @Lord_Farin: is this thread what you had in mind: meta.math.stackexchange.com/questions/10460/… – Carl Mummert Nov 19 '13 at 11:36
• @CarlMummert Thanks for the link. I had missed that thread entirely (it looks like it had all activity during my vacation). – Lord_Farin Nov 19 '13 at 11:56
• @CarlMummert, I see from the link that you are also responsible for the writing of the CM closed-reason. I had thought it was all Willie's writing. Thanks (see remarks under Willie's update in this question). – zyx Nov 19 '13 at 22:06

Note: Recently, the "missing context" close reason was given a link which, in my opinion, makes it fair to both remove the "homework" close reason and close "copy/paste" questions.

The rest of this answer is now outdated.

How should the "lack of context" and "homework" reasons be used?

I like zyx' idea to remove the "homework" reason, but I believe a bit more should be done.

Let me give a short intro on my thoughts on the subject. I often find close reason "Off-topic" on questions where the OP made no effort. And, however I agree on closing these, there is nothing in the help system on that. The "On-topic" page of the help system has an extra explanation on homework questions, which says:

Also, please put some work into formulating your question. Please do not just copy and paste the exact question text from your homework sheet.

But, for general questions, there is no "show an effort" request. So, when we close a question for being "off-topic", the OP gets the link to what is on-topic, and there is nothing there to explain to him that his effort is what is missing. In my opinion, this is wrong, and - for this reason - I vote "Leave open" on effortless questions (unless there is some other problem with them).

So, why is this "show effort" request there only for homework questions? Do we want people to try to fake that their homework is not a homework, but a "regular" question? Why the (imaginary) difference between the to?

In my opinion, this should be a general guidance: we want to help, not solve your problems for you.

To summarize my suggestion:

1. Add "we want to see some effort on your side" as a general guidance on all questions. Basically, homework questions guidance should be adapted and made into a "guidance for all questions". A short "show effort", with link to that guidance, should be put in the "On-topic" page of the help system.

2. Remove the "homework" reason, because -- given that we do what I suggest in the point 1 -- homework questions stop being "special".

3. Add close reason for "no effort".

"No context" reason should still be there, although I don't expect it to be used often (if the above is accepted).

The actual texts should, of course, be written more nicely. I can edit them if there is a general interest to go in this direction; especially if some good ones are suggested in the comments.

• The context-missing reason is the "no effort" close reason. The progression of the discussions on meta was from focus on (real or imagined) homework to low-quality (whatever that is) and low-effort (whatever that is) to no displayed "effort" (whatever effort is) to "nothing but a problem statement". The less literal generalization of that, perhaps to cover related matters of lack of sources and motivation, and surely intended to fit cases that may not exactly match the criterion of nothing except a problem statement, is "context missing". – zyx Sep 27 '13 at 0:38
• I realize that it is being used that way, but see what I wrote on it: when we close a question for being "off-topic", the OP gets the link to what is on-topic, and there is nothing there to explain to him that his effort is what is missing. I find it wrong to close a question because the OP showed no effort and give the official reason for closing that it is "off-topic", when "on-topic" doesn't require effort. That's all I want: make our current practice of closing effortless questions official, by including that request in the "on-topic" page. – Vedran Šego Sep 27 '13 at 7:50
• @VedranŠego I and Willie Wong (and some others) have worked extensively on a non-homework alternative for the "hw questions guidance"; see here. Also, there is considerable resistance to "off-topic" containing site-specific reasons like the ones under discussion. That said, given the ubiquity of closings for "missing context" (effort is also context IMO) I think it is indeed good to address the desirability of context in the FAQ. – Lord_Farin Sep 27 '13 at 8:15
• @Lord_Farin Thank you for the link. The guidance there is a very nice explanation, much better and broader that I had in mind in my answer. Now, we just need to get it in the official "On-topic" definition. – Vedran Šego Sep 27 '13 at 12:59
• Few minutes ago, I voted "Leave open" here and "Close" here. Those two are essentially the same, but when we close the second one, there will be a link to "on-topic", and there is another link there on "make some effort on homework". The first one simply doesn't have that, and the OP will get no explanation on why his question was closed, other than the comment of @Lord_Farin (which I think would be enough of an explanation if included in "close reason" or "on-topic" page). – Vedran Šego Sep 28 '13 at 7:56
• I see that the "missing context" close reason now has a link which, in my opinion, makes it fair to both remove the "homework" close reason and close "copy/paste" questions. – Vedran Šego Sep 30 '13 at 17:54
• I actually think there is/should be some room for applied questions without a solution attempt. These should, however, give a credible, real-world, and reasonably well-developed context. Yes, I can smell a typical teacher's "sample application" from a mile ($5.36819375\times 10^{-6}$ light-seconds) away. – dfeuer Oct 4 '13 at 1:51
• @dfeuer This is why I wrote (in one of the comments above) that "the guidance there is a very nice explanation, much better and broader that I had in mind in my answer". Check the link from the "missing context" close reason: it doesn't insist on an attempted solution, but on some effort, like writing where did the problem come from, including relevant definitions, the OP's own background,... Surely, it is O.K. to expect the OP to make some effort beyond copy/pasting a question or just including a scan/screenshot of a question. – Vedran Šego Oct 4 '13 at 9:09