A lot of questions on the site are asked by one time users who think that this is a magical place where all homework gets done with no effort put into it. Usually, the users prompt the question author for details on what he already did (to prove that he put some effort into the task he is trying to solve). Often, this helps the user realize the answers here are not free and, with help from the community, solves the assignment on his own (with hints, of course).

However, some users simply leave the question hanging, never to visit it again. I have a feeling that these are the laziest of the users, who, realizing the answer is not free, just leave the site in a "meh, I don't want to bother" kind of attitude.

My question is this: what is the best way to deal with these questions? Do you:

  • Do nothing?
  • Downvote them and leave them to rot?
  • Flag them? As what? None of the possible reasons for flagging seems really appropriate to me...
  • Vote to close? Again, I don't think there is an appropriate reason in the list of possible reasons to close the question.

So what do you do with questions like this? For now, I first try to get more information on the question, then (after, say, an hour) I downvote the question, never to bother with it again.

  • 16
    These seem like obvious candidates for a "lacks context" close vote. – Tobias Kildetoft Feb 24 '14 at 9:27
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    Lack of context? All the reasons I have available are duplicate of (not really, it's not a duplicate), off topic (it's on topic, so no), unclear (it's clear, the man want a solved homework), too broad (it's not broad, the question is from a homework and well structured) and oppinion based. None of these reasons qualify for me... – 5xum Feb 24 '14 at 9:35
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    The lack of effort reason is under off-topic (unfortunately), as that is the only place we can have site-specific reasons. – Tobias Kildetoft Feb 24 '14 at 9:36
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    Okay... I will (I guess) vote to close on "off topic" from now on. I don't agree with the reason (the questions are usually very on topic), but at least the community will be consistent. – 5xum Feb 24 '14 at 9:38
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    I as wrote, I also find it unfortunate that the reason is to be found under off-topic, since these questions are usually about math. On the other hand, those questions that are properly on-topic are those that actually show effort, so off-topic is not completely absurd (and as I mentioned, there is no way to have the reason put anywhere else). – Tobias Kildetoft Feb 24 '14 at 9:40
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    I have been known to vote to close for a reason I choose at random, then leave a comment saying I'm voting to close because the author has abandoned the problem. This has been known to work. – Gerry Myerson Feb 24 '14 at 12:21
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    If it helps, rather than consider the topic of this site to be "anything related to math", consider it to be something like "learning math, homework hints, math history, solving puzzles, and such". Then, a question that amounts to asking others to do their homework for them is off-topic. That said, I do think the specific reason cited is not really right; but for whatever reason it won the popular opinion about which closing reason to give for these things. – Hurkyl Feb 24 '14 at 14:58
  • @Hurkyl Very good point. Also makes it easier to remember what to do with these questions. – 5xum Feb 24 '14 at 15:03
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    @Hurkly It is, alas, truly unfortunate that some users think that the site should be run by "popular opinion." We have lost many knowledgeable folks due to such, and the brain drain continues. If it continues unabated the site will soon converge to the blind leading the blind. – Number Feb 24 '14 at 18:34
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    Re: "the community will be consistent". It surely won't be, no matter what you do. – user127096 Feb 25 '14 at 0:14
  • Dear @BillDubuque : (no insincerity intended) what are the so-called popular-opinion opinions that drove some away? – rschwieb Feb 25 '14 at 2:51
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    @Bill: For clarity, by "popular opinion", I mean it really was put to a vote here on meta. And after the vote, TPTB removed the other reason that people had been using (that, IMO, was somewhat better). – Hurkyl Feb 25 '14 at 3:05
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    @rschwieb, it looks like the hyperactive review queues (and the personally abusive conduct of some users on meta, probably) finally did drive Brian Scott away. – zyx Feb 28 '14 at 6:12
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    Deal with zero-effort questions by putting in zero effort toward answering. No other approach will scale. – MJD Mar 1 '14 at 17:20
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    @MJD Unfortunately the effort put into browsing past the undesirable questions remains nonzero. I think automatic question bans (IP-based, as I hear) can also scale, if they get enough input (i.e., votes) to work with. – user127096 Mar 3 '14 at 3:09
up vote 17 down vote accepted

I first try to get more information on the question, then (after, say, an hour) I downvote the question, never to bother with it again.

Good job! Never to bother with it again is the key. Unlike close votes, downvotes do not have to be reviewed by a committee of four. And there is no "un-downvoting" queue, the way there is a re-opening queue. Downvotes scale more easily to match the increasing number of questions, and do not distract other users with review tasks and meta debates.

  • Downvote them and leave them to rot?

Yes; there is even a helpful hint over the downvote button: "this question does not show any research effort". The "rotting" does not take very long: in 30 days the downvoted question will disappear, unless it is an answered one.

The "effort shown" aspect could be (and have been) discussed on and on, so I'll just point to a recent meta.SO discussion where Shog9 make a point I can fully agree with:

When I'm trying to solve a problem and searching for similar questions ... I really don't care how much effort the asker demonstrates in his question. In fact, unless that effort translated directly into a clear, concise question that I can easily identify as being close to my own and then quickly scroll past to get to the answers, I'm rather resentful of ostentatious displays of effort.

The effort put into making other people show effort results in longer, more localized, less digestible questions. Instead of clear questions with clear answers it gets non-sequitur "attempted solutions" followed by similarly rambling discussions of the flaws of said solution. The "show us the effort!" campaign is making the site less useful.

  • Of course, the answers in that discussion contain an effective rebuttal; e.g. meta.stackexchange.com/a/210844/205515 . I'm mildly amused that Shog9 considers it a bad thing to be being able to skip past the questions that are not actually close to his own! – Hurkyl Feb 24 '14 at 17:13
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    I prefer closing to downvoting because if the OP adds context to a closed question it is put into the review queue where it should be swiftly reopened. I'm not realistically going to keep tabs on questions I've downvoted to see if the downvote should be reversed. Admittedly other users may cancel it with positive votes, but I still don't like having a downvote on a question I think is fine. – mdp Feb 25 '14 at 12:24
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    "The "show us the effort!" campaign is making the site less useful." This may be tag dependent - for something like linear algebra, the verbatim homework problems are often extremely specific (prove some particular set is a basis, etc.). But by adding context, the OP reveals what conceptual problem they are struggling with, and can get a general answer that's useful to other people. However, I can imagine that this effect is greatly reduced for questions about solving difficult integrals for example (although I don't really know enough about that to be sure). – mdp Feb 25 '14 at 12:27
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    Highly conceptual questions or highly intractable questions often are mistaken for lack of effort. I know I've posted a couple of questions that really go along the lines of not "how do i solve this?" but more of "how do i even wrap my head around this?" and they received downvotes for lack of effort. Although this can be avoided by putting 2-3 paragraphs of all the unlogical ideas you had to solve it which didn't work. I think its personally unnecessary but if people are unable to differentiate hw from free-form exploration then it's better than no regulation at all. – frogeyedpeas Mar 1 '14 at 5:43
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    @frogeyedpeas: Feel free to bring up individual examples in meta! IMO, actually discussing just what sorts of questions are problematic would be fairly useful to the community (assuming it can avoid getting hijacked by another discussion about the "no question is problematic!" sentiment). IMO, "I want to understand concept X" should generally make for a good question, especially if you can explain your confusion, so I'm surprised you find such things get downvoted. – Hurkyl Mar 3 '14 at 3:06
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    If I see a question ending with something like "how do i even wrap my head around this?" I am inclined to give the OP some hints (as a comment): it seems to me that (s)he understood that there is no such thing as a free answer. – mau Mar 7 '14 at 21:20

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