You sometimes meet OPs asking a question that you are eager to answer by providing the sufficient hints, possibly in a condensed way or by linking to published solutions, but in a way that is deemed to unlock the enquirer.

Some of them will start moaning that they do not understand, would like more support, are lacking skills, that it is too hard... and in the end you understand that they actually want you to craft the complete solution for them.

In other cases, you see that the OP is indeed not skilled enough and the "fastest" way out is to do it all for them rather than wasting time to explain.

How are these situations handled on Mathematics ?

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    $\begingroup$ Ignore all requests from the OP if you feel the OP is exploiting you. If the OP is simply not skilled enough and if you really want to help the OP, then write a full answer with all steps, plus motivations and explanations how to get the answers. A "full" answer like this is definitely not as fast as you have imagined. In fact, it is probably 2 or 3 times longer than a regular answer. Whether you are really to spend that amount of time is up to you. $\endgroup$ May 27, 2014 at 8:56
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    $\begingroup$ At some point (when it is no longer fun for me to continue fielding questions), I cut it off with the OP by suggesting that (s)he find an actual tutor for hire. I especially like the ones that are superficially aware that they are being burdensome, which only causes them to search for language to convince you to stay. ("Please, you've been so awesome, just one more.") My favorite one, though, was the guy who threatened to downvote my answers if I left him hanging. (I told him to do so, and at least I'd know it was him. Nothing happened as far as I know.) $\endgroup$
    – Ron Gordon
    May 27, 2014 at 12:47
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    $\begingroup$ I'm hesitant to do it all. If I have some extra time, I ask more about their relevant background, and play it by ear. If there is a response, I will add another hint or explain some step. If there is no response, I will just drop it. I am leaving a trail of "half-answers" behinf, but that's how I want to do it. $\endgroup$ May 27, 2014 at 12:48
  • $\begingroup$ @All: Thanks for sharing your experience. $\endgroup$
    – user65203
    May 27, 2014 at 13:16
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    $\begingroup$ I post complete solutions whenever I can, as long as they are not duplicates. I have no duty to anybody or anything or any ridiculous idea of education. I am here because I like mathematics. Of course it is also nice to help people. $\endgroup$ May 27, 2014 at 16:05
  • $\begingroup$ If you are that worried, post the tersest answer you can. If the OP does make an effort to ask in the comments, expand and write out the full solution, otherwise leave it be. That's when you know the difference. $\endgroup$
    – IAmNoOne
    May 27, 2014 at 21:24
  • $\begingroup$ @ReneSchipperus: that is a perfect expression of my philosophy here. $\endgroup$
    – Ron Gordon
    May 28, 2014 at 1:31

2 Answers 2


Most importantly, decide for yourself how much more effort you want to put into directing these users. Such decisions can be made dynamically, factoring in both how engaged the OP appears to be, but also your own personal interest in the question/answer. Even though users are generally free to ask questions in the comments, you are not obligated to provide any more detail than you wish. Of course, not filling in these gaps may adversely affect the chances of your answer being accepted (or upvoted) by such OPs, but it is never a guarantee that your answer will be accepted (or upvoted).

If you begin to feel that a user is harassing you (e.g., by posting multiple "I NEED MOAR HELP!!11!"-style comments), feel free to flag for moderator attention. Some users are a bit too... persistent in their quest for answers which is detrimental to the atmosphere of the site. We will communicate to these users that this is not appropriate behaviour, and will suspend if it continues.

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    $\begingroup$ I'm sorry, Sir, I'm new at this, and I did not quite understand what you were trying to say. If you could maybe elaborate a bit more on this... perhaps even provide some examples ? $\endgroup$
    – Lucian
    Jun 9, 2014 at 16:24

The fastest way out isn't to craft a complete solution for them: it's to simply stop doing anything more. You are not a failure if the end result of your attempt to help someone with their homework does not end with him having a correct answer on his homework sheet.

I would furthermore downvote and close if it's clear the question is not about the person wanting to know the answer, but merely about wanting to have the answer.

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    $\begingroup$ Homework is a red herring here (as it is in many, many meta.MSE conversations). The actual principle in the second sentence is you are not a failure if the poster of a question is unsatisfied. The question did not mention homework, and my personal experience with insistent OPs has been almost entirely from non-homework "high effort" posters. $\endgroup$
    – zyx
    Jun 4, 2014 at 18:06

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