I am confused. Admittedly this is an interesting question, but why does this get a few up votes for no attempt from the OP to solve the question, whilst others gets down votes? It doesn't seem consistent? Or am I being too harsh in this scenario?

Also, I do know that this is just one case but I have seen others as well in my time on MSE.

Thanks for your time.

Ps I can't seem to get an appropriate tag for this question, so if the discussion tag is insufficient or just plain wrong then edit accordingly.

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    $\begingroup$ Depends on many things. If the question is interesting enough, users may be willing to overlook its perceived flaws. Also, different users read (and vote on) different questions. $\endgroup$ – user147263 Aug 10 '14 at 21:15
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    $\begingroup$ @900 cheers for the tag edit. I know that it depends on the interpretation of other readers but I also feel that a question should show some attempt, after all if I had an interesting question I would attempt first and then post if I can't figure it out. It just smacks of laziness. So I guess it's a real none question of mine, I just want to have coherent stance on such matters as other future posters might think this is ok? $\endgroup$ – Chinny84 Aug 10 '14 at 21:20
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    $\begingroup$ The vast majority of the "no attempt" problems are problems that are supposed to be within reach of the asker, and don't offer any indication of what the asker's real problem is. For example, a typical related rates problem could really be anything from "How do you set up a word problem?" to "How do you differentiate implicitly?" to "How do you solve a system of equations?" or even "How do I manage working through a problem that has so many different parts?", and the answers rarely address such things and are often just solutions that can be handed in without offering any insight..... $\endgroup$ – user14972 Aug 10 '14 at 21:57
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    $\begingroup$ ... The problem you linked to, however, is a pretty tricky thing. It's not something I would necessarily expect someone to be able to solve, even if they had a good grasp of enough of the mathematical tools needed to do so, without having seen a proof sketch of a similar problem. $\endgroup$ – user14972 Aug 10 '14 at 22:00
  • $\begingroup$ @Hurkyl fair enough. I understand that my original question is conditional on the OP level of tools, and for an interesting question maybe the rules can be bent (as pointed by 900 sit-ups). I do however, disagree that the OP can not have at least a slight inclination to solve the problem? as most problems I have come across have not been entirely independent of what I have been working on (except when trying to answer on here). I just find no effort on questions a tad off putting (though I have in the past done the complete opposite in the past in answering no effort posts) $\endgroup$ – Chinny84 Aug 10 '14 at 22:06
  • $\begingroup$ I think the problem is when I downvote an obvious homework question without any effort, and at the same time saying that he/she doesn't have an interesting question to warrant a upvote or just no vote, does not feel right. But as been outlined, we should use our judgement. I think we should just leave it at that and I will let others vote one way or the other. $\endgroup$ – Chinny84 Aug 10 '14 at 22:10
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    $\begingroup$ There has been, in my opinion, unfortunately little discussion on the finer details like how to appropriately handle questions like the one linked. It tends to quickly become polarized and the finer details lost. I hope the meta can have a productive discussion on this one (and more in the future!) so as to converge to good guidelines. $\endgroup$ – user14972 Aug 10 '14 at 22:22
  • $\begingroup$ good question -- this really should have been downvoted and closed. I confess to being hypocritical and not voting to close this one and answering instead because I thought it was interesting. On the other hand I very often vote to close other less interesting problems that show no effort. To be fair the questions I vote to close are typically the usual"do my homework" suspects questions that look like they have been pulled out of an exercise book and poorly typed at that. Subsequently there were some nice edits to the question that perhaps justified the answers. $\endgroup$ – TooTone Aug 12 '14 at 0:31
  • $\begingroup$ @tootone don't feel too bad, as I myself have answered many a blatant non interesting homework question. But as I am slowly gaining my rep, I want to help make MSE better rather than just chase rep. So I start thinking about the questions like I posed here. I think the issue is, rightly or wrongly, interesting questions will attract answers because it is quite a high kudos to do so, whilst non interesting ones are closed or told "please show some effort". $\endgroup$ – Chinny84 Aug 12 '14 at 5:35
  • $\begingroup$ The thing is, people often get some benefits from upvoting such lazy but interesting questions - the questions become more popular, thus allowing for more interesting insights the community may have. $\endgroup$ – user26486 Aug 20 '14 at 20:56

This just came up again: "homework is not acceptable if the asker has made no effort whatsoever". I'm developing a bit of an involuntary twitch that manifests itself when I encounter the word "effort"...

From Should Stack Overflow (and Stack Exchange in general) be awarding "A"s for Effort?; well worth reading (especially the answers; somewhat unusually, Shog9 answers own question, arguing with himself.).

Math gets mentioned, by the way:

And just as there are annoying, time-wasting teachers who demand to see long division next to the solutions to algebra problems, there are annoying people who demand to see "what you've tried" for questions where the only sane answer is "nothing, because I don't know what to try - that's why I'm asking!"

Then there's the answer by Gilles, which highlights the same dilemma as in the OP of this thread:

I often face the duality of the question score. If a lazy, badly written, poorly researched original post leads to a great answer, the question should be improved. We should downvote the asker but upvote the thread. Does that mean we should downvote or upvote the question?

Much more could be said, but I'll emphasize the part the question should be improved. I proceed on assumptions that

  • the author of question knows they can edit it too (given that someone else can)
  • the author prefers edit to closure

Hence, my edit to the question in question.

  • $\begingroup$ You should put some effort to counter that involuntary twitch upon reading the word "effort". $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Aug 10 '14 at 23:54
  • $\begingroup$ Thank you once again for providing me with a great answer. Those links were interesting read, and your right also answer my question. I think I may start to see the benefit of up voting a minimal question. Just maybe! $\endgroup$ – Chinny84 Aug 11 '14 at 6:21
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    $\begingroup$ Also, great stuff on the edit of the original question. $\endgroup$ – Chinny84 Aug 11 '14 at 6:27
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    $\begingroup$ The question should be improved - but it should be improved by the OP. The goal of this site is to answer actual questions that people have; having a record of past questions and answers is secondary. I don't believe we should edit questions by others based on our opinion of what the person "should" ask. $\endgroup$ – Carl Mummert Aug 14 '14 at 20:08
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    $\begingroup$ @Carl Mummert I can imagine many things that should happen, but are not going to. The author of an already-answered question has no incentive to improve it. I also happen to consider the goal you labeled "secondary" as primary, so there's that. $\endgroup$ – user147263 Aug 14 '14 at 20:12
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    $\begingroup$ I agree there is little incentive for the OP to improve questions after they are answered, which is why I try to avoid answering them, and instead vote to close. The main point of closing questions, as far as I an see, is to prevent people from answering them before they are improved. I would also strongly consider rolling back major edits (e.g. changing the content, not just minor changes) by people other than the OP, if I saw the edits close to when they occurred. I do not see it as our job to put words in the mouth of the OP. $\endgroup$ – Carl Mummert Aug 14 '14 at 20:15
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    $\begingroup$ @Carl Mummert A major premise of Stack Exchange model is that content is collaboratively edited, much like Wikipedia. This is why there is revision history, and the username of editor is shown on the same line as the name of original poster. Telling users to write better questions without showing them how is not working very well, as any sample of recent questions demonstrates. Which is why I concur with Shog9. $\endgroup$ – user147263 Aug 14 '14 at 20:33
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    $\begingroup$ Collaborative editing has always been less of a part of this site, though, probably because we brought a lot from mathoverflow. In particular, posts on meta.stackovetflow are often out of touch with the norms here. Perhaps more editing goes on at stack overflow, but that's a different community. I do agree we need to help new users learn how to ask better questions, of course! But we can do that in comments. $\endgroup$ – Carl Mummert Aug 14 '14 at 23:32
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    $\begingroup$ It's also worth remembering why the "no context" reason was added. Many users seem to feel that simply answering homework problems is inappropriate, when the student is just using the site for free answers. The difficulty, of course, is that identifying homework is impossible. So we have a different threshold: questions lacking context can be closed under that criterion regardless whether they are homework - we don't have to know - while homework problems that are written as sufficiently good questions don't fit the criterion. Improving certain bad questions ignores this underlying goal. $\endgroup$ – Carl Mummert Aug 14 '14 at 23:43
  • $\begingroup$ @CarlMummert What do you mean by "we brought a lot from mathoverflow"? $\endgroup$ – Bill Dubuque Aug 23 '14 at 2:22

A different perspective from a very casual user:

Why do I personally look at this site occasionally? Because I like seeing interesting problems/questions. Do I care if the original poster put effort or not into the question? Nope. All I care about is, "Is the problem interesting?" If it is interesting, then I can either try to solve it, or read other's solutions to the problem.

All this hand wringing about "did the OP put any effort into the question?" to me is beside the point. I don't care, all I want to see is interesting questions. People who put no effort into their questions invariably have extremely low rep. Those that do, or who fix up the questions invariably appear to have high rep. So, the Rep system (from my perspective) is handling this issue just fine.

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    $\begingroup$ There is a lot of crap you do not see because people get their questions closed, don't learn or head warnings, and get autobanned. With these folks still around, finding interesting questions would be much harder. $\endgroup$ – Michael Greinecker Aug 22 '14 at 18:42
  • $\begingroup$ Exactly! The emphasis in your answer, and mine on this thread is on the quality of the question. The amount of effort the questioner put in to answer the questions is likely correlated to the quality of the question, but the important metric isn't "effort" but "quality/interesting." $\endgroup$ – John Aug 22 '14 at 18:54

I disagree with the other answer. As I see it, there are two schools of MSE-closures. There is the "we think this site should have only perfect questions and perfect answers" school, and there is the "we don't want to become a homework-solutions-for-free website" school.

Quite clearly, this question falls foul of both schools of thought - it is poorly posed, and it is a picture-perfect example of a "Problem Statement Question", and the "Off Topic/context" close reason was introduced for this type of question.

Therefore, I do not think that this question should have been edited and re-opened as it was done. This simply means that we can be smug about having a nice website, and the OP can be smug about getting full marks in their take-home test. So we are smug, but irresponsible. I believe the proper solution should have been to compromise:

Put the question "On Hold" for a week or two and only then, if the OP has not edited, edit to improve.

This gives the OP an opportunity to edit the question themselves, and otherwise give the deadline for the hypothetical test time to pass. And we still end up with a nice question.

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    $\begingroup$ At the time of my edit, the question already had four answers. What's the point of locking a stable after the horse is gone? What incentive would the OP have to edit it? Closing does not interfere with reading existing answers and using them on the test/homework. $\endgroup$ – user147263 Aug 11 '14 at 16:22
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    $\begingroup$ But you of all people are sensitive to perceptions! That is one of your stated reasons for your crusade - so that visitors will see the wheat and not the chaff. The OP here will leave with an odd perception: that we say "show your effort", but if lots of people answer first then we don't actually care. $\endgroup$ – user1729 Aug 11 '14 at 18:42
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    $\begingroup$ OP's experience affects one user's perception. Outward appearance of the question affects the perception of many; all those who see the question. Also, you may have noticed I added a comment for the OP at the same time I edited, pointing to the advice on asking good questions. I believe that advice is more effective when it's accompanied by action demonstrating it. $\endgroup$ – user147263 Aug 11 '14 at 19:16
  • $\begingroup$ I personally see both view points. I have also personally answered a question which was blatantly an online homework assignment (he kept commenting that the solution was incorrect with the answer blah blah blah) and I feel that it is an abuse of MSE, so questions that are clearly homework should be disregarded .. But then how do we in an unbiased manner decided what is hw? Is this a question that has already been debated on meta? $\endgroup$ – Chinny84 Aug 11 '14 at 22:45
  • $\begingroup$ @Chinny84 Yeah... meta.math.stackexchange.com/questions/tagged/homework $\endgroup$ – user147263 Aug 12 '14 at 0:14
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    $\begingroup$ Almost forgot to quote Shog9... "The history of the Internet is littered with the corpses of communities that thought they could demand compliance from new members without showing them how. Editing is hands-on education for those willing to learn and a means of salvaging the efforts of those answering even when the asker never learns anything." $\endgroup$ – user147263 Aug 12 '14 at 3:07

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