I just saw this thread: https://math.stackexchange.com/questions/970464/parallel-tangents-and-curves and there were discussions in it on whether or not it was appropriate to downvote an answer which was fully worked out for a questioner who seemed to do no more than post a homework question without thought/etc.

I'm new here and don't have a horse in this game, but I'm curious: A: Should we in general discourage giving full answers to these questions which appear to be cut/pasted homework with no indication as to what the author has tried?

and if so, B: Is downvoting said answers an acceptable form of said discouragement? The instruction page on downvoting doesn't seem to indicate this as an acceptable use


3 Answers 3


Answers that contribute to the decay of the site into a pool of copy-pasted homework are not useful. At least this is my opinion, which is what guides my votes.

That said, I prefer to go after the question itself: if it is closed and deleted, the answer will be deleted too, which, at least to some users, is discouraging. But if you don't have the privilege to close, downvoting both parts of the undesired Q&A is the way to go.

  • 17
    $\begingroup$ Whether the answer to a copied-and-pasted homework problem is useful to the site as a whole obviously depends on the answer, not the question. I consider your approach potentially damaging to the site, as it can result in the loss of good answers. $\endgroup$ Oct 22, 2014 at 6:32
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ But the question is whether this "approach" is actually damaging to the site, or exactly the opposite? $\endgroup$
    – Did
    Nov 10, 2014 at 2:42

The problem is that you often don't know why you are being downvoted. I answered a homework problem with a hint and received a few downvotes, while someone else answered with a highly detailed but incorrect answer and they were upvoted.

  • 7
    $\begingroup$ This is one of the main reasons I don’t downvote on the main site: I consider comments vastly more useful, both to the writer and to later readers. $\endgroup$ Oct 21, 2014 at 2:53
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ You were a bit unlucky. Answering with a hint is IMHO the way to go, when the question is simple (in its context), but it does require a bit of experience. A good hint should (at least ideally) be convincing - so that everybody who "gets" the hint will see a route to the destination. May be your hint failed to convince the people who read it in this regard? As you see from the other answer the question was anything but plain sailing even given your hint (I haven't checked the accepted answer, so...). For the record: I did not downvote your answer. I usually don't spend much time in that tag. $\endgroup$ Oct 21, 2014 at 10:39
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @Jyrki I agree with you regarding hints, but I get the impression that there are a certain number of people around who disapprove of hints and will downvote them regardless of whether or not they are helpful. $\endgroup$
    – David
    Oct 24, 2014 at 1:25
  • $\begingroup$ I would like to double or triple Brian M.'s upvote $\endgroup$
    – nickalh
    Oct 25, 2014 at 15:43
  • $\begingroup$ "... I consider comments vastly more useful, both to the writer and to later readers." I think voting to close a question simply because it appears to be a homework question without two or three sentences of specific improvement requests is rude. I personally would much rather we encourage & invite the asker to show some effort & thought, because students learn far more by discovery. However, site guidelines discourage asking poster too many questions. $\endgroup$
    – nickalh
    Oct 25, 2014 at 15:52

If you wish to downvote an answer because you think it is giving away an answer to homework, then I think it is grossly impolite not to leave a comment explaining your action. The person answering the question could be someone who is not a professional mathematics educator, who happens to take an interest in the question, who is well-qualified to help with an answer, and who has no reason to suspect that the question is homework. I don't think MSE should be discouraging such contributors.

  • 5
    $\begingroup$ Supplementing a downvote with a "and this is why you should feel bad" message is a recipe for driving out users. This is where tense comment exchanges begin, and escalate into drama later. Anonymous downvotes are nice because they avoid getting personal. $\endgroup$
    – user147263
    Aug 26, 2015 at 3:12
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ @NormalHuman: it is possible to explain to someone why you disagree with them without making them feel bad. Anonymous downvotes are personal to the person whose work is downvoted. If that person has taken the time to contribute an answer to a question on MSE, then a downvoter should take a moment to explain his or her reasons for denigrating the other person's contribution. $\endgroup$
    – Rob Arthan
    Aug 28, 2015 at 22:44

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .