I don't know why, but it seems that there has been a spate of poorly asked questions as of late--many of which seem to be directly lifted from homework. Here are a bunch of examples. These are generally questions that, I think, could make fine questions, but as asked they are rather unhelpful to people who might want to answer.

Am I wrong, or is this a new trend? Is there a better way to deal with this influx of sub-optimal questions? So far the response has generally been to ask the OP to clarify their intentions. Should we be more aggressive and close them?

Edit: In view of Jeff Atwood's and Alex Bartel's responses, I've gone ahead and closed a bunch of them.

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    $\begingroup$ It wouldn't surprise me if this is related to the phase of the academic year. For example perhaps math.stackexchange.com/questions/30965/… is a more difficult assignment than previous ones. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 5, 2011 at 12:50
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    $\begingroup$ After scanning the faq on the main site, I didn't seem to notice any explicit guidelines for homework questions or textbook exercises. I'm aware this has been discussed on meta before, but perhaps there should be some mention of the appropriate way to ask such questions. I would imagine it would be a statement of the problem, an indication of where you got stuck, and demonstration that you've put some effort into thinking about this problem. Also, it seems the current reasons to close questions don't adequately address this trend, so we may want to add something there. $\endgroup$
    – WWright
    Commented Apr 5, 2011 at 19:11
  • $\begingroup$ @WWright: I think Willie was going to put this in the FAQ once it was agreed upon. I'm not aware that we can change the reasons for closing questions (that's an SE-wide thing). $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 6, 2011 at 0:52
  • $\begingroup$ @WWright: done. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 9, 2011 at 18:55

2 Answers 2


I wouldn't even say that closing is that aggressive. The posters can always reword the questions and the community can reopen them.

If people come here to learn, then one thing they should learn is to formulate clear and focused questions. That may be more important than any answer they may receive to any particular question. I think that closing questions and effectively saying "we will not answer it, until you have put some effort into posing it" is a good method to force them to spend time on their questions. If we don't do that, then somebody will invariably come along and answer even the worst questions, and there will be no motivation for the posters to improve.

I agree with Jeff that at the general level of this site, it is important for the answerers to enjoy the activity. If the front page is populated by terrible questions, then firstly the answerers will lose interest, and secondly it will be harder for the good questions to get noticed.

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    $\begingroup$ Hear hear! (some more characters to fill the void in the comment's life.) $\endgroup$
    – Asaf Karagila Mod
    Commented Apr 5, 2011 at 7:19

I certainly defer to the others here who are mathematicians -- but our general philosophy is to heavily favor answerers.

We feel that the world is awash in questions, but not answers. Answers are the real unit of work in any Q&A system. Therefore, the only logical thing to do is to maximize the happiness and enjoyment of answerers.

If this means aggressively closing unworthy or uninteresting questions, so be it. Without a community of people willing to answer questions, it really doesn't matter if there are questions at all, does it?


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