I'm relatively new to this site, but I've noticed a disturbing trend during my time here: many of the questions are simply copy / pasted or even scanned and show little to no effort on the part of the asker. Personally, I downvote such questions and move on, but it is frustrating to have to sift through the deluge of copy / pasted homework questions to try to find honest questions that are actually worth answering. Moreover, copy / pasted homework questions are often actually answered, which encourages people to post more and allows them to use Math.SE as a sort of homework answering service. I have been enjoying Math.SE as a place to ask and answer stimulating questions, and having these hidden among many very low-quality questions makes it less enjoyable.

Just to be clear, I have no problem with elementary questions, provided that they are asked out of honest interest rather than an attempt to outsource one's homework. This post is about copy / paste questions that show little to no effort on the asker's part.

What are others' thoughts on this? What can be done to reduce the number of such low-value questions?

There have been some related questions:

[1] Closing copy-pasted questions

[2] homework questions, again

[3] Question about PSQ and answering them (found by someone else)

All of these are at least a year old and since this is an issue that naturally evolves over time I believe a new discussion is warranted.

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    That's fine, but most questions get answered very quickly so the asker still gets their homework solved even if it's closed later. This in turn encourages more copy / paste questions. – Qudit Mar 14 '15 at 16:46
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    This is, indeed, a problem. There are two ways regular users can fight this: A) voting to close and delete those threads, B) downvoting those questions and their answers. Neither are ideal, as the whining caused by their applications can be heard all over the site. Method B) would need several users to join forces to be an effective deterrent. Method A) is making some headway, but you need to gain a little bit more reputation to join in the battle. For the time being you can simply flag such questions/answers for low quality. – Jyrki Lahtonen Mar 14 '15 at 17:25
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    Correct, Qudit. Unfortunately the idea of entirely banning questions that only want a solution to a homework problem has not won enough support among the users. Therefore I, as a moderator, cannot instadelete them. This has to be a community action, and those take time. Keep on fighting. If you haven't already, check out the reopen-undelete-close-delete chat room. They can give you pointers about how the processes work. Remember to also discuss what not to delete. IMHO some closing criteria are also overused. – Jyrki Lahtonen Mar 14 '15 at 17:48
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    What is a "low value" question? Almost every question poses an opportunity to teach. The question is old news. Please search meta before posting questions. – Bill Dubuque Mar 14 '15 at 21:11
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    @BillDubuque I did and I included some links in my post. – Qudit Mar 14 '15 at 21:15
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    @BillDubuque The point is to try to create discussion so that the quality of the site can be improved. – Qudit Mar 14 '15 at 21:18
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    @BillDubuque Those threads are relatively old. Views change over time and the established users who commented in this thread (other than you) seem to agree that the deluge of copy/paste homework questions is a problem. – Qudit Mar 14 '15 at 23:32
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    @Bill Dubuque: it is certainly true that a few of the "most prolific contributors" have low quality standards - but this is why it isn't surprising that they are the "most prolific contributors". Of course someone who is willing to answer many poorly-worded questions will gain more points than someone who shows more self-control. – Carl Mummert Mar 15 '15 at 12:15
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    @Bill Dubuque: I think that we should all be careful in trying to assess our own biases. I do think, beyond a certain point, reputation is trivial to earn, and so one cannot use "very high reputation" to measure any sort of real accomplishment apart from time spent farming reputation. Unfortunately, many hastily-composed PSQ posts are ideal cannon fodder for reputation farming (there are a lot of parallels with rep farming in RPG games, actually). – Carl Mummert Mar 15 '15 at 23:24
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    @BillDubuque my understanding is that Carl used the points as a proxy for prolificness, which you brought up. It is also trivial to be more prolific. A certain form of prolificness, however, does not add much anything of value (at least in my opinion). In that sense I do not understand why you bring up "prolific." – quid Mar 16 '15 at 11:42
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    @BillDubuque to me "prolific" seems to put the focus on quantity. If you want to express something else, please, be more specific. – quid Mar 16 '15 at 13:45
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    @BillDubuque I am not a native English speaker, and neither are a lot of users of this website. The only dictionary (out of the seven I checked) that has the meaning you intend for "prolific" is Merriam-Webster, which has "marked by abundant inventiveness or productivity" for the third definition. You can clearly see that the primary meaning focuses on quantity and nothing else. If you are going to use a word with a very specific meaning, different from what the word means in the overwhelming majority of cases, please reconsider. Some people could find that misleading. Just get to the point. – Najib Idrissi Mar 16 '15 at 20:07
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    @BillDubuque I'm not discussing the English language, I'm asking you to stop misleading people / communicating poorly and then acting surprised when people misinterpret what you write. I'm also asking you to please be mindful of the diverse audience of your comments. (Seven was not an arbitrary number, I literally googled "define prolific" and clicked on the first seven links.) If you wish I can open a meta thread: "Should users communicate as clearly as possible to accomodate nonnative English speakers on this website?" – Najib Idrissi Mar 16 '15 at 20:30
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    @James S. Cook: Allowing students to lazily outsource their homework does not actually help them. What they should do instead is ask questions about something that they don't understand in the method, i.e. try to learn the concepts required to do the homework, and then go and do their own homework for their own good. In a carefully written question, it shouldn't even be necessary to include the full exercise as an example, if at all. – James Haigh Mar 19 '15 at 2:28
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    @MattSamuel I think OP makes it clear where the objection comes from: having very low-quality questions makes the site less enjoyable. Personally, I don't care how students get their homework done, but I do want to keep garbage off Stack Exchange. – user147263 Mar 22 '15 at 20:48
up vote 21 down vote accepted

I agree that not enough is being done to control the flood of low quality questions.

One problem is that users don't downvote enough. Your 152 downvotes already put you in top 200 downvoters all-time. Only 50 users have cast 500 downvotes or more -- on the site with about 600 questions arriving daily. As a side illustration, here is the distribution of downvotes among these 50 users:

downvotes

Downvotes (and closevotes) feed automatic systems that can ask users to wait a day or more before asking another question or even ban then from asking. They do work, but they need more input in the form of votes.

Meanwhile, Stack Exchange is working on a new way to handle questions: triage queue. So far it is active only on Stack Overflow, but may be expanded to other SE sites when it's fully operational. One of its ideas is that incoming questions are reviewed before being made publicly visible. The worst of the questions will proceed into Close queue without appearing on the site and therefore without getting answers. The system isn't yet fully implemented even on Stack Overflow, but it shows promise; I participate in triage over there and like the way it works.

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    I don't believe downvoting is really an option. We get new users every day. And also, many people forget to write down why exactly the person is downvoted so that the user is confused and starts thinking that he wrote a bad question. – Pedro Mar 14 '15 at 21:01
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    You assume people are intrinsticly bad, I don't believe that. We don't need to punish them, but guide them in stead, as I propose in my answer and my comment above. – Pedro Mar 14 '15 at 21:03
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    @Pedro I'm sure most of the people outsourcing their homework to Math.SE already know that it would be considered cheating by their professors. – Qudit Mar 14 '15 at 21:08
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    @Qudit Not necessarily true. Some professors encourage their students to use Math.SE. – Bill Dubuque Mar 14 '15 at 21:19
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    @BillDubuque I doubt they encourage them to just paste the questions here and copy the answers. You seem to be arguing against something quite different than what I'm talking about. – Qudit Mar 14 '15 at 21:20
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    @Qudit I didn't argue against anything. Rather, I pointed out some views on teaching that you might not have been aware of. Please keep in mind that this is an extremely diverse community, and the diversity also holds true for viewpoints on teaching. – Bill Dubuque Mar 14 '15 at 21:23
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    Please define "low quality question" – Bill Dubuque Mar 14 '15 at 21:33
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    @Qudit given how many posters here have difficulty doing this copying correctly it might even by a reasonable exercise for some. ;D – quid Mar 14 '15 at 23:53
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    @Pedro "starts thinking that he wrote a bad question": What do you think the downvote means? Downvoting a question isn't a judgment on the person and everything s/he accomplished in her life and their value as a human being, it's simply a judgment on the question they wrote here according to a set of criteria. And sometimes questions don't meet these standards. Let me also add that if low-quality questions were consistently downvoted and closed (before they are answered), users would be less confused and less prone to asking bad questions, because they would only see good questions... – Najib Idrissi Mar 15 '15 at 9:04
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    People often don't know why they get downvoted. I once got downvoted when I was new without knowing why. I thought I wrote a bad question (too trivial) but this was actually not the case. I didn't know I needed to show the work I had already done on the website, because I assumed that most people here would like to answer questions to earn points. A similar person that made this assumption can be found here. – Pedro Mar 15 '15 at 13:38
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    math.stackexchange fails to make clear to new people why they are writing bad questions, and thinks that there exist only 1 type of people, those who really want to abuse the system and use it as a cheap homework service, such that they don't need to do anything. Do you really think most people are like that? Of course there are people, but all? We just need to be hard for those that really don't want to collaborate, but we fail to make things clear for those people who actually want to colaborate. The problem is we, not them. We need to look at our own, in stead of cheaply blaming others. – Pedro Mar 15 '15 at 13:41
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    @Pedro Let's try to make it clear... – user147263 Mar 16 '15 at 14:49
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    @Bill: People also give up when so many questions are wrongly reopened and undeleted that there is little distinction from being a mathematical outsourcing service. – Hurkyl Mar 22 '15 at 23:41
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    ... and if I could have found all of these "opportunities to teach" amongst the trash, I probably would have longer tolerated the campaign to keep the trash around. – Hurkyl Mar 23 '15 at 0:08
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    @Mark: 40 votes is not many considering the volume of the site and number of questions coming in daily, and downvotes are overall too rarely used, so if one spends some time reviewing low quality content, it can be easy and useful to use all votes as downvotes. True, very few do so exclusively, but there are plenty who exclusively upvote. – Jonas Meyer Mar 24 '15 at 14:54

(Disclaimer: this post is cynical and by a poster who is currently not participating in MSE.)

Inertia.

The way the internet works, the all-inclusive viewpoint never had to convince anyone that it was a good idea, or even to get anything near a majority of opinionated people behind it -- all it had to do was to obstruct attempts at pruning MSE until the people who cared got exhausted and gave up trying to make MSE better or quit entirely.

And boy, did they do a good job of being obstructive. They even managed a successful PR campaign to convince the groupmind that "undecided" is synonymous with "all-inclusive", thus paralyzing the people who cared into inaction until a mythical unanimity occurred, which of course can never happen without the consent of everyone promoting the all-inclusive viewpoint.

And the way the stackexchange network is set up, the people who are willing participants in the activities that would otherwise have been pruned away gain reputation, which is a proxy for authority, which means the help vampire problem is even more insidious than in the typical internet community.

I am a once prolific contributor that has quit MSE due to my belief that the situation has become hopeless, and I am not the only one who has done so. While there is certainly a lot more pruning going on today than there once was, the problem is just too big.

The triage queue mentioned in the other answer is very intriguing, though. Moderating what can even be posted to MSE (rather than after the fact) is a change which is drastic enough to be susceptible to actually achieve something. I really hope it is both effective, and not rendered useless to rubber stamp approvals.

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    I think that the important point in this entire ongoing war over "the spirit of the site" is that on both sides we have users who put a great deal of hours, and argue their argument because of their passion to the site. It is an unfortunate truth that whatever decision is made (even temporarily), or not made, some of these valuable contributors will leave angrily. It's a sad sad part of life. But that's just how it is. (But regardless, I'm still happy to see your user name on meta.) – Asaf Karagila Mar 15 '15 at 20:40
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    @Asaf Karagila: “some of these valuable contributors will leave angrily.” – You say that like we users are a commodity. I'm starting to realise that I'm trapped in a content factory. Are we not allowed to leave? I'm starting to wonder how one actually quits the addiction after being on Stack Exchange for so long. – James Haigh Mar 19 '15 at 1:22
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    Clearly Stack Exchange will want to have its cake and eat it; they'll want to keep the users on both sides of the fence of the ‘spirit of the site’ war – more users, more money. As a user who puts hours of thought into my posts (not just on SE Mathematics), seeing low-effort homework questions or answers get upvoted while some of my questions that I've put several hours into, each, have been heavily downvoted, closed, or deleted – I want out! – James Haigh Mar 19 '15 at 1:43
  • @James: If you were following this meta site closely the past couple of years, you would have seen many arguments I favor and against each side which can be summed up as "That user left just because blablabla". My comment was aimed at the people who have wasted many an hour on these arguments here. Clearly, you're not one of them. – Asaf Karagila Mar 19 '15 at 6:13
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    @Asaf Karagila: I'm sorry for being emotional in those last 2 comments. It's just that I'm finding unconstructive criticism on Stack Exchange sites (particularly Server Fault) rather distressing at the moment, and then I saw this question in the ‘Hot Meta Posts’ box. Seeing low-effort questions being favoured over questions and answers that I put hours of effort into is bewildering and somewhat agitating, like rubbing salt in the wounds. I'm really not sure what to do. – James Haigh Mar 19 '15 at 6:38
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    @JamesHaigh Seeing low-effort questions being favoured over questions and answers that I put hours of effort into is bewildering and somewhat agitating, like rubbing salt in the wounds. Sure it is a little distressing that good stuff could get lost in a pile of inferior stuff, but surely the mere existence of inferior stuff should not bother you too much. If it does, then I'm afraid the Internet is not for you :) Take pride in answers you worked hard on and don't Fret about relative attention gotten! – rschwieb Mar 20 '15 at 10:42
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    @JamesHaigh I have to say that I'm a little annoyed, ashamed an disappointed that my most upvoted answer (82 points!) is an answer to some dumb puzzle, whereas some answers that I spent a lot of time writing hardly received any attention. But such is life, and in the end I don't think it's healthy to answer these questions just for the validation it gives... – Najib Idrissi Mar 20 '15 at 12:51
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    @rschwieb: Some corners of the internet do a better job than others of filtering out the inferior stuff. – Hurkyl Mar 20 '15 at 19:34

People have been trying to find shortcuts to doing homework since time immemorial. That students who are too lazy to actually think would post their homework here is the least surprising fact on earth. As noted here, there are perverse incentives via the rep/gamification system to answer such questions. Some of the more clever of the lazy students are doubtless aware of this.

My point is, unless there are fundamental changes to the way SE works, nothing we do is going to stem the tide of such questions appearing at the site. We have tools at our disposal, as noted here, such as closing for lack of context. But we are able to dispose of only the most egregious of offenders mainly because of some of our eager answerers.

Although I make efforts to evaluate each question on its merits before answering, I honestly could care less whether @user8675309 is stymying his or her education. As I have said many times before, I am here for my own enjoyment. I am not a tutor: that is a paying job. Thus, my efforts here go into solving problems I find fun. That means, many times, I simply don't post a solution. I solve, and if I post, I will post a bare bones walk-through insufficient for a question poster to understand without work (but sufficient for someone who knows the subject matter to get my point). Those adverse to any work are quickly exposed as the vampires they are.

I do have one thought, however: the War on Drugs. You know, where the US Gov't decided it would be a fantastic idea to combat drug addiction at home by establishing a paramilitary outfit to bomb drug suppliers into next week. No, I am not suggesting that we establish a paramilitary outfit to bomb the vampires' homes as part of a War on Rep. I am suggesting that, as we've seen happen in our War on Drugs, targeting the askers of Zero Effort Questions (ZEQs) is doomed to failure. Our efforts, rather, should be focused on the drug (rep) users.

I am going to start down voting answers to ZEQs for which hints have already been given. To counteract protests that "This answer is correct and is what the OP asked for," I will explain my actions in the comments so that the context is clear. I propose language such as "Although this answer is correct, such answers encourage the misuse of this site by people who are not interested in Mathematics. As such answers do harm to the site and the people who care about it, it is only worthy of downvotes."

Maybe rep farmers will not care, as a downvote or two will not affect the amount rep they collect from an accept and uproot from the OP. However, enough answers with negative scores will help people see where someone's rep comes from, and I assure you, that person will make the effort to reverse that by ceasing the behavior.

As we are many hundreds of humans acting independently, I doubt that such a scheme will stop much of anything. But even if used on occasion to identify the most egregious farmers, then we will have helped matters a little, without wholesale changing the site.

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    @JoelReyesNoche: No, I'm not inclined to do that, although maybe I should. ("Don't feed the animals.") That said, I wonder what possible useful hint one could provide to an OP whose post essentially says "Help!! Solve my problem!!" – Ron Gordon Mar 25 '15 at 7:53
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    While there is a place for hints, often they seem the worst of all to me, as they seem useless for everybody. In addition, the prepending of "HINT:" seems sometimes merely (ab)used to deflect criticism. – quid Mar 25 '15 at 10:24
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    -1 Downvoting fine answers simply because you disagree with the answerer's question selection criteria is an especially terrible idea. This won't have any effect on those answerers (except wrongly denigrating their correct answers so possibly misleading students about its correctness). – Bill Dubuque Mar 25 '15 at 17:44
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    @BillDubuque: Actually, I agree with you. But that's not what I said. Rather, I said, "I am going to start down voting answers to ZEQs for which hints have already been given" (emphasis mine). This is the opposite of a terrible idea. I am going to downvote what many people here feel is egregious behavior. Further, in case anyone may get confused, I will explain precisely what I am doing in the comments. Nobody who bothers to look should be misled. – Ron Gordon Mar 26 '15 at 1:17
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    @Ron Still a terrible idea (except possibly if the OP asked only for hints). Votes on answers should not be correlated in any way to perceived deficiencies in the question. Please allow folks to teach as they like. This is a very diverse site, with consequent diversity in teaching styles. – Bill Dubuque Mar 26 '15 at 1:23
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    @Bill: The tooltip says that answers should be voted down if they are not useful. I can very easily see how one might get the idea that supporting and encouraging the practice of posting deficient questions is not useful. – Hurkyl Mar 26 '15 at 4:35
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    @Bill: The more one sort of question drowns out the rest, the less diverse MSE becomes. – Hurkyl Mar 26 '15 at 4:42
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    @Bill: Also, it would be nice if folks like me were allowed to teach how they like. Alas, all of the deficient questions prevent me from doing so -- and even if I decide to try and teach to those, other people like to teach in a way that prevents me from doing so. – Hurkyl Mar 26 '15 at 4:45
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    @BillDubuque: I would love to agree with that attitude. I have argued that we need ZEQs to some degree because they generate the traffic the site needs to demonstrate growth, etc. But many ZEQs do collectively harm the reputation of Math.SE so long as we are seen as an easy place to get homework/test questions done for you. Thus, the measure I have described is one I feel will help the site overall. I do not intend to just start down voting indiscriminately (see my ratio of down to upvotes, it is small). <con'td> – Ron Gordon Mar 26 '15 at 4:52
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    But I do intend to put people on notice that gaining rep off the backs of people who have carefully calibrated their answers so as to help without suborning cheating, etc., is not a good thing. If enough people do this, it will discourage established users from these sorts of rep-farming activities that harm all of us. I wouldn't say this unless I have observed this. – Ron Gordon Mar 26 '15 at 4:54
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    @BillDubuque: I totally understand. Some of my favorite answers have come from what are considered ZEQs/PSQs. But the ones I have chosen to answer, to me, were clearly not homework. They were just from people who liked to pose hard problems and watch the fireworks. I love being part of that! But I also believe in the power of a good hint after I have worked out the problem in full. I find it extremely annoying when an OP is so lost he just poses a clear HW question - or just asks for a hint - and then some putz answers the whole thing due to some insecurity. <cont'd> – Ron Gordon Mar 26 '15 at 4:59
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    So if someone kills a really nice hint by posting a full result, that hurts others. We don't have to sit and take it. We have a downvote, and it is entirely valid here. Actually, I can theoretically downvote an answer for whatever reason I want, just as long as it is the answer I am down voting and not the answerer. I am saying that I will downvote and make it plain why I am down voting. I feel I am helping the site by doing this - you feel otherwise. We'll see. – Ron Gordon Mar 26 '15 at 5:02
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    @Ron It's not always so clear cut what type of answer is best. I don't think it is fair to ask others to refrain from posting more elaborate answers, esp. if they think the hint is poor, or misleading. One of my pet peeves is users who post guesses as "hints" - many of which lead absolutely nowhere (alas, I've debunked far too many of those). Of course we all make mistakes now and then, but some users do this habitually (usually on topics at the boundaries of their knowledge). – Bill Dubuque Mar 26 '15 at 5:09
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    @BillDubuque: Again, I could not agree more. I have railed against so-called "hints" in a question dedicated to the problem here: meta.math.stackexchange.com/questions/9229/… I personally do not post anything unless I have worked things out in full. (A few of my earliest answers were premature by my standards now.) Period. I will challenge someone who clearly has not thought out their verbiage via comments and downvote. At least one user I know (who has been suspended for a year) has repeatedly posted useless hints. – Ron Gordon Mar 26 '15 at 5:36
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    But some hints are really well thought-out and in fact read better than full answers. (One of my top scoring answers is in fact a hint. More or less.) I dislike seeing their effectiveness compromised by an ill-considered full answer. – Ron Gordon Mar 26 '15 at 5:39

Is it possible to show some bar with additional information to new posters that if it considers an exercise/homework question, it is necessary to provide enough context (e.g. where have you found the problem, why do you want to know the answer to the problem) and show the effort they have already done (which techniques do they think are needed, what have they already tried)? And show this information in a colorful banner, and they need to add a check mark to show that they have read this. And also write that the question will not be answered and downvoted or closed otherwise.

I guess most new users just don't know they are doing anything wrong and they suggest that we know all their answers within a milisecond of time, and as such don't need to show their effort.

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    Please explain why you disagree when you downvote. – Pedro Mar 14 '15 at 21:01
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    Why is my opinion down voted so hardly? I really believe making things clear will prevent people for posting questions with a lack of effort. – Pedro Mar 14 '15 at 21:12
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    It won't. The really bad questions don't come from people with a desire to learn and understand. – Mark Fantini Mar 15 '15 at 15:03
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    Still this does not solve the problem for those who get downvoted but have a desire to learn. I understand the type of questions you are talking about, but this are maybe only a third of all questions downvoted. For these people the banner will help, because they know now that they can't just be lazy. Also know that people are not lazy or unwilling to learn by nature usually. It is unfair to think that some people can never be cured. Often those people got raised with media and friends which discouraged learning, hence their behaviour. – Pedro Mar 15 '15 at 15:08
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    @MarkFantini I ask myself kindly know if you have actually read what I wrote. We give a warning that bad questions aren't allowed. If you don't want to learn, you first need to change your attitute if you want to contribute. Otherwise you just need to stay away. Showing that we actually not appreciate and are really hard for people who do not want to learn and just want to use us as an outsource service for homework problems, will dramatically reduce the amount of bad question. – Pedro Mar 15 '15 at 15:16
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    At first sight, it is impossible to distinguish between the two. I share some of your ideals, but we need to consider seriously the hypothesis. Do you think this banner would cause the real shift in those people behaviors? Unlikely. I never said that people are unwilling to learn by nature. Unwillingness to learn is strongly correlated to how one has been educated. It can (and often does) change with time and environment you immerse yourself, but to think a banner would cause this is too idealistic. We do give warnings. Some people receive multiple warnings. They are called downvotes. – Mark Fantini Mar 15 '15 at 16:41
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    I actually believe it will. If the user needs to consciously indicate that he read what was inside the bar and will post a quality question and accepts the fact that he will be punished and get no answer if not, less people will post a bad question. My guess: only 10-15% of the people that pose bad questions will keep doing this after the update, the vast majority will not. – Pedro Mar 15 '15 at 22:51
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    If people had a willingness to read beforehand, they would probably browse the help and the site overall looking for good examples. Either way, unless your suggestion is implemented we will never know. Until a better alternative comes up, downvoting is the way to go. If you want to encourage new users with a heads-up you can comment on all the questions you think the OP may change its ways because of what you are pointing to. – Mark Fantini Mar 16 '15 at 0:03
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    I actually never read any guidelines or read any of the questions when I asked my first questions. – Pedro Mar 16 '15 at 0:06
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    Is this something to boast about? – Did Mar 16 '15 at 0:15
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    That doesn't mean you shouldn't have (when you joined), nor that new users shouldn't. Most, like you, do not read the guidelines or any questions, but they should (at least) be encouraged to do so, specially if their questions are subpar for the site. – Mark Fantini Mar 16 '15 at 0:16
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    No, I just want to show that some people don't read the guidelines before they post. I posted on stackoverflow before though (on an other account). And on stackoverflow I read a lot of questions, never read guidelines, but it was quite okay my question since I read quite a lot on stackoverflow. – Pedro Mar 16 '15 at 0:17
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    @Mark: In point of fact some of the really bad questions do come from people who show evidence of wishing to learn and understand, because they engage productively when given a hint. – Brian M. Scott Mar 19 '15 at 6:04
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    @Brian: And I'm always curious how many of those examples would have started with a better post (and possibly leading to an exemplary question/answer pair rather than protracted discussion), if they weren't led to believe that there is no reason not to post a really bad question, or even that that's what they're "supposed" to do. (and, usually, going to extreme measures to avoid false negatives usually results in an unacceptable false positive rate -- and I see no reason to believe that doesn't apply here) – Hurkyl Mar 19 '15 at 20:03
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    @Hurkyl: I don’t really care. Besides, I think it likely that many people learn more from the questions and answers, and I’m more interested in what the OP learns than in abstract archival value. – Brian M. Scott Mar 20 '15 at 11:33

The problem is caused by the flawed educational system in the US and some other countries where students are given homework assignments that are going to be graded. That's a stupid system, because you learn better from hard problems that are not so suitable for such assignments (hard problems that even good students will struggle doing will be impossible to grade). Students will then spend a lot of time doing the assignments perfectly, it's then very tempting to post such assignments here.

The way to end this problem is to raise the problem not here, but at your own institutions. Instead of giving your students graded homework assignments, just tell your students that if they are not seriously practicing doing the suggested hard problems, they'll fail the exam and that may have rather nasty consequences. What we'll then see here are students who are stuck but who want to learn how to do the problem instead of asking us to do the work for them.

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    Ignoring the question of whether the education system is flawed or not, the fact is that it isn't going to change for the benefit of Math.SE, so Math.SE needs to cope with the current environment. – Qudit Mar 25 '15 at 4:26
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    @Qudit: So does the system, and the current environment includes numerous resources for getting any amount of help with homework. It always has done; the main effect of the internet has been to make level the playing field a bit in that respect. There is a place for graded homework — a very modest amount in routine courses like calculus, and a more substantial amount in theory courses, in which learning to write mathematics is an important part of the course — but outside sources of help aren’t a problem when it’s used properly. (And yes, I speak from experience.) – Brian M. Scott Mar 25 '15 at 4:42
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    @BrianM.Scott I think it ought to be acknowledged that some others who also speak from experience still see this differently. (In fact, I not so much, but it still should be acknowledged.) – quid Mar 25 '15 at 10:33
  • The comment thread got a bit out of hand with too many re-runs of opinions/points-of-view that had been exchanged umpteen times earlier. Deleting them, as it was becoming personal. – Jyrki Lahtonen Mar 26 '15 at 8:11

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