In this post OP was asked to derive the Catalan numbers. I am not sure how to react. As posted, there was no background. OP showed no effort. If I were asked the question and had no clue how to approach it, I would compute small values and ask OEIS, which would be a success. Once you find the term Catalan numbers you should be all set. if you haven't heard of the Catalan numbers it seems it would be very hard to find them. As OP has the formula, computing small values and doing a web search should get there as well. Should we close as homework showing no effort? My hesitation comes from feeling that this is a reasonable problem to have no clue how to attack.

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    $\begingroup$ The OP was responding in the comments, I would say that closing as a homework question showing no effort would be pre-mature. Instead perhaps offering a hint of what to try, and then seeing how the OP responds would be a good route. Then if the OP demonstrates some effort, one could then write up a more explanatory answer in the knowledge that the OP is genuinely stuck and has put some effort. Conversely, if the OP responds poorly, I would then think closure could be appropriate. If the question is a duplicate though, then it should be closed regardless. $\endgroup$
    – mrnovice
    Commented May 1, 2017 at 2:42
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    $\begingroup$ No context is no context. There are no excuses. Either show an attempt or get closed. Those are the rules of the site. I say close it. $\endgroup$
    – user64742
    Commented May 1, 2017 at 3:36
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    $\begingroup$ I certainly support the idea of getting the OP to work out small examples. That way they get a chance to demonstrate a genuine desire to learn. Working out those small cases may not be fast enough to stop the negative attention, so in such a situation I also comment (to a new user) that editing their answers into the post will usually get the problem reopened relatively fast. Of course, the history of the user may tell a story, and imply that attempts to engage this user are probably a waste of time. In that case turning the thumb down right away may be best. $\endgroup$ Commented May 1, 2017 at 4:27
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    $\begingroup$ @The, I don't know where you get the idea that those are "the rules of the site". They are the opinion of a segment of users of the site, and the source of long and heated debate. The rules allow closure for lack of context (which is not the same thing as "no attempt"), but don't require it. $\endgroup$ Commented May 1, 2017 at 4:54
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    $\begingroup$ Note that "closing as homework showing no effort" is giving the OP the chance to complete their post with some personal input, then, if they do that, to see their question swiftly reopened, to everybody's satisfaction. $\endgroup$
    – Did
    Commented May 1, 2017 at 7:00
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    $\begingroup$ @GerryMyerson no context is a flag, not a close reason, and not determined by feedback from users. It is a moderation flag and moderators choose whether or not it is lacking context. Therefore, it is a rule of the site in some fashion and must not be ignored, period. $\endgroup$
    – user64742
    Commented May 1, 2017 at 16:19
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    $\begingroup$ @TheGreatDuck You are quite simply mistaken. Users with 3000 or more reputation are able to cast votes to close questions. When they do so, they must choose from a list of reasons and off-topic due to a lack of context is one of those reasons. Like most aspects of the site, there is not complete consensus on what that means. As the answer posted by the moderator arjafi below shows, not everyone finds "effort" as important as "context". $\endgroup$ Commented May 1, 2017 at 16:26
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    $\begingroup$ @TheGreatDuck that's not quite correct. 'No context' is a (custom) close reason of the site. As with other close reasons it is also possible to flag a question for closure for this reason (intended for users that do not have the close privilege). It is not a flag to the moderators' attention. Instead it will put the question in the close review queue. There it is usually handled by other users. That said, given that it is a custom close reason I would say it carries some more wait than being just some opinion. $\endgroup$
    – quid
    Commented May 1, 2017 at 16:26
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    $\begingroup$ @TheGreatDuck The "rules" are used arbitrarily. Pre-calculus questions without context are swiftly closed, whereas similar graduate level questions without context are not closed. $\endgroup$ Commented May 7, 2017 at 22:18
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    $\begingroup$ @MathematicsStudent1122: unfortunately, often graduate level questions are closed when it is not appropriate to do so. $\endgroup$ Commented May 8, 2017 at 3:21
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    $\begingroup$ @MathematicsStudent1122 and in my opinion 66% of all questions on the site should be either closed or deleted for not being very original and/or not showing any effort. Context might not equal effort but that's beside the point. They need to be putting forth an effort to not appear lazy and also to convince us as to why their question is worthy of being held on this site for future reference. If it's just another problem from a textbook using the same principle as all the other other integrals of similar fashion then when we see they aren't getting closer... we're doing something very wrong. $\endgroup$
    – user64742
    Commented May 8, 2017 at 5:35
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    $\begingroup$ @quid I know how the review queues work. I'm saying that stack exchange put it there for a reason and we need to be enforcing much higher standards than we have been up till now. Most of our posts don't even follow proper mathematical standards for writing. We are not doing well as a site. It's not good when MSE is considered in a lot of circles to be a bunch of cranks fumbling around like idiots. I apologize but we are not doing well as a site. We need to step up and stop accepting such bad quality. $\endgroup$
    – user64742
    Commented May 8, 2017 at 5:39
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    $\begingroup$ @TheGreatDuck I feel we are veering into a very general discussion here. It is good you are enthusiastic about further improving the quality of the site. Yet, too drastic measures, both in action as well as in tone, can have negative effects. It's a long and slow process. $\endgroup$
    – quid
    Commented May 8, 2017 at 11:47
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    $\begingroup$ @quid I don't mean to say we need to purge posts. I'm saying we need to improve the formality in how they are written and maybe condense several similar but not quite the same problems under one more general problem that works for them all. $\endgroup$
    – user64742
    Commented May 8, 2017 at 22:27
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    $\begingroup$ @TheGreatDuck "Show an attempt or get closed." Is this site open to questions from regular people, not students of mathematics or anything else, but adults who just want to know how to organize their duplicate skat tournament or their odds of filling an inside straight or how much paint to buy—i.e., the people featured as characters in your story problems? If they have no ability or inclination to try to do the math themselves, so what? If I ask a question about health on a health site, I don't expect to be asked if I've tried experiments on mice, why is it different if I have a math problem? $\endgroup$
    – bof
    Commented May 11, 2017 at 7:05

1 Answer 1


It is reasonable for a student to have "no clue", but a question should not simply consist of

[copy-paste of problem statement]

I have no idea. kthxbai.

I would like to remind everyone that there is no option to close a question as "homework showing no effort". The closest official close reason we have is "missing context or other details," and to repeat once again: context ≠ effort. As per our "asking good questions" page, context can come in many forms, including

  • providing some motivation;
  • indicating where the question comes from;
  • indicating background;
  • giving full references;
  • giving definitions.

I note that the linked question includes this phrase

The answer given in my textbook is...

Wouldn't it be grand if we were told what textbook that was? (And also where in it the question was located.) In my opinion that one small piece of information would go a long way to providing context (not effort) to the question. At the very least it would give some clue about the mathematical background of the asker. It would also allow others with the same question from the same unnamed textbook to find it in the future (which is important since Stack Exchange sites are supposed to serve as repositories of questions and answers).

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    $\begingroup$ What is kthxbai ? $\endgroup$
    – user312097
    Commented May 1, 2017 at 8:56
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    $\begingroup$ I would suggest adding that the student could say "we're currently studying ____, but I don't know how to apply it." $\endgroup$ Commented May 1, 2017 at 22:57
  • $\begingroup$ @GerryMyerson, I wouldn't figured that out :) $\endgroup$ Commented May 2, 2017 at 23:35
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    $\begingroup$ kthxbai also comes with a certain connotation that the person saying it is rather quickly exiting the conversation, rather than being genuine. $\endgroup$ Commented May 3, 2017 at 5:11
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    $\begingroup$ @A---B: As an aside, notice that KTHXBYE (not quite kthxbai) is the keyword that marks the end of a program in LOLCODE. $\endgroup$
    – Alex M.
    Commented May 5, 2017 at 7:57

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