This question appeared in a close vote review for me. It currently has two close votes. I can imagine the reasoning: it falls under the "solve my problem" structure, lacking an attempt etc.

I went on to look through the other questions of the user. In the first four I saw, the user gave attempts and contextualization in a pleasant manner. This made me come to a conclusion that the question linked probably did not have an attempt explicitly mentioned simply because he had no idea of "where to begin", or because he thought that his attempts would have no value to the question.

That said, if I evaluate the question by itself, I think I agree that it seems like a homework-style question. But since the definition of those types of questions is intrinsically related to the intent of the user, and this is heavily related to how the user interprets MSE, I think that it may be appropriate to compare it to other questions.

My question is: does the community have some sort of canonical approach to this? More explicitly:

Question: With regards to questions for which their closure may be related to how a user interprets MSE, is it appropriate to judge them by comparing to other questions and seeing if the pattern stands?

Note that I'm not asking about comparing quality. I am asking specifically about comparing intent, in the sense of how the user perceives the platform.

  • 9
    $\begingroup$ Leaving aside whether or not we should do that, it is just too time consuming. $\endgroup$ – user99914 Jan 9 '18 at 19:22
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @JohnMa Agreed, but the main purpose of the question is not if we should do that, but if it is appropriate or not to do that: in the sense that it may be unethical to evaluate a question's right to belong to the site outside of its own content. $\endgroup$ – Aloizio Macedo Jan 9 '18 at 19:25
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ By "should" I mean more or less what you are referring to in the above comment (English is not my first language, I might have chosen a wrong word) $\endgroup$ – user99914 Jan 9 '18 at 19:40
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ And can you say clearly what does it mean by " the definition of those (homework) types of questions is intrinsically related to the intent of the user"? I do not remember seeing this definition in MSE. $\endgroup$ – user99914 Jan 9 '18 at 19:48
  • $\begingroup$ @JohnMa By that I mean that afaik, such questions are frowned upon because (among other reasons) they assume that MSE is a just a place to dump their questions so they can get the answers to their homework. This is related to the intent the user has when submiting the question and with what he thinks MSE is about. $\endgroup$ – Aloizio Macedo Jan 9 '18 at 19:53
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ "But since the definition of those types of questions is intrinsically related to the intent of the user,|...]" I am not sure what you mean. The relevant question to me is whether context is provided or whether no context is provided. In the current case no context is provided. Put differently, the idea is not to judge if something is homework, or if the person is a good (for lack of a better word) person that usually making an effort, the question is whether the post provides enough context to be a good post. $\endgroup$ – quid Jan 9 '18 at 20:03
  • $\begingroup$ @quid It is my understanding that under the umbrella of "off-topic because... This question is missing context", there is one specific type of question: "this question is just wanting an answer for a homework", which is an implicit criterion born from the community standards (please, tell me if I'm wrong and if this should be thought in another way) and that this usually has more weigh for closure than a "general" lack of context (maybe because "context" can get quite subjective). The question refers to this specific criterion. $\endgroup$ – Aloizio Macedo Jan 9 '18 at 20:19
  • $\begingroup$ @quid Let me give explicit extreme examples in order to elucidate my point. A question like "Let $f$ be differentiable. Is it true that the set of critical values of $f$ has measure $0$? I've tried to follow a hint and use taylor's theorem but got nowhere." would entail a general lack of context: what is the domain? Is $f$ really only differentiable? etc. A question like "Prove that if x is a real number, then x^2>=0. Please help." would fall under the other category. $\endgroup$ – Aloizio Macedo Jan 9 '18 at 20:27
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ I support the idea. IIRC I occasionally do this, and take that into account when voting. But, I can't really fault very much anyone who fails to do this extra reviewing round. We have that "reopen request thread" where extra explanations like this can be given :-) $\endgroup$ – Jyrki Lahtonen Jan 9 '18 at 20:29
  • $\begingroup$ @quid That said, in this particular case, with respect to the literal "lack of context", I disagree with your statement that no (literal) context is provided: it is strongly suggested (although not explicitly) by the question and by the tags that the sequence consists of real numbers, and we have a clear question. So, if you say "no context is provided", I assume you are meaning that no context in the sense of motivation/attempts/etc, which returns to my question. $\endgroup$ – Aloizio Macedo Jan 9 '18 at 20:30
  • $\begingroup$ @JyrkiLahtonen Could you please post an answer elaborating a bit? I would like to see what the community thinks of this POV. $\endgroup$ – Aloizio Macedo Jan 9 '18 at 20:32
  • $\begingroup$ In this particular case, one useful information had been edited away - that the OP knows the ratio test and are interested in the limiting case. $\endgroup$ – user99914 Jan 9 '18 at 20:41
  • $\begingroup$ @quid I like the explicit distinction you make regarding the idea being whether the post provides enough context to be a good post, instead of evaluating if it looks like homework or not. I will keep this in mind in the future. But, when applying this idea to this specific case, I think the issue remains the same, since the question by itself is not providing context per se (in the sense of motivation/attempts), but my conclusion (based on other posts by the user) is that it is due to the fact that it would add little to nothing to the question. $\endgroup$ – Aloizio Macedo Jan 9 '18 at 21:06
  • $\begingroup$ @quid Let me see if I understood your points: in your POV, no question should be ever judged (at least as far as context is concerned) based on a perceived intention/interpretation of MSE that it seems to entail, but rather only on its merits? And also, you take the off-topic closure vote to mean something along the lines "This lacks enough context to make it worthwhile answering and/or being brought attention to other users". $\endgroup$ – Aloizio Macedo Jan 9 '18 at 21:30
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ @AloizioMacedo I think the closure reason serves partially to get rid of homework dumps, but that is not the only reason. Often it becomes hard to give an appropriate answer to someone because it is not clear what results and methods they are familiar with and which out of many equivalent definitions they are using. One literally lacks context to give a useful answer. If I know something about OP already, this might be less of an issue. $\endgroup$ – Michael Greinecker Jan 9 '18 at 22:07

None of this is really specific to MSE - homework questions appear on plenty of other sites, too - but:

While the "no homework dumps" rule has a moral aspect to it (we don't want to help people cheat, of course), it too is primarily about quality - "homework dump" questions (especially those that show no effort to answer, and thus give little insight into what aspect the questioner is finding troublesome) are simply not as valuable as ones where some insight or knowledge can be imparted. So in the end it is a matter of quality (albeit one with a moral aspect too).

At the end of the day, the questions on the site have to meet the site's standards for quality – there's no concept of "that question isn't very good, but the same user posted some good questions, so we'll let it stand" – so if the question appears to be low quality purely on its own merits, there is no problem with downvoting / voting to close / flagging, as appropriate.


If you have a feeling that, lurking behind the post's poor-quality appearance there may be a decent question wanting to get out, and you have the time to do so, there's no harm in looking at the poster's other questions – this may give you a sense of whether it's worth you expending your time to improve the question (e.g. by adding comments suggesting improvements / requesting clarification, editing, etc.), or whether it's better to simply downvote and move on: if the poster has other, high-quality questions, and is responsive to feedback, then it may be that with some guidance they'll improve this question. If, on the other hand, many/all of their questions are similarly junk, and especially if they don't tend to respond well to feedback, then it would be quite reasonable to conclude that your efforts could be better used elsewhere.

The same applies equally to suspected "homework dump" questions: if a question looks like a homework dump and quacks like a homework dump, you are entitled to treat it as one - but if you are prepared to go the extra mile and check out the user's other posts, that may inform you as to whether adding comments along the lines of "Hey, this currently looks like a homework dump, please can you improve it by doing XXX and YYY" is likely to be more or less profitable than a close vote.

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for taking your time to answer, but this is precisely what I wanted to avoid when I said "Note that I'm not asking about quality". I agree that quality-issues should be only on their merits. This question is not about it. The issue which I'm talking about may be exclusive or at least far more common to MSE (maybe in physics stackexchange it also happens, IDK) and is about people who misunderstand the purpose of the platform as a homework dump, asking if in this case and due to this "intent" character, it is ethical to compare the behaviour with other questions by the user. $\endgroup$ – Aloizio Macedo Jan 24 '18 at 12:56
  • $\begingroup$ @AloizioMacedo: I see where you're coming from, but (to me) the homework dump aspect is inextricably linked with quality (although there is also a moral aspect to it too). I have updated the answer to clarify. $\endgroup$ – psmears Jan 24 '18 at 14:22
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @AloizioMacedo: However much you want to "avoid... asking about quality", you explicitly ask about triangulating the same user's other Questions into a decision about closing one of them. Since this issue sensibly can be answered by saying "Each Question stands on its own quality", there is no principled argument against considering that quality. On the other hand, if you voluntarily work with the Original Poster to improve the quality of a Question (so that it becomes good content), you are doing everyone a favor. $\endgroup$ – hardmath Jan 25 '18 at 16:26
  • $\begingroup$ @hardmath I think you are heavily generalizing the concept of quality, to a degree which I don't agree. Nevertheless: no, I don't believe this answers my question directly. If the statement "Each Question stands on its own quality" implies that "analysing intent is/should be irrelevant", this answer my question, in the same spirit as quid answered in the comments. Again, my question is about analysing the perception of MSE that the user has. This is not directly related to quality (it is related, of course, but not equivalent at all). (...) $\endgroup$ – Aloizio Macedo Jan 25 '18 at 17:25
  • $\begingroup$ (...) To be specific when I say you are generalizing the concept of quality: If you put the "intent" a user has when using the site inside the quality umbrella, then I think you have some heavy justification with regards to saying that "Each Question stands on its own quality", since I think it is clear that how a user interprets an environment is most well-understood along its stay in said environment. If you don't put the "intent" inside the quality umbrella, then this doesn't even address the question. $\endgroup$ – Aloizio Macedo Jan 25 '18 at 17:29
  • $\begingroup$ @AloizioMacedo: We can't, directly, judge the user's intent - we have no way of reliably ascertaining what that was. What we have to work with is the appearance of intent as manifested in the question. When you look at it that way - i.e. that we're not judging the intent, what we're judging is what is suggested by the evidence of intent that we have (i.e. the question) - it's clearer that it is an intrinsic property of (the words in) the question, rather than an extra, abstract attribute, and thus fits more readily into the quality "umbrella". $\endgroup$ – psmears Jan 25 '18 at 17:35
  • $\begingroup$ @psmears "We can't, directly, judge the user's intent - we have no way of reliably ascertaining what that was." That is a good point and one of the reasons why I think this may be unethical, but I get the feeling it is too rhetoric. If instead of working in the appearance of intent as manifest in the question, we consider the questions, it is quite clear in a lot (I think the majority) of cases how one perceives the website. I think that shoving this aside as a "epistemological-solipsism-esque" phenomenon may not be appropriate to the practical reality. $\endgroup$ – Aloizio Macedo Jan 25 '18 at 17:47

You must log in to answer this question.

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