Recently, there has been a crack down on enforcing quality standards for both people asking questions and those answering them. The idea (I think) has been to reduce the rather significant influx of low-quality PSQs (usually HW problems) appearing on the site. But I see that this may have just shifted the field goal: now, many problems are appearing where the OP seems to present just enough of an attempt to not be labeled a PSQ (for example, presenting some trivial first step as their attempt but still not really showing any honest effort).

Many times this works, and the OP is given one or several hints and sometimes an answer. Is this creating a perverse incentive where people do just enough to get hints and answers to their HW problems? Should the EoQS movement also address how we should handle giving hints?

Edit I was asked to include these acronyms:

OP= Original Poster
PSQ = Problem Statement Question
HW = Homework
EoQS = Enforcement of Quality Standards

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    $\begingroup$ I think we need to categorize questions stating I tried "xyz" but it failed, or I tried a lot of methods, but nothing worked, as PSQ's. While I'd rather have hint answers, amounting to only giving an outline of what the OP needs to do, but doesn't do it for them, than an all-out answer, but that's only when the asker goes beyond trivial, and specifies: "I'm only needing a hint." Also, a question looking for all primes satisfying f(p), and all the asker tries is p= 2, is trivial. $\endgroup$
    – amWhy
    Jun 23, 2021 at 22:33
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    $\begingroup$ It's just hard to cover all the cases. But whenever it looks like an asker is adding "words only", but no context or information about their question, it's still a PSQ. But this question has needed to be asked for some time. Thanks for doing so! $\endgroup$
    – amWhy
    Jun 23, 2021 at 22:36
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    $\begingroup$ @amWhy I agree that it's probably not an ideal approach. Even for those who are genuinely stuck, I think there is some wisdom in sleeping on it and fighting through to an answer, especially when it comes to HW problems. I know this doesn't always work but the hints given by users on MSE could just as easily be given by the respective users professor who will know how to deal them out appropriately. Whenever I was truly stuck, my professors knew how to guide just enough to get me back on track without handing out a "freebie". $\endgroup$ Jun 23, 2021 at 22:58
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    $\begingroup$ It will always appear that many questions do "just enough" to adhere to the rules. If you make the rules stricter, questions will start to do just enough to adhere to the new requirements. I don't know if the rules should be looser or stricter, but I don't think the fact that people optimize their rule-adherence/effort ratio is in itself a reason to change things, as this behavior is inexorable; no matter what rules are altered, many questions will live just outside whatever arbitrary standard is set. $\endgroup$
    – user10478
    Jun 24, 2021 at 6:05
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    $\begingroup$ I don't know what "the 'hint' approach" mentioned in the title signifies. The body mainly discusses how Questions are posted, and in two places "hints and answers" are mentioned in parallel. What is the "hint" approach? $\endgroup$
    – hardmath
    Jun 24, 2021 at 15:35
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    $\begingroup$ @user10478 I agree with a lot of what you're saying. However, the site has seen a rather dramatic increase (from my very limited point of view) in the number of PSQs and this may very well be a good reason to change things up, especially when it comes to hints as this practice may very well be feeding the problem. $\endgroup$ Jun 24, 2021 at 15:35
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    $\begingroup$ @JackGallagher The problem with the word "quality" is that everyone has different takes on what "quality" questions are , whether it's an interesting (personally) question, or interesting question + well-written, or question with context, or any question at all. I think you're right to point out the distinction between context and quality, but the truth is that we are equating quality with these "constraints" of context/broadness as a result of back-and-forths on meta. Non-participants on meta cannot argue that their opinion wasn't taken : they weren't there to present it. The majority ... $\endgroup$ Jun 25, 2021 at 14:19
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    $\begingroup$ ... consensus on meta resulted in these rules. Now, if the EoQS isn't functioning properly according to someone, it's because the meta population is a very small subset of the real population , so the decision makers are small in number. How can we change the attitudes if we need to? By making meta posts, and calling similar minded(to you) people's attention to them. If you can formulate an argument that makes the site function better according to you, then suggest it. The mods' acolytes have also done their reading and have informed opinions. A back-and-forth can be productive. $\endgroup$ Jun 25, 2021 at 14:24
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    $\begingroup$ How much of powerusers with >100k reputation gained such reputation answering the exact sort of questions long-time lurkers but new-to-answering users like myself are downvoted for? Asking a pre-calculus student to explain the "context" behind an arithmetic sequence question is so laughably out-of-touch. The context is that it's on a worksheet handed to them by their 10th grade math teacher! We should be happy they're coming to this site to get deeper answers rather than asking their friend on snapchat to send their answer to them. ... $\endgroup$ Jun 25, 2021 at 14:36
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    $\begingroup$ My goal is to help the people who have been less fortunate than I, someone who was lucky to have exceptional math education in HS and college. I can't do that if I'm constantly looking over my shoulder for a moderator bludgeoning me with a club labelled "PSQ" $\endgroup$ Jun 25, 2021 at 14:36
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    $\begingroup$ @JackGallagher I hear what you're saying and I do find that there is a divide among people (for new EoQS and against). I have had trouble understanding where people who are against it are coming from as every interaction so far has been hostile and I can't seem to get a straight answer. Maybe you could help me understand why you are so against it? Reading your last comment I see your goal is to help people, which I gather is a big part of the MSE. But are answering/giving hints to PSQs helping anybody? From my own personal experience in grad school and below, there is a lot more learning... $\endgroup$ Jun 25, 2021 at 15:45
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    $\begingroup$ @JackGallagher ...that comes from sweating through problems. In rare occasions I would be so stuck that I needed help and would have to seek out my professsor or other expert to get going again. This would involve writing a detailed email with where I'm stuck or going to office hours and thoroughly explaining where specifically I was stuck. It is precisely the EoQS that is requiring users to take these extra steps and make their case for why they're stuck. This is a very good thing in my opinion. Being forced to explain all the details of you're troubles has many benefits. In many cases... $\endgroup$ Jun 25, 2021 at 15:49
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    $\begingroup$ @JackGallagher ...you actually end up discovering your problem and get unstuck on your own. If this doesn't happen, such an exercise at the very least pins down exactly where/why you are stuck. But posting a PSQ on sites such as the MSE bypasses these steps and doesn't not actually help the individual learn. If I knew about the MSE while in school and knew they accepted PSQs it would have been very tempting to just post a HW everytime I got stuck instead of fighting through it and every time I got a "free" answer, that temptation to keep posting problems would likely grow. This... $\endgroup$ Jun 25, 2021 at 15:52
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    $\begingroup$ @JackGallagher ..behavoir is precisely what the EoQS seeks to stop which seems like a very good idea. Plus, it protects really interesting questions from being drowned out by droves of people putting in no effort by posting their HW as PSQs. Where do we disagree? I am quite interested to hear the case for the opposing point of view. $\endgroup$ Jun 25, 2021 at 15:54
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    $\begingroup$ ... satisfy those with a tendency to teach and be taught more. That, along with a firm message that closed questions can be improved and reopened (unless they are duplicates), will shore up a large quantity of elementary-style questions with pedagogical leanings vis-a-vis EoQS. In short : source and background count for a lot. Any question mentioning this is by default not a PSQ. A PSQ is a dry "Q, I could'nt get anything" : which musn't be answered, but can be improved in the comments. So no question (apart from spam) deserves immediate deletion. I want to solve elementary questions... $\endgroup$ Jun 25, 2021 at 18:05

3 Answers 3


We should set our standards high enough, that people doing the bare minimum to meet said standards, are still doing an acceptable amount. What those standards should be then is a question of "what is acceptable", and that's going to be a long conversation


Whenever I try to give a hint, I try not to give as much of the answer away as necessary. Most of the time, just a little nudge is enough for the poster to say, "Ah ha! Why didn't I think of that?"

I can see why there's trepidation from other posters to give out the full answer - it does the OP no good (especially if they're doing homework) and all the poster has done is enable them to come back for more free answers.


good question.

  1. First of all, we will never be able to crack down, as far as I can see, on people not doing the work or on someone cheating. We cannot enforce people coming on here and seeking out help on math problems on say take-home exams or contest problems, that surely they pledged to be doing on their own. At least I don't see it. So I'm not seeing how the new enforcement of quality, excuse me, EoQS, is going to improve things.

  2. The way participation is "rewarded" here is often at odds with the proposed goals of the site. The main way we are externally rewarded here is via Reputation Points, and even though it may or may not sound silly, those matter to people here. If you don't believe me, go downvote people's answers randomly and see how they react! We all want to get credit for our work, and the Reputation Points seem to encapsulate that on here. Also, the more Reputation Points we have, the more privileges we have on MSE. And...we give reputation points for posts written in the "Your Answer" boxes, and NOT for comments. So, if someone comes on here and posts an interesting question where the crux of the answer can be explained in a one-line hint, there is the incentive for someone to write this out in the form of an answer and get her points, instead of giving a subtle hint in the comments. And...can you really blame that poster for doing so? My personal feelings on this is...If someone comes up with a clever answer, they deserve the credit for their work!

So yeah, I think the EoQS is ridiculous, and when I see all the good questions being locked down and in some cases deleted outright, I find myself thinking how it has just gone too far.


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