We already have a question, on the policy of handling homework questions, but I believe that this point is important enough to deserve its own discussion. There is a general consensus that completely answering a homework question for someone will have bad consequences. Not only will it encourage a flood of near duplicate questions, but it will make it easier for someone to avoid learning anything.

At the same time, it is important to realise that often concrete examples are the best way to learn. Answering too many questions in only general terms will cause us to have to deal with lots more follow up questions either in the comments or in other questions.

So lets suppose somebody asks a non-duplicate "homework" question. then I would propose:

  1. Explain the general method for solving the question
  2. If possible, provide a detailed example, but not for the exact question asked. It is fine to link them to another question with a detailed example instead

Many extremely specific questions are currently being given answers that could just be copied and pasted. If the community agrees with this proposed policy, then we need to use comments to explain to other, why this is undesireable.

  • $\begingroup$ +1. See also: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/10811/… $\endgroup$
    – Isaac
    Aug 2, 2010 at 9:56
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    $\begingroup$ I generally ask Socratic questions instead (for example when this happens on AoPS). If someone can't do their homework, they got stuck somewhere, and they should ask about the thing they got stuck on, not about their homework. So I try to help them figure out what they're stuck on (which can be hard for a lot of people). $\endgroup$ Aug 2, 2010 at 20:21
  • $\begingroup$ see also the "how to answer homework questions" question in the proposed faq. $\endgroup$
    – Larry Wang
    Aug 3, 2010 at 6:08
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    $\begingroup$ Many of the answers that are being given are far too explicit. I think more care needs to be taken to avoid this. I get the impression that people are rep mongering, which disgusts me. $\endgroup$
    – BBischof
    Aug 11, 2010 at 14:20
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    $\begingroup$ @BBischof: If you think anyone is giving to much detail, add a comment $\endgroup$
    – Casebash
    Aug 11, 2010 at 22:27
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    $\begingroup$ How do you know it is homework or not? I have no idea why it's wrong to give a full answer to a question regardless whether it is homework or not. If a questioner thinks it's harmful to read a detailed proof, he can always skip some part of it. This principle applies also to a non-homework question. $\endgroup$ Jul 19, 2012 at 1:28

1 Answer 1


Quoting the FAQ thread:

Providing an answer that doesn't help a student learn is not in the student's own best interest, and if a solution complete enough to be copied verbatim and handed in is given immediately, it will encourage more people to use the site as a free homework service. In the spirit of creating a lasting resource of mathematical knowledge, you may come back after a suitable amount of time and edit your response to include a more complete answer. Or even better, the student can post her or his own correct answer!

It seems that there are a number of ways of preventing a student from being able to just copy and paste the answer. One is to give them a hint. Another option is to give an example, but to change the question. Regardless of the method chosen, remember that we want to create a repository of mathematical knowledge, so it is good if you can get the asker to answer the question or come back later and completely answer it yourself.

  • 4
    $\begingroup$ This just hit the front page because of an edit, but it is more than 2 years old, quoting an early FAQ from the private beta. The FAQ author was last seen in Oct 2010, according to his profile. Most of the homework conversations on meta happened later. $\endgroup$
    – zyx
    Sep 12, 2012 at 16:07
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    $\begingroup$ If they say specifically what they are confused about in the problem, could you not also answer the whole problem (because sometimes similar problems really don't cut it) but also focus on addressing not just their problem but their understandings? Idk $\endgroup$ May 29, 2020 at 15:59

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