I would like to better understand the

  • homework policy

  • exercise in textbook policy

for posting problems to math.stackexchange.com

Can someone point me to the formal policy of what is and what is not acceptable?

  • $\begingroup$ @mixedmath: why does it accept the question from you; yet for me, it requires an article on P vs NP? $\endgroup$
    – user36739
    Aug 18, 2012 at 5:16
  • $\begingroup$ The SE site autodetected your question because it's very short. Instead of quoting P=NP from wikipedia, I would recommend adding in your thoughts, or the context, or something. Some sort of fleshing out that is relevant. You ask why I can make a short post: It's a bit magical, the SE engine. But it's likely either because I have a lot of rep, or because I'm a moderator. I don't know which. $\endgroup$
    – davidlowryduda Mod
    Aug 18, 2012 at 5:18

2 Answers 2


Too long to be a comment:

With respect to your actual question, I'm afraid that there is no established policy. Some think it undermines teachers if students are allowed to ask whatever they want and get full answers. Others think it would be a poor site if incomplete answers were encouraged. As far as I know, the question A Consolidated Homework Policy is still relevant (it shows the differing opinions and references previous ideas).

But one thing I can say is: if a teacher says don't collaborate or look things up, then it is wrong to collaborate or look things up. The crux of the issue here is whether this is a two-sided deal (meaning people should be aware that revealing answers to you is wrong, and thus should feel that it is their moral responsibility to not give you complete answers) or whether it is one-sided (it is your own responsibility to comply with your teachers' wishes and to properly learn the material). We don't agree - so at the moment, some people don't give full answers, some people do, and some people have a sliding scale that doesn't conform well to formal standards (as is championed by super-user Arturo in some comments).


There is a discussion here about homework:

How to ask a homework question?

I don't really distinguish between homework and not-homework questions. There is actually a homework tag; however, I usually read the question and decide whether or not to answer even before reading that tag. I answer questions that (1) I know how to answer and (2) well-written and interesting enough to be worth the time to answer. Hence I do not answer questions that do not satisfy the above two criterion above.

Whether asking homework questions online is a violation of academic policies is something one should determine by consulting your institute or course instructor. There are instructors who only use homework to allow students to gain mastery and understanding of the course material. They may only care that one understand the solution and concepts behind homework and allow students to use whatever resource to gain that understanding. There are other instructors who are adamant about using homework as a mean to distinguish between performance. They may forbid any collaboration and certain resources.

As for academic morality, it up to asker to know what the course policies are and whether the asker chooses to abide by them. I have seen some users ask the OP whether the question is a homework and request that they add the appropriate tags. I don't think it is any of my business to ascertain whether a question is a homework or not. I think it create an awkward environment. The OP could construe this as someone questioning their ethics. The OP may then reply with some comments affirming it is homework or some comments convince others that this question is a result of genuine intellectual curiosity. I don't think this is very constructive.

As for how to ask a homework question (or any question for that matter) to obtain the most complete, high quality answer would first be to phrase your question as to not appear to be a desperate plea to get solutions. Proponents of the homework tag would probably not agree with my advice to essentially dissemble. However, questions that appear like homework or have the homework tag tends to get hints and partial answers. Advice on how to convince people to think the questions are not homework are actually pretty good advice on posting quality questions. Questions should be written clearly, (mostly) grammatically correct, and free of typos. One should present relevant definitions and notations as necessary. Possibly explain the background and allowable theorems and methods for the solution. Present what one has tried, what success one has had, and what has failed. In general , one wants to put thought into the questions and demonstrate that thought and effort to those who read the questions. (Hopefully, while doing this thinking before posting the question, one may even happen to find the answer oneself.)

I think people are not irked so much by homework questions, but by question that appear to be not well thought out. One probably should not be using this site to asked questions every instant that one is stumped by something. One should give these questions some thought oneself. Mathematics is really not about knowing the answer or knowing a lot of theorems and definition. Ultimately, one wants to develop the ability answer questions and even come up with questions oneself. (I am sure some users on math.stackexchange have change from those who mostly ask questions to those who mostly answer questions.) However, I do not find much value in doing everything by oneself. One would not accomplish much. Textbooks, teachers, and classmates are useful to learning. So if someone has given considerable thought to a question and is unable to answer that question, I feel that such questions should be asked on math stackexchange.

Keep in mind that math.stackexchange isn't just a service for people who need questions answered. It doesn't work without people answering questions. The question should be thoughtful and interesting for the ones who answers. I feel that thoughtful homework questions do not alienation any answerers and should be welcomed.

  • 5
    $\begingroup$ This is a very long way of saying, no, no one can point you to the formal policy of what is and what is not acceptable. $\endgroup$ Aug 18, 2012 at 10:57
  • $\begingroup$ Some teachers assign exercises to help the student "gain mastery and understanding of the course material. They may only care that one understand the solution and concepts behind homework and allow students to use whatever resource to gain that understanding." Both mastery and understanding may be improved by doing the work yourself. (I am sympathetic to most of the rest of the answer.) $\endgroup$
    – Mars
    Feb 23, 2018 at 3:34

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