I know that if someone asks

What are all roots of $x^4+7x^2+12$

then it is advisable to not directly answer the question if they have included the tag. But if they ask something like

How does one generally transform $ax^2+bx+c$ into $a(x-h)^2+k$

with the tag included, than is it customary to give step-by-step instructions? I know that I normally would given this situation, but what is the general MSE procedure?

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    $\begingroup$ I would give an example such as $2x^2 - 4x + 7$. $\endgroup$
    – Nobody
    Mar 23 '13 at 4:52
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ If there already is a more general answer on the site, such question can be closed as abstract duplicate; see, for example, here or here. $\endgroup$ Mar 23 '13 at 9:31
  • $\begingroup$ What is MSE? Is it an encyclopedia? A reference text? A tool to connect those who want to teach to those who seek to learn? An answer book? An answer service? Something else? The answer to your question will depend heavily on what one thinks MSE is supposed to be. $\endgroup$
    – user14972
    Mar 25 '13 at 6:10
  • $\begingroup$ The question is only asking what customary or general procedure (if there is one) is used on MSE. For that, MSE simply is what it is. $\endgroup$
    – zyx
    Mar 25 '13 at 6:39
  • $\begingroup$ @Hurkyl Math Stack Exchange, right? $\endgroup$
    – KevinOrr
    Mar 25 '13 at 11:10
  • $\begingroup$ SE=StackExchange.com, MSE=math.SE, SO=StackOverflow.com, MSO= Meta.SO, MO=MathOverflow.net, OP=Original Poster (of a question) $\endgroup$
    – zyx
    Mar 26 '13 at 18:57

I know that ... it is advisable to not directly answer the question if they have included the homework tag

There is no policy or consensus that indirect partial answers are preferred. A short search of the meta found no exhaustive polls, but the largest number of votes was in support of a statement opposing "weasily half-answers":

What do we do with users who post numerous unlabeled homework questions?

Quoting from that post, which incidentally is from the user with the highest reputation score on MathOverflow:

My opinion is that there is nothing wrong at all with posting homework questions here ... I find much of the negative reaction to homework-question posters to be somewhat strange ... my opinion is that there is no homework issue to speak of ...

the policy of encouraging weasily half-answers to questions that have been deemed to be homework, consisting of obscure hints only, amounts to an annoying policy of encouraging bad answers here at math.SE, and I am completely opposed to it. For this reason, I think we should abandon or ignore the homework tag. If we are to answer mathematics questions, then let us answer them well, with solutions exhibiting such clarity and elegance as we can muster.

There is one practical consideration that I have noticed with leaving hints or incomplete answers, which is that the OPs sometimes ask for more help, such as checking their calculations when they work out the details of the partial answers. The effort in answering the additional sub-questions or engaging in some kind of "Socratic dialogue" can be larger than in writing a complete answer at the beginning, and it may help only one person.

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    $\begingroup$ I wonder if that user would define "weasily." For example, I do not give full solutions for problems with "homework" tags (or those to which I will apply that tag). But I do not give anything "weasily." I still work out each problem to the fullest, but I only share enough to prod on the OP. If the OP requests more help and is showing diligence, then I have all the tools to point in the right direction. I have seen some posts which pose as hints but are really little more than poorly-thought-out placeholders designed to snatch rep points from the gullible. Those should be discouraged. $\endgroup$
    – Ron Gordon
    Mar 23 '13 at 18:51
  • $\begingroup$ In that user's terms, what you described is: giving a weasily half-answer at first ("only enough to prod on the OP"), but allowing the OP to purchase some of the weaseled-out parts of the answer by "showing diligence". $\endgroup$
    – zyx
    Mar 23 '13 at 22:52
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    $\begingroup$ The effort in answering the additional sub-questions or engaging in some kind of "Socratic dialogue" can be larger than in writing a complete answer at the beginning... True, but what does this say about the desirability to engage, or not, in this practice? and it may help only one person... Hmmm. It may help a lot more many more people to read the Socratic dialogue itself and then a solution, possibly written by the OP themselves, than to read a complete solution. (Of course, "people" here refers to posters and/or to readers interested in some kind of learning process.) $\endgroup$
    – Did
    Mar 24 '13 at 9:56
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    $\begingroup$ A lot of homework questions are awfully close to being "too localized". In that case, having a complete and nicely written answer everyone can refer too is of little use. On the other hand, there are interesting homework problems where even a complete solution requires effort to understand. $\endgroup$ Mar 24 '13 at 20:23
  • $\begingroup$ The Socratic dialogues are more localized than the questions, being based to one person's sequence of understandings and misunderstandings. re: @Did, Nobody but an answer-author can say what practices are desirable (for that author) to engage in or not, but there are some types of "comment dynamics" that often result from choosing one mode of answer or another. Another interesting thing is that some of the OPs add so many sub-questions and subsidiary work, that their effort in solving the exercise must be higher than doing it alone. Some people really prefer interaction and feedback. $\endgroup$
    – zyx
    Mar 24 '13 at 21:20
  • $\begingroup$ Strange that the downvotes are not propagating to the linked question, which takes a harder attitude against the (homework) tag. $\endgroup$
    – zyx
    Mar 25 '13 at 6:30

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