# What have you tried? Is this homework? You will get more help if …

It was fine/acceptable seeing occasional users receiving one/two line comments about appropriate tags, attempts, use of Latex etc. (I am not that old user though. But it was fine when I started.)

It's irritating to see most posts have such comments, sometimes by more than one user.

It's not that I get such comments but it's aesthetically unpleasing specially when it becomes a trend to put such comments rather than suggestion out of necessity.

Is it becoming a trend to put such comments? Can there an alternative better solution?

• One solution would be to consistently discourage (or even close) the sort of question that prompts such comments. – user14972 Mar 31 '13 at 19:15
• Another would be to drive off the people who are opposed to the sort of question that prompts such comments. – user14972 Mar 31 '13 at 19:26
• A more positive solution is to adopt the comment filter from StackOverflow that automatically blocks "what have you tried" comments. This would not stop those who are determined to get around the filter, but they will have to do something less spammy than mindless typing of WHYT. – zyx Apr 2 '13 at 5:42
• @zyx: It's only more positive in the sense that gagging people might not drive them away. – user14972 Apr 2 '13 at 5:56
• It wasn't meant to be a vote; it was meant to point out the elephant in the room. – user14972 Apr 2 '13 at 7:02
• The 5 minute rule caught me on that one. – user14972 Apr 2 '13 at 8:32
• @zyx Speaking of "heavy rhetorical guns"... How is the adoption of a mechanism that automatically filters (cancels, really) a type of comment, "a more positive solution" than "to consistently discourage (or even close) the sort of question that prompts such comments"? (Note that shooting the messenger is generally a sure way to make a problem worse.) What is "spammy" in WHYT-type comments? How does one know that users typing WHYT-type comments do it "mindlessly"? And so on. – Did Apr 2 '13 at 9:30
• @Did, would you object to making all WHYT comments be a standard message (maybe linked to a meta thread or FAQ) or flag or similar automatized communication that goes only to the OP? That is, do you require the possibility of repetitive public floggings about concepts like effort, homework, FAQ compliance and community standards? – zyx Apr 3 '13 at 11:49

## 3 Answers

I think it has become the de-facto way to not only comment, but to express displeasure with what seems to be an ongoing and unresolved debate on how to handle what seems like homework questions. There are, at this point, probably hundreds of comments in Meta in a handful of threads discussing what should be done with problems that show little to no effort, and which seem like homework problems.

It is unsatisfactory to have multiple people leaving such comments. It is also unsatisfactory to see users answer these questions without due regard to the possibility that it is a homework question -- or, at least without giving the OP due time to respond to the question.

I don't think anyone is going to come to a consensus on this, unfortunately. For now, it would be nice if some people showed some awareness and a.) didn't repeat the same basic comment ("please show your work, is this homework?") and b.) when such a question was posed, refrained from answering for a least a short while to allow the OP to respond.

• About the short while' idea, a pretty big percentage of the OP's in question never give substantial comments below the question. If answer(s) appear, the choices of comments are (1) this is detailed enough to hand in verbatim, accept and thank, or (2) this is not enough to hand in verbatim, demand more. – Will Jagy Mar 31 '13 at 18:23
• new example, of the infinite string: math.stackexchange.com/questions/347056/… with another clueless just now: math.stackexchange.com/questions/347481/… – Will Jagy Mar 31 '13 at 18:34
• @WillJagy Then in such a case, I would say that if the OP doesn't respond after a short while, then one should refrain from answering. Unfortunately, some rep-hounds will answer no matter what, as the opportunity to gain some 50ish rep is more important that upholding a principle of academic integrity. – Emily Mar 31 '13 at 19:54
• @Ark: And downvoting to try and discourage it risks rewarding them with pity upvotes! – user14972 Mar 31 '13 at 20:31
• @Hurkyl Indeed. In addition, I have been downvoted on homework questions because I left some work for the OP! It betrays logic... – Emily Mar 31 '13 at 20:45
• @Hurkyl Here is one I should not have answered in the first place. After the OP commented "I can't hand this in verbatim" I deleted it. math.stackexchange.com/questions/347780/… The comment may have had slightly different wording. – Will Jagy Apr 1 '13 at 19:13
• @Hurkyl: Or righteous indignation upvotes. I don’t always upvote in response to such downvotes, but I certainly do when they seem exceptionally egregious. – Brian M. Scott Apr 6 '13 at 19:47
• @Will: Your first link shows someone using the site appropriately: she’s confused and knows it, someone straightens out at least some of the confusion and offers a hint, and she picks up on the hint. The second is more nearly an example, but it’s still not there: she’s engaging with the person who offered an answer, and weak as she may be, she apparently did not ask the question without having done some work. – Brian M. Scott Apr 6 '13 at 19:52

Perhaps a side comment, but on StackOverflow, this style of comment has been recently blocked. From this update:

2013-03-20: Users are now blocked from posting comments consisting only of "what have you tried".

And the post "What have you tried" epidemic:

Starting now, comments that consist of nothing but "what have you tried" are blocked completely, and comments that consist of little more than "what have you tried" can be deleted with a single flag.

Here's what it looks like if you attempt to make such a comment at StackOverflow:

• That is bad. If the asker does not make more effort than copy-pasting a question, then I think it should not be a problem if the commenter also does not take more time than just typing "What have you tried?". – TMM Apr 1 '13 at 23:51
• Seriously; I think I've found a new, economical way to get my homework done. Answers even come in pre-formatted LaTeX! – Emily Apr 2 '13 at 0:11
• Quite interesting piece of information. The reactions to the post are interesting as well. A commenter declared: I guess I see a huge difference in someone asking for my free time to help not putting forth effort and that volunteer asking a basic question to initiate the helping process. To which the OP answered: So don't waste your time on lazy questions then (...). Or if you're gonna spend a few seconds on them, use it to down-vote or vote to close. – Did Apr 2 '13 at 5:37
• The stackoverflow situation is rather qualitatively different than what we're seeing here. – user14972 Apr 2 '13 at 5:55
• An example of a supposedly important distinction would be nice. StackOverflow seems to me to have a more mature approach to the matter due to a greater real-world orientation and not being as enmeshed in the scholastic race for academic marks. Admittedly there is some irony in SO treating its own artificial points race very seriously. – zyx Apr 2 '13 at 6:24
• On the one hand, we have moderators copy/pasting an entire polite paragraphs containing suggestions and advice. On the other hand, we have multiple users posting identical links to a blog. Is the distinction not obvious? Or is there something else going on that you're talking about that I'm unaware of? – user14972 Apr 2 '13 at 6:30
• The SO filter does not sound like it blocks "entire polite paragraphs". The distinction you might want to explain is why the blocking of short WHYT snarks would be a bad thing here. – zyx Apr 2 '13 at 6:41
• It's not a bad thing. However, I am not aware of short WHYT snarks having any prevalence on MSE, let alone the pandemic implied by the SO thread. – user14972 Apr 2 '13 at 6:47
• If you run the same type of data.SE.com queries (see link at the SO thread) on MSE, the rate of WHYT is as high or higher than the pandemic. There is no proof that the words "what have you tried" are never surrounded by entire polite paragraphs but it's an indicator, and is consistent with what I have seen when reading, and with Google searches of MSE for "what have you tried". – zyx Apr 2 '13 at 7:28
• Comments like this, this, and this are the sorts of comments that I recall. I honestly have not seen comments like the first ones in the second link; or at least, haven't seen enough of them to remember having seen them. I imagine that fact is correlated with the negative score. – user14972 Apr 2 '13 at 8:37
• Those examples look to me like evidence for adopting the SO filter here. The second and third example would have passed the SO comment-block filter, as they are long and don't contain a WHYT. The first might have been stopped, and would have been improved in every respect by dropping the words "what have you tried" and keeping the rest of the comment, so is a case where the SO comment-block is salutary. – zyx Apr 3 '13 at 6:04
• Interesting; what makes "Where did you get stuck?" more palatable than the juxtaposition "What have you tried? Where did you get stuck?" or just "What have you tried?" alone? Note that posting where one is stuck often won't be helpful without the larger context of what one was trying when they got stuck. – user14972 Apr 3 '13 at 8:10
• All the WHYT (or WDYGstuck) material in the first link is off-topic, as the OP never asked for anyone else to "try" anything in his stead. The SO comment block would detect only the first WHYT and let through the other. This is still an improvement as it shortens the comment, removes redundancy, and replaces the stale obnoxious robo-phrase with slightly fresher wording. Overall that link continues to serve as evidence of the SO filter being useful. And your second link contains a straight-up, redundant four word WHYT that the SO filter is designed to stop. – zyx Apr 3 '13 at 9:10
• The first two links came directly from your suggested google query, so they aren't exactly a representative sample. – user14972 Apr 3 '13 at 10:11
• The third link is also a troubled example, as it is not clear that the WHYT (canned template version) that was posted makes any sense for that type of question. The first several pages of a Google search for "what have you tried" on the main site show very few of these polite paragraphs, though part of that could be in the nature of the query. The fraction of WHYT queries that lead to useful clarification from the OPs is small and it is understandable why SO takes a line against them. What I don't understand is why MSE should not do the same. – zyx Apr 3 '13 at 11:37

wouldn't it be simpler if in the column "What to ask?" there were an advice for the poster to explain if it is a homework, and what did he try? It would be a way to let the poster understand what math.stackexchange.com is about.

• this is not MO. – user45099 Apr 2 '13 at 10:40
• @user57 Could you elaborate on this (rather dismissive, I must say) comment? Or are we supposed to deduce from the very terness of your comment that to remind the OP of the truism MSE $\ne$ MO` suffices to end the discussion? – Did Apr 2 '13 at 15:41
• It already lists "Provide details. Share your research." in the "How to Ask" column when asking a question. Further, the first section on the How to Ask page is "Do your homework". – Douglas S. Stones Apr 2 '13 at 15:42
• @Did I am sorry. The comment sounds dismissive and open to wrong interpretation, which was not my intention. mau had a typo with "It would be a way to let the poster understand what MO is about." I was refering to that typo. – user45099 Apr 2 '13 at 16:58
• @user57 Thanks for the explanation. – Did Apr 2 '13 at 17:04
• keep in mind that the casual poster will not read the page "How to ask"; we are lucky if he reads the advice on the right. "Provide details", at least for a non-English speaker like me, means "state the problem in a thorough way", not "explain what we tried". – mau Apr 2 '13 at 17:43
• To be propositive, I'd like to see something like "if this is part of your homework, say it, and explain what you tried to solve it" (and note that I am quite happy to read somebody saying "I do not even know where to start"; at least we can assume that a hint could be sufficient) – mau Apr 2 '13 at 17:46