I realize this is not a new topic. But I've noticed that I'm not the only one getting really frustrated by the standard behavior here. Some of us teacher types are willing to engage the OP in a conversation with hints and progress on the part of the OP to developing his own correct solution. But more often than not, someone who's either not paying attention or who just wants to show off his prowess will post a complete solution in the middle of all this. (Sometimes the complete solution is, in fact, not correct.) I went on a total rant about this at midnight last night, and the offender kindly removed his solution. But, in the meantime, the OP went silent, perhaps not amused by this colloquy.

I grant that some OPs (perhaps the majority) are wanting us to do their homework for them; sometimes what seems blatantly a homework problem isn't so labelled. But I would like some consideration for those of us who put a lot of time into trying to develop the young'uns as mathematicians, rather than posting a complete solution. (I know this is a controversial viewpoint. Although I do not understand it, I have read here postings of folks who think reading complete solutions is the best way for students to learn. Well, they're already not learning from their textbooks or class lectures very well, so I reject that principle.)

Especially given the increasing number of homework posters, is there some way we can cultivate a change in the philosophy here? Can we at least make it acceptable that when someone is engaging in a conversation with hints (sometimes requested by the OP!!) and a progression of ideas that we agree not to jump in and post complete solutions? As I said, I've seen other posters besides me (typically faculty who are used to this process) who are annoyed and frustrated as well. Indeed, I'm going to stop spending time trying to help people develop as mathematicians if I continue to be sabotaged most of the time.

I'm not saying that I never post complete solutions. Of course, I do, or I'd earn way fewer reputation points. But I only do it when I believe it's warranted, and I rarely post a solution that has every little detail completed.

Let the haranguing begin! Please understand that I'm trying to change the standard operating procedure to some extent, which is likely to meet much resistance. But perhaps we could develop a tag that the OP could use to indicate that he/she is interested in such a "conversation."

  • $\begingroup$ Hi Ted, I saw in my Inbox that you had posted a comment in reply to one of my comments. I never saw the whole thing since I believe the answer was deleted. It appeared to be related to this, though. $\endgroup$ May 28, 2013 at 21:06
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    $\begingroup$ Yeah, you were complaining about this same frustration, so I suggested we should put a joint posting on Meta. But I did it without you :) It's a divisive issue, but I'd like them to think about creating at least a tag for it. Hope things are well up at UNCA :) I have enjoyed several visits to Asheville for fun and fabulous food, but haven't been back to campus since my visit 9 or 10 years ago (yikes). ... Yup, the guy removed his solution, just as the offender did last night when I ranted. So they're understanding when we point it out ... just don't think about it on their own. $\endgroup$ May 28, 2013 at 21:24
  • $\begingroup$ Things are great here, thanks! $\endgroup$ May 28, 2013 at 21:27
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    $\begingroup$ The idea of a tag of the type you describe seems very useful. I believe it would (when present) be largely effective, for there would be strong community expectation that a detailed solution not be posted. $\endgroup$ May 28, 2013 at 22:27
  • $\begingroup$ @AndréNicolas, I'd be very interested to see how many question-posers choose to avail themselves of it :) I really can't predict ... but we'd have to point it out. :) $\endgroup$ May 28, 2013 at 22:35
  • $\begingroup$ I would think that it is within your rights to downvote such an answer. $\endgroup$ May 29, 2013 at 0:29
  • $\begingroup$ A good example: math.stackexchange.com/questions/405275/question-on-fx $\endgroup$ May 29, 2013 at 0:52
  • $\begingroup$ I know we keep being ragged on not to use meta tags (too much), but I think this is a reasonable compromise... $\endgroup$ May 29, 2013 at 3:38
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    $\begingroup$ Related: (tutoring) tag proposal. $\endgroup$ May 29, 2013 at 4:23
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    $\begingroup$ +1 This is one of the most annoying things that happen on the site. It is one the rare occasions, where I am inclined to downvote a mathematically correct answer. Particularly from a relatively high rep user, who no longer has the excuse of desperately trying to earn the basic privileges. $\endgroup$ May 29, 2013 at 6:17
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    $\begingroup$ +1 I really like this idea. I have faced the same situation, and the frustration experienced when someone "pops in" to post an entire solution is disheartening. I have to admit I've been frustrated by this to the point that I find my efforts to engage the OP in a "conversation" has diminished, though much of the work I do answering some questions occurs in the follow-up comments, "conversing" with the OP. $\endgroup$
    – amWhy
    May 29, 2013 at 18:17
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    $\begingroup$ I also am what you call a teacher-type (several decades college teaching experience, numerous teaching awards, etc.), but let me mention a contrasting viewpoint: what I find annoying are answers consisting of vague hints and incomplete solutions, often wrong or misguided, that stand in place of what could be clear and elegant solutions. Instead, we are meant to be satisfied with incomplete sketches and answers-in-riddles. The drawn-out back-and-forth dialogue so often seems ineffective and frankly, a waste of time and effort, in comparison with a forthright explanation of mathematics. $\endgroup$
    – JDH
    Dec 12, 2013 at 2:53
  • $\begingroup$ I was about to post a meta question on "what's the point of hints" since the same thing happened to me last night. I was the very first answered of this question, I think it's a fairly basic question and quite simple (I'm not a teacher, hope to be one after finishing my studies). So my answer was a hint which I posted as a comment as well. I left the virtual world afterwards and when I came back a few hours later, I saw there are two complete answer, expanding the exact same thing I mentioned as hint. $\endgroup$
    – Gigili
    Jan 9, 2014 at 9:20
  • $\begingroup$ So, yes, It made me angry and sad. Since OPs usually likes these kind of answers better! And I highly doubt if he/she even read my answer. I was expecting the OP to do what I said and that way they will be able to solve a problem like that on their own. But that didn't happen. Although this post is 7 months old, nothing has been done about it which is weird. $\endgroup$
    – Gigili
    Jan 9, 2014 at 9:23
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    $\begingroup$ @MatheusAndrade Thanks for the kind thoughts. The fight is getting worse and I may give up, but I have noticed your answers to questions recently, and you have learned a lot. Kudos. $\endgroup$ May 4, 2021 at 3:33

2 Answers 2


Many times I find it useful to post highlights of the solution I did out on paper, as well as the final answer. That way, it is enough to be useful to the Math.SE community in its own, but is unlikely to give the OP full credit for a homework assignment without significant work.

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    $\begingroup$ Yes, I've seen that you do that, although you have the patience to type in far more details of the computation than I usually would. What I hope would happen — and I've experienced it with a number of my "conversations" — is that eventually the OP himself posts a solution (which I then critique a bit and improve). I guess I'm overly influenced by my 35+ years of teaching experience. In office hours, I aim for constructive conversations, rather than merely doing problems for my students. And, of course, they can work together, which is difficult to implement here. $\endgroup$ May 28, 2013 at 20:53
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    $\begingroup$ @TedShifrin: the reason why this is such a hot topic is that it boils down to why any of us go to this site in the first place. Some are purely interested in teaching and want to see full solutions that can be critiqued. I like to teach, but my main reason for being here is that I desire a forum in which I can solve problems and write up the solutions. I am not sure these two desires are diametrically opposed, but there sure can be conflict. I think what I aim to do (and many times, not all too successfully) is a middle ground. At least I hope so. $\endgroup$
    – Ron Gordon
    May 28, 2013 at 20:57
  • $\begingroup$ @Ron: On somewhat unrelated note, I fell in love with your greatest hits page. Special badges should be issued for such excellent problem-solvers. You would be instantly awarded platinum badge titled "integral master" :) $\endgroup$
    – Prism
    Jun 1, 2013 at 0:21
  • $\begingroup$ @Prism: thank you, you are very kind. I am thrilled that you like the page, I hope that you are finding it useful. $\endgroup$
    – Ron Gordon
    Jun 1, 2013 at 3:59

I agree wholeheartedly and I certainly upvoted right away. But I don't know that there's anything to do.

The fact is that this is a big community. Nearly $50,000$ registered users I believe. If just a small, but significant, minority wants to post complete answers to homework questions, then that's the way it's going to be. The sheer size and diversity means that we're going to have a fairly low common ground. Along with that comes some serious issues - see, for example, the discussion surrounding the recent moderator election.

Ultimately, this is all part of a new mode of communication that is contributing to education across a broad spectrum. In that regard, what's going on here is tremendously important. In some ways, it's an improvement and in some ways, well, not so much. I'm not sure where it's all going, but right now we're just along for the ride.

The more positive people who are involved the better. We'll just have to see.


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