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Please note that the homework tag is now officially deprecated. The homework tag should not be applied to new questions and may be removed from old questions.

Can and how does one ask about homework, and what guidelines should members use when responding to homework questions?

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migration rejected from May 10 '14 at 18:39

This question came from our site for professional and enthusiast programmers. Votes, comments, and answers are locked due to the question being closed here, but it may be eligible for editing and reopening on the site where it originated.

closed as off-topic by Gilles, Martijn Pieters, slugster, ProgramFOX, Emrakul May 10 '14 at 18:39

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@levhita: Agreed; however, "plz send teh codez" questions should be closed and tagging them as [homework] would similarly be wrong. – Gnome Oct 6 '10 at 0:32
related: Open letter to students with homework problems "Describe the problem you are having, what your understanding of the problem is and where you are confused. For a question from a student, the best questions are often the ones that are asking how to take a single step in understanding rather than trying to leap all the way to the solution. Realize also that the answer we give may be completely wrong for the path that your instructor is trying to get you to follow..." – gnat Oct 16 '13 at 6:08

35 Answers 35

One thing that I have noticed so far on my time at Stack Overflow is that questions that appear (or are explicitly stated/tagged) as homework questions are getting answered in ways that are not useful to the original poster in their current situation.

Example: A student comes onto Stack Overflow and asks a question on how to do browser-based detection using JavaScript for a web development homework assignment.

Most of the answers take the route of "You shouldn't do that, you should do this instead..." and while they will technically be giving a widely accepted answer, they are not helping the original poster at all. At the same time, any user who actually goes and answers the question as the OP asked seem to be getting voted down by the same people who don't believe it is proper practice.

It just seems to me like some users place a greater importance on being technically right (and therefore making the topic perhaps more useful to future users) than on being useful to the actual user who posted the question.

I definitely agree with one of the older answers on this topic that says "make every effort to answer the original question". I think that this should be the #1 goal of any question that is posted on Stack Overflow regardless of whether it is homework or not. I think that if you want to give "alertnative methods" as an answer, it should be included after attempting to answer the original. This way you are not only assisting the user in his/her immediate need, but you would be providing more information for them (and for future viewers of the question) to learn from as well.

Yes: a student definitely has different needs than a pro. – Joel Coehoorn Feb 26 '09 at 16:11
One other thing to keep in mind: what a student 'wants' and what that student 'needs' are likely two different things. They want a solution they can just turn in. They need to be shown how to do it themselves, in proper context that points them to real-world best practices. – Joel Coehoorn Feb 26 '09 at 16:13
@Joel: I agree. I'm not saying that we need to give them the exact "turn-it-in" answer as far as actual line by line code, but I do think the question needs to be addressed in its current form first before trying to steer the OP in a different direction. – TheTXI Feb 26 '09 at 16:30

Be honest; Tag it as homework. Try not to ask for an answer to the whole question. Maybe you don't understand a concept. Make an attempt at an answer and ask if it is correct/going in the right direction.

At some point, they are going to have to take a supervised test to get a grade. At least at the college level, homework should count that much.


The Stack Overflow vision is harvesting answers to get front page Google results. Students search Google too.


Why not tag as "homework", then proceed to provide assistance that does not do their homework for them, but instead gives them all the tools they need to do so while learning something at the same time? We could provide content and links to the most detailed and insightful resources they can use to assemble the answer expediently.


Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime. It's two different solutions to the same problem.

Sometimes the fisherman already has caught his fish, but he needs a little ice to keep it fresh on his way home.

One of these is a teachable moment. The other, the guy just needs a little help 'cuz it's a warm day.


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