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This is doubtless an FAQ, but I've not found the answer.

I've been spending some time on Stack Overflow, trying to pay forward some help on several knotty questions to which I've found solutions here. In scouting for questions, I often find myself asked to do some student's homework. I'm not at all sure I'd be helping the student, and that's really not what I set out to do.

Is there a useful search heuristic that reduces the number of homework questions one encounters?

Should one downvote or otherwise take some action when encountering apparent homework questions?

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Just because a question is homework doesn't automatically make it a bad question. –  Mysticial Feb 23 '13 at 4:03
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Not bad at all. But I'm trying to balance my limited time, and also (I think) to cultivate a better Stack Overflow. If StackOverflow were chiefly about good questions for Computer Science 1-2 students, it wouldn't be especially useful to me or to my colleagues. –  Mark Bernstein Feb 23 '13 at 4:07
    
Hmm... interesting. It'll be intriguing to watch the answers develop on this question. –  JamesTheAwesomeDude Feb 23 '13 at 4:14
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If the question is asking us to do someone else's job, be it homework or work, it deserves a downvote IMO. So the problem is not if it's homework or not, but how it's asked. –  bfavaretto Feb 23 '13 at 4:27
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Yeah, read the question. It's almost patently obvious when the OP is dropping his homework. –  Won't Feb 23 '13 at 4:52
    
Hmmm. "This is doubtless an FAQ, but I've not found the answer." I'm trying to figure out what to do with this. Does it mean that Mark hasn't bothered to read the FAQ? Or that Mark has read the FAQ-qua-FAQ and some of the other help pages but suspects that he's missed some and can't find them. Who, if anyone, has been lazy or done something wrong here? –  dmckee Feb 23 '13 at 18:03
    
As an addendum to my previous comment, there are a bunch of help pages at meta.stackoverflow.com/help (and the same for other sites), but I don't know of a place to find that link by looking at start page or the question list. –  dmckee Feb 23 '13 at 18:13

3 Answers 3

For me, it depends on whether the student has taken the effort to digest the question to where they can phrase it in a manner that would make it more broadly applicable then just their homework. For example, I react very differently when someone asks:

Guests at a dinner party are being seated at circular ten person table in such a manner that they alternate male and female as much as possible. Each guest must be seated as they arrive.

As opposed to when they ask...

How do I take an array of booleans and assign each entry in the array as I iterate over it to a collection in such a manner that the resulting indices attempt to alternate between true and false to the extent possible.

Okay, I could've worded that better, but the idea is that in the second example the student has done two worthwhile things: (1) they've put some effort into digesting the problem (good for them); (2) they've phrased the problem in a manner that is more likely to make it useful to others (good for us).

Maybe it shouldn't matter, but I'm much more strongly inclined to answer/upvote/comment/participate in the latter over the former.

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There used to be a tag for this, but its good intention was often abused to hammer the question. Determining whether a question is indeed homework - if you wish to do so - can be as easy as just outright asking; it may otherwise be inferred by the structure of the question itself.

Having said that, if the question is otherwise well put together, somewhat interesting, self contained and relatively easy to answer by a professional, you basically have two options:

  1. Take the higher ground and educate the asker without giving an immediate copy-paste solution; effort spent on this may not be fruitful if another answer comes by with an immediate solution.

  2. Answer as if the question came from any other person; if they really want to learn, they will read your answer and do some background research on their own.

If it's not, well, use your imagination :)

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If the question is good, well researched, and interesting, you know the answer, and you have the time: answer it. Treat it just like any other question on the site.

If the question is bad, poorly researched, or not interesting, then skip it. Downvote it. Leave comments if you think it would help guide the user. Treat it just like any other question on the site.

It's not up to us to make a value judgment that the asker is a student and needs to learn. All of us are students in need of learning. That's why this site exists -- to put those in need of knowledge in contact with those that have it. All we ask is that you put forth your own best effort when you seek help.

When you actually decide to take the time to answer the question, then answer the question. Do not skirt the issue, drop vague hints, or try to cleverly guide the mouse through the maze. Give the same answer you would give anyone that has asked a good question. If vague hints are what you wish to provide, leave comments.

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