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This question brought up the issue of whether it is appropriate to retag someone else's question as homework. While I believe that it's the community's responsibility as much as the OPs to make sure questions are tagged appropriately, it made me think about who should remove the homework tag if the question isn't homework. In most cases I think the community retains the right to change tags in all cases to accurately categorize the question, however, in the general case, only the OP really knows for sure -- everyone else only has opinions. My sense is that only the OP, except in the most obvious cases, should be the one to roll back a homework tag.

Your thoughts?

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what about the teacher of the OP or a fellow student ? They would know for sure it's homework... and why remove tag if you do not know for sure it isn't homework and the OP don't care ? – kriss Apr 10 '10 at 23:36


The tag is being removed and will no longer be permitted. The usefulness and application of it seemed good in theory, and perhaps even in application when our scale was smaller. The reality however has become that the tag is simply much more trouble than it's worth.

See the call for cleanup for more and links to previous discussions.

Original answer follows:

There are some questions (I don't have links handy) where people posted stuff that obviously came out of an assignment. Usually people with very low rep, often posting different variants of the same question yet expecting different results. I can't document obvious beyond its definition, especially in a subjective sense.

I'm sorry, but asking (or bribing) your older sibling to do your math homework is cheating, asking for help is another story. This is no different. In the year that I've used SO, I find (more often than not) that someone will post correct code samples to such questions, alleviating the OP from the diligence that academia (call it what you will) demands. Its called low hanging fruit.

If I strongly suspect it is homework, and not just a beginner, I am going to tag it as such. What is a natural response for someone who has to finish an assignment that has been put off for weeks that is due the following day? One might be "This is not homework!!!"

Sorry, but the original tone of the question is what matters to me. Its painfully obvious when someone is in a bind to get the answer to a very basic question without (originally) providing more background.

I'll tag it as homework if I see that the question warrants it, but I won't get into a tag war. I can, however, leave a comment and decline to answer the question.

Down vote this if you want, my need for sleep has surpassed my ability to care :)

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I'd go even further - anything that looks like a homework assignment should be tagged as homework, whether it is actually the OP's homework or not. This helps distinguish real problems from academic exercises. – Steven A. Lowe Mar 8 '10 at 0:17
@Steven A. Lowe: Good point, it might not be the OP's homework, but still homework. However, academic exercises are often real problems, for instance cache misses spiking higher with various sorting algorithms. While academia is horribly slow to catch up, they (at least in theory) do try to pull from real world problems. – Tim Post Mar 9 '10 at 13:02
@Tim it's usually pretty easy to tell the difference between homework and real problems by the poster's tone and phrasing. "Write algorithm to sort deck of 52 playing cards using only 1 bit and 2 pointers" vs. "I'm trying to get a fair card-shuffle program to work on an Android phone and only have enough temporary storage for 1 bit and 2 pointers. Here's the code so far, but it fails when blah blah blah" ;-) – Steven A. Lowe Mar 9 '10 at 13:40
@Steven A. Lowe - Point conceded :) – Tim Post Mar 28 '10 at 17:50
@Steven: Is this question homework? In practice, it is only easy to tell for very rudimentary questions, akin to a [beginner] (removed with other meta-tags) or [fundamentals]/[basics]/[exercise] (very subjective) tags. [homework] is used in practice for those reasons, which isn't a good thing, IMHO. – Gnome Oct 6 '10 at 0:27
Or how about this question? It's clearly about something basic, is likely to be part of a homework assignment (but not a full assignment), and the current top-voted answer includes a complete program. How would [homework] help that question? – Gnome Oct 6 '10 at 3:06
@Roger neither look like homework to me; see the third comment – Steven A. Lowe Oct 6 '10 at 4:38
@Steven: The first was a homework question that someone asked me. (You said "whether it is actually the OP's homework or not" in the first comment.) For the second, I can't know, but it seems to fulfill all the criteria of most people that want to tag [homework]; even down to an answer with "complete code"! It's not easy to spot the difference of homework and non-homework (i.e. the third comment), but it is easy to spot the difference of "basics"/"fundamentals"/etc. questions—but we don't tag [beginner] or the like. But if it truly was easy, why would we need the tag to point it out? – Gnome Oct 6 '10 at 4:53
@Roger no system is perfect. To me, [beginner] adds no value, and may be insulting, while [homework] serves as a notice not to just give the answer, but instead aid in understanding. Not all homework questions are easy, but just giving the answer directly to a homework question defeats the purpose of the learning exercise – Steven A. Lowe Oct 7 '10 at 17:08
[homework] adds no more value than [beginner] or [teach-me] would, and it may be insulting. – Gnome Nov 14 '10 at 8:32

Homework doesn't apply to the person asking the question, it applies to the question.

The Homework classification has a variety of uses:

  • Determining which Stack Overflow questions are homework-esque questions
  • Allowing someone to search homework to see if their particular question has been asked before
  • Some people use it as a sign that says "Don't do this guy's work for him."

I think that's perfectly legitimate. It's akin to someone not wanting to answer tag x questions. Do you believe that somehow removing that tag would make the question more palatable?

I don't, because people are smart enough to know an easy question when they see it. You may as well let them categorize them.

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If I want to leave a comment on the question ("hey other people, don't do this guy's work for him"), shouldn't that be a comment and not a tag? – Gnome Oct 6 '10 at 0:15

Some questions have the structure and content of pedagogical problems. Those questions---whether they are assignments given in a class, problems the OP is working from a book during self-learning, or even something that occurred to a curious user when comparing something new with their old ways---are best served by pedagogical answers, and a tag to identify them is appropriate. And it is appropriate for the community to add that tag.

We've been using [homework] for that purpose, but it does causes hard feelings sometimes. We don't want the OP to feel that they have been accused of doing something wrong, and the tenor of the "It's not homework!" comments that some users submit suggest that that is exactly how they feel.

Anyone what to suggest a better tag? What about [exercise]?

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+1. [homework] is entirely appropriate for these questions. if the tag is appropriate to a question, it is without regard to the OP's actual motivation -- if a question looks & smells like homework, it should get tagged as such. in regards to hurt feelings, it should be pointed out (politely!) in comments that the tag is not a reflection of the merit of the question. – quack quixote Mar 7 '10 at 2:48
We don't tag [paid-work], [full-code-desired], [just-want-this-to-work], [hobbyist], or [teach-me], so why tag [homework-appropriate-responses-only]? Whose homework guidelines are in effect for that tag, yours, mine, the asker's, or the answerer's? – Gnome Nov 12 '10 at 22:22

Even if it's not my current job, I used to work as Computer Science Teacher in the past.

First I'll comment on the utility of the homework tag from the teacher point of view. It's very useful for a teacher to see what students find hard to learn, or what kind of subjects they have difficulties with. It help to ask better questions (not necessarily harder).

Know when I read some questions I can't help believe it's homework and I would need some strong evidence it is not.

Consider the following (example from a real question from SO) - the question is beginner level - the user provides very few context - the question seems to come "out of thin air" - he seems to be clueless on how to start with it - he speak about time (delay, time passed searching for an answer)

That does not mean all homework questions will be of that kind, but when all of these applies to a question I'm really convinced it's homework and will tag it so.

If the OP remove the tag or insist in comment it's not homework, OK I won't start a tag war. But If another poster without any bit more of knowledge remove the tag, I'm quite likely to put it back (how does he know it's not homework when it taste like homework, sounds like homework and looks like homework).

The main reason I tag such questions as homework is that I believe this tag is no infamy and will actually help the poster. He will get more useful answers this way and even if it's not homework he will probably learn something more useful with pedagogic answer.

Hey ? What do you prefer honestly ? Watch a movie or be told how it ends ?

When I'm at job on a real problem, be told the end may be enough, but when I'm obviously in a learning process, working on simple toy problems, hints toward the solution are better. I've no problem with helping students, but helping a copy/paster to graduate effortlessly is not good. We may actually work with that guy someday (he may even become a manager, it happens with poor developers).

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Never add the homework tag unless the OP states it's homework; you simply can't know.

If it's really that important for you to know (why??) you can ask in a comment first and refuse to answer until an answer is given (but other people will probably answer before the OP gets a chance to reply so you may as well just move on to another question).

Also tagging questions as homework is not that important. Who searches for "homework" anyway?

Last but not least don't forget about the people that will come from google in the future searching that very question; don't purposefully give a vague answer if you think it may be homework, otherwise you're likely to push away potential new members.

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What if I use a Bayesian classifier (or perhaps they just type the question in verbatim)? – tvanfosson Mar 6 '10 at 15:07
I search the 'homework' tag ... – warren Mar 6 '10 at 15:27
Ohmigod, for the first time ever I agree with Koper! – nb69307 Mar 6 '10 at 15:36
Except for his last paragraph. We are not short of questioners, and nothing seems to put them off. – nb69307 Mar 6 '10 at 15:47
@Koper, @Neil - Would it be safe to say, then, that you view the homework tag as a pejorative? That the mere fact of tagging a question as homework somehow casts it in a negative light? I don't mind homework questions, asked appropriately, and would appreciate having them tagged as such. – tvanfosson Mar 6 '10 at 16:03
@tvanfosson It's not that it is pejorative, it is that it is an opinion - you cannot know the questioner's motivation. – nb69307 Mar 6 '10 at 16:06
@Neil - I guess I would use a "preponderance of evidence" standard rather than "proof beyond a reasonable doubt". In any event, the question really deals with what do you do after it has been retagged as homework -- do you "undo" the tag even if you're not the OP and someone else has concluded that it is a homework question? – tvanfosson Mar 6 '10 at 16:17
@Koper - search is only one aspect of tags. Tags are also used for filters and I suspect there are many who do filter out the homework tag. – tvanfosson Mar 6 '10 at 16:19
@tvanfosson If it is a question I am involved with, I roll back the tag, just as I do with the equally useless "belongs on" tags. – nb69307 Mar 6 '10 at 16:44

It is no longer appropriate now that they're getting rid of that tag. See The homework tag is now officially deprecated.

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