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As someone who avidly follows the tag, I use it (with a couple other tags) to filter the Close Votes queue.

Like any other tag, it gets its fair share of questions that show a lack of effort. However, I often find that such questions that also don't involve code still get close votes with the reason

Questions asking for code must demonstrate a minimal understanding of the problem being solved. Include attempted solutions, why they didn't work, and the expected results. See also: Stack Overflow question checklist

Example: https://stackoverflow.com/questions/19915772/introduction-to-algorithms-answers

Although I agree that questions like this should be closed, what bothers me is that once we then close this type of question and that reason is displayed, this might only serve to confuse the question asker because of those first four words. ("Why do they think I'm asking for code? I never said anything about wanting code!")

When I vote to close these types of questions, I generally go for the close reason

Other (add a comment explaining what is wrong)

and add some comment along the lines of "This question is off-topic because the question asker has not shown any effort"


My question then is this: Is what I am currently doing the "correct way" to handle these types of questions, or is there a agreed upon "better way" of handling them? Some of them might involve topics better suited for cs.stackexchange.com or math.stackexchange.com, but voting to migrate (and then making people on the other sites actually vote to close) sounds counter-productive.

As much as I dislike "lack of effort" questions, I do want to give as constructive of a close reason as possible (call it my way of being a bit nicer to new users).

  • I'd interpret Questions asking for code __must demonstrate a minimal understanding of the problem being solved__. as Questions (asking for code) must __demonstrate a minimal understanding of the problem being solved__. That is, it needn't necessarily be about the code, but even for an algorithm or pseudo-code. – devnull Nov 13 '13 at 6:27
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    I guess, but I can definitely see someone else interpreting that close reason to be about questions involving code/pseudocode, and not questions that involve more theoretical aspects. Just wanted community input. – Dennis Meng Nov 13 '13 at 6:29
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    I'd have voted to close the example you've cited as: "This question is off-topic because the community isn't around to do your homework." (I'm certain that wouldn't sound too nice, but guess that's ok for those who post assignments in the vain hope that they'd get solutions without any effort.) – devnull Nov 13 '13 at 6:32
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    Yeah, I've been trying to be a bit nicer with comments because I see enough posts from new users to get the impression that lots of new users get frustrated and quit rather than stay and learn how things work around here. I'd rather people quit because they realize that they can't get free answers, rather than because they feel that the community is too unwelcoming. – Dennis Meng Nov 13 '13 at 6:35
  • Why not to have something like stats site has in closing reason: "Homework questions must seek to understand the concepts being taught, not just demand a solution. For help writing a good homework question, see: How should we deal with obvious homework questions?." meta.stats.stackexchange.com/questions/12/… Could be modified for a wider variety of questions (usually people just say: "oh, it's not homework, I'm just self-learning"). – sashkello Nov 13 '13 at 7:01
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    Something like that would certainly be handy, though given how sensitive of a topic homework questions are, I wouldn't be entirely surprised if it never gets implemented. – Dennis Meng Nov 13 '13 at 7:19
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    Related question (feature request). Had a little discussion with Shog9 in the comments, didn't really help. – Dukeling Nov 13 '13 at 8:39
  • @Dukeling Huh, I actually remember reading random's comment there. Reading the comment thread brings very useful background too, thanks for bringing it to my attention. – Dennis Meng Nov 13 '13 at 8:46
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Lack of effort isn't a close reason that applies here.

In fact, it isn't a close reason at all. The close reason we have here doesn't close questions because of lack of effort - it's because they're a hugely problematic category of question, and lack of effort is one of their identifying traits. Lack of effort outside that category doesn't necessarily warrant closure (hence why we have the "asking for code" delimeter).

It's entirely possible to put not much effort into your question and end up with something good and on topic. It's just that the lazy, lack-of-effort questions often end up unclear or too broad or something else which is bad and earns them closure.

This question, however, probably should be closed because:

  • It is probably unclear what's being asked.
  • It's too broad. These are several disparate questions which should be asked separately.

But, really, all four questions are ultimately just off topic. They are not within the scope of what is an on topic question. Stack Overflow is not in the business of doing mathematical proofs of algorithms (that would be for the Mathematics site, or CS, as you point out).

  • @DennisMeng I've rewritten my answer, including removing that part. We are, to an extent, a do-your-work-for-you site - we'll show you how to do things - but this question has other problems. – doppelgreener Nov 13 '13 at 8:27
  • Just wondering. Was hoping for a more general approach to these types of questions (not pertaining to code and has no effort), rather than just what to do with the example, though I get that the first half of your answer applies to the questions in general. – Dennis Meng Nov 13 '13 at 8:32
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    @DennisMeng I don't believe there is one. We even accept homework questions here as long as they're good on topic questions - or ones where a Google search could maybe solve it. But there's agreement and disagreement on this answer, so let's see. – doppelgreener Nov 13 '13 at 8:39
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    Seems so. That's actually part of the reason why I posted the question in the first place; it looks like there's agreement and disagreement on multiple ways of approaching it. It'd be nice to have a "standard way", but if this gets complex I can understand why there isn't one. – Dennis Meng Nov 13 '13 at 8:48
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I'll go ahead and throw in what I've gathered so far, since there hasn't been any discussion for a couple of weeks.

Anything that could be rephrased as something for Code Review probably should be migrated, but not before cleaning the post up. Computer Science as of this post is still in beta and doesn't have the same group of off-topic close reasons, so one could migrate it and let it die there instead, but as I said in the question, I'd rather not throw poor questions around.

Outside of that, @JonathanHobbs, @Shog9, and @Makoto (the last two from @Dukeling's linked question) all bring up very good points, so I'm inclined to at least believe that some of us would rather just downvote these questions and move on. That being said, it definitely feels like a nontrivial number of us feel like these questions should be closed.

Mathematics has a off-topic reason that I think is pretty close to what people would be looking for

This question is missing context or other details: Please improve the question by providing additional context, which ideally includes your thoughts on the problem and any attempts you have made to solve it. This information helps others identify where you have difficulties and helps them write answers appropriate to your experience level.

I will not ask for that in a feature request though, because I'm almost positive that this could get misused. Others can feel free to spawn more discussion about it.

At least for now, I'm willing to agree with Jonathan and Shog; if it really doesn't merit closure for any other reason, it can stay. One rationale for that is the realization that a big factor is formatting: a really well formatted version generally doesn't get as many "show us some effort" comments as a poorly formatted one. Poor formatting is not enough for closure by itself, so there's no reason for me to break out the torches and pitchforks just because it's messy; downvoting sends the message just fine. The second one is related to what Jonathan said; a well formatted one of these can still spawn good discussions and useful answers. I may prefer that the question asker actively participate and learn from the discussion and answers, but if it ends up being useful for future visitors, it can remain where it can stay useful.

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