I've seen multiple cases like

Find the concentration of proton after adding a acid to NaOH

where a user A posts a question, user B posts what they believe is a helpful and correct answer, and user B ends up being downvoted and penalized because they answered a "homework question" (one where the downvoters think that the OP didn't at least try to solve it themselves first).

User B ends up being annoyed at this because they read the rules and didn't think they did anything wrong. Even if user B thought user A might be penalized for asking a question without making more effort first, user B reasonably assumed they would not be punished for answering the question.

One problem is that when you start typing in the answer box, the pop-up that appears says:

  • Answer the question.
  • Don't ask for help or clarification or respond to other answers.
  • Don't post pure opinion without backing it up.

(This is the pop-up that appears, with minor variations, on chemistry SE, math SE, and physics SE, so I assume it's from some template re-used across many SE sites.)

But the pop-up doesn't say anything about "Don't answer homework questions" (or "Don't answer questions where the OP didn't do any work themselves or explain where they got stuck", or more generally, "Don't answer questions that are likely to get put on hold"). So the user reads and follows the directions, but they still get penalized and they don't know why.

This is part of the general issue of how to make the site more welcoming. It's not a case of "n00bs didn't read the rules". It's "New users read the rules, but they got penalized for violating unwritten rules which are well known among the members of the community, but are not in the written rules."

TLDR; let's put something in the pop-up which appears when you're typing an answer, saying, "Avoid answering homework questions (questions where the OP did not first attempt to solve it themselves and explain where they got stuck)." As well as advice not to answer other types of questions that are discouraged.

  • The real solution here would be to change the minds of people who are discouraging these behaviors in the first place... that's not easy to submit a feature request for, though. – SOLO Jun 5 '18 at 19:31
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    Telling people to not post answers to questions that don't belong on the site isn't going to be useful. That they shouldn't is rather self-evident; the problem is that as a new user they often don't know what types of questions are appropriate on the site. – Servy Jun 5 '18 at 19:33
  • @Servy I don't mean that the pop-up should literally say, "Don't answer other types of questions that are discouraged," which indeed isn't helpful if the user doesn't know what those categories are. I mean it should say "Please don't answer type of question X. Please don't answer type of question Y." etc. I cannot think of any possible downside to just telling the user some examples of what types of questions not to answer. – Bennett Jun 5 '18 at 19:54
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    @Bennett If you want to cover all of them, then it's not going to fit (and also no one is going to read it). If you don't, then you have the same problem, just with all of the types of questions you don't list out. – Servy Jun 5 '18 at 19:55

How homework questions are treated can vary widely site-by-site. Some sites welcome them with normal requirements for asking a good question; others put further restrictions on how they can be asked; others disallow them entirely.

Fortunately, this popup can be adjusted per-site. Post a on the meta for the site where you think it is currently inaccurate, and let folks discuss the idea. If additional guidance is supported and folks are able to agree on what it should be... Then the request can be escalated to the administrators who can make the adjustment.

  • Why is the pop-up so similar for Chemistry, Physics, and Math SE? Is it a default template that is supplied when you create a new SE site? – Bennett Jun 5 '18 at 19:49
  • Correct, @Bennett – Shog9 Jun 5 '18 at 19:50
  • But surely most sites, even if they allow "homework questions", discourage questions where the user hasn't tried to work it out themselves and explained where they got stuck. Why not just put that into the template, and then sites can take it out in the rare cases where they have no problem with it? – Bennett Jun 5 '18 at 20:40
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    Because this is guidance shown to new answerers, @Bennett. On most sites, the biggest mistakes from new answerers all involve not answering the question (using answers to post replies, ask new questions, etc.); adding stuff about homework would be a distraction at best. – Shog9 Jun 5 '18 at 20:57
  • also most sites tend to be extremely hostile to questions which say that the information provided to new users is incorrect. Consider that this question said that the template should be adjusted to reflect correctly what is probably the reality on 80%+ of SE sites, and got downvoted to -3. (Update, it's now "back up" to -1!) – Bennett Jun 5 '18 at 21:50
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    @Bennett FYI, voting on meta is different, especially for feature request. – Meta Andrew T. Jun 6 '18 at 11:28

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