There's lots of discussion on closing homework questions showing no effort on the part of the OP. I agree with that, but I find the description "It's difficult to tell what is being asked here. This question is ambiguous, vague, incomplete, overly broad, or rhetorical and cannot be reasonably answered in its current form."

Is it difficult to tell what is being asked? Sometimes, but usually not.

Is it ambiguous? Usually not.

Overly broad? Hmm, maybe sometimes when they post a full month-long assignment, but not usually the case.

Rhetorical? Definitely not.

Can it be reasonably answered in its current form? Often it can be!

An example is this question.

Should the description be changed or a new close-reason be added?


5 Answers 5


Homework questions should not be closed if they're questions that fit the site, i.e. not duplicates, not written so crappy you can't figure them out, etc.

That's why they don't fit the close reasons, because they shouldn't be closed.

  • 1
    +1, despite my answer. There are definiteley two (at least) types of homework questions asked frequently on SO. Those that get closed because they're just crappy questions and those that shouldn't (and typically don't) get closed. Dec 20, 2010 at 17:03
  • I do tend to agree with you here, but then shouldn't there be a push to stop people closing such questions? Perhaps prod people to reopen them?
    – moinudin
    Dec 20, 2010 at 17:08
  • @Bill This question is not that crappy.
    – moinudin
    Dec 20, 2010 at 17:09
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    @marcog, I think that questions was very poorly asked. He should have asked it like he didn't have the answer, and given more specifics of his problem with it. Having quiz or puzzle in the title is a dead giveaway for a poor question. Dec 20, 2010 at 17:13
  • @Bill True, but it's still in a form that it's really not difficult to answer.
    – moinudin
    Dec 20, 2010 at 17:22
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    @marcog: The quoted question isn't that bad (although it would be a duplicate), but the way it's stated on SO is. "...just trying to gauge the difficulty of the question" and "I was also wondering how important is maths to programming" are probably better questions for Programmers SE. Dec 20, 2010 at 18:38

I think that

...cannot be reasonably answered in its current form.

is an okay description, depending on your definition of "reasonable." Is it reasonable for someone to copy and paste their homework questions to Stack Overflow and expect others to do their work for them?

Homework closes are almost always accompanied by comments explaining the reasons for the close votes. I don't know if we need another close reason to do what comments are already doing.


Homework requests in which the asker shows no effort can indeed be considered vague, ambiguous, etc., in the sense that there is no indication of what in particular the asker needs help with.

For example, consider this sample question (which I made up just now):

In Java, define an int[] array1 with size 100 and use a loop to assign it values {1, 2, ... , 100}. Then define int[] array2 also with size 100 and use a second loop to assign it values such that array2[i] is a pseudorandom integer between 0 and array1[i] inclusive (where i ranges over all indices). When you are done, find the average of the values in array2 and print the result to standard output with 4 decimal places of precision, i.e., there should be four digits after the decimal point, with trailing zeroes allowed.

What is the solution?

The problem statement is, I think, quite clear. What's not clear is whether the asker knows how to use loops but not generate pseudorandom integers (in which case we waste time explaining how loops work), or knows how to generate pseudorandom integers but not how loops work (in which case we waste time explaining pseudorandom integers), or loads of other combinations all involving us wasting our time because the asker is too lazy to post something more specific.

Even in simpler questions, the same reasoning can apply. Suppose someone asks

In Java, what is the value of a after the following line executes?

int a = 2 + 50 / 9;

Now, it's possible that the asker knows about integer division but not precedence, or knows about precedence but not integer division...

For this reason, and for the reasons mentioned by others, I think the description of "Not a real question" for these types of questions is generally acceptable.


Homework questions are fine. Posting your homework verbatim and nothing else isn't. At that point, it stops being a question and becomes a work order.

And that's exactly the sort of question you've posted as an example. Note that it was closed prior to his edit, at which point the question appeared to have been copied directly from an assignment, with no effort involved whatsoever.

Why should we cater to users too lazy to even ask a question?

  • I fully understand this point, and I mentioned it in the question. My question is, is the reason used "not a real question" accurate?
    – moinudin
    Dec 20, 2010 at 17:22
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    @marcog: yes, it is, because the question boils down to, "Are you able to do my homework for me?" Which is rhetorical - the OP already knows/assumes it's true.
    – Shog9
    Dec 20, 2010 at 17:39
  • No now you're completely twisting those questions.
    – moinudin
    Dec 20, 2010 at 17:43
  • @marcog: not really. Impossible assignments are rare - the goal is to teach, not confound. As the asker in your example quickly found, solutions are easy to come by... His final question - how common are problems such as this in programming - was a much more honest query.
    – Shog9
    Dec 20, 2010 at 17:52
  • Please get past the issue of whether homework questions are acceptable or not. I honestly couldn't care right now. What I do care about is the typically new user seeing the reason "not a real question" followed by the descriptive reasoning. To me, a new user will see that and might rightfully go "WTF?"
    – moinudin
    Dec 20, 2010 at 17:57
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    @marcog: so your complaint is that a user who didn't bother to do more than paste his assignment into a textfield, type in a generic title and then hammer the big "post" button... might end up being a bit confused as to how the site is meant to be used?
    – Shog9
    Dec 20, 2010 at 17:59
  • I can see people taking it much further than "a bit confused". It can be taken as quite offensive. It's a new user, the site knows he's new. Why not shove him gently in the right direction rather than shoving the same messiness he fed the site back in his face by giving him a meaningless reason for his question being closed?
    – moinudin
    Dec 20, 2010 at 18:04
  • @marcog: because adding a friendly, hand-holding close reason for every specific form of bad question would be ridiculous. The reasons and their descriptions attempt to cover a broad range, and are thus fairly general; you're free to provide as much specific guidance as you care to in the comments.
    – Shog9
    Dec 20, 2010 at 18:08
  • Then have an "other" close reason, for which the reason is given in the comments.
    – moinudin
    Dec 20, 2010 at 18:09
  • @marcog: we do. It's called "Not a real question".
    – Shog9
    Dec 20, 2010 at 18:10
  • No, that option goes onto list specific reasons for this option being chosen. None of which closing a homework question falls into.
    – moinudin
    Dec 20, 2010 at 18:11
  • @marcog: again, this isn't about closing homework. Homework questions are no worse than... um, work-work questions. It's about closing questions that fail to ask a reasonable question. "Can you solve this problem?" isn't a reasonable question. "Do my work for me" isn't a question at all.
    – Shog9
    Dec 20, 2010 at 18:14
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    "Reasonable question" is a much better choice of words that "real question". Perhaps that's the simple solution right there. Fully agree that "Do my work for me" is not a "real question".
    – moinudin
    Dec 20, 2010 at 18:18

I've never voted to close a homework question simply because it was homework. I usually vote to close them because they really do count under "Not a real question"; typically because no context or history of attempts to figure it out are given - simply a copy-and-paste of the question.

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