Lately I've seen a couple questions that sound like people are asking for answers to their homework. Are these questions on topic? Should they be?

To me, it feels like people are just showing up to get an answer to a homework problem and will never return.


3 Answers 3


The two you cited are OK in my opinion.

Homework type questions can be allowed -- perhaps even encouraged -- provided:

  • there is no overt intent to deceive the community into doing someone else's work
  • they are interesting for the community to answer
  • they would be useful to future community members who might discover them

You're right that it's even better if the asker sticks around to become a member of the community, but that's just a bonus.

The other elephant in the room is that writers needs more questions, so I am inclined to be more lenient than I would on, say, Stack Oveflow where we get 3k questions per day.

Bottom line, the question (and its answers) should stand on their own merit.

  • I feel your pain and also want this site to succeed, but I don't think the Frankenstein question should have been migrated. Are questions about rhetorical devices really off-topic for English.SE? If all we're going to be answering over there is "wonk" questions about syntax and grammar, maybe you should have called it Linguistics.SE.
    – Robusto
    Mar 12, 2011 at 20:32
  • @robusto don't ask me, ask the english.se users who migrated it. I have no opinion on the matter. Mar 12, 2011 at 20:40
  • Would the Meta page on E.SE be the appropriate place to ask that? Mar 12, 2011 at 23:04

Ralph, I would refer you to this answer on MSO. It is the top-voted answer to the question about tolerating "homework" questions:

It is okay to ask about homework. For one, it would be impossible to stop it all even if we wanted to. Stack Overflow exists to help programmers learn and provide a standard repository for programming problems, both simple and complex, and this includes helping students.

Granted, the writer is talking about SO, not Writers.SE, but I think this is a principle that applies to all SE sites.

That said, I may be naive, but it didn't occur to me that this might be a homework question until you brought it up here. If I just did some kid's homework for him, well, he got me. What can I say?

For what it's worth, I originally answered the question on English.SE and it was migrated here apparently for being too much about literature (which seems puzzling to me, given that the scope of the question is confined to what I would consider to be well within the guidelines of a proper E&U.SE entry). I hope W.SE and E&U.SE aren't going to acquire a bunch of unwanted questions that get ping-ponged back and forth because they don't fit this or that category just so, or "seem suited to" the other site or just "feel wrong on this site."

  • 3
    I wasn't aware Writers.SE was for literature questions. Seems more suited to English.SE to me. Perhaps we need a Literature.SE now. Mar 12, 2011 at 21:34
  • The problem with any of these sites involving language is that questions don't always have clear-cut, unequivocal answers. Sites involving programming, math, chemistry, etc., tend toward questions that can have definitive answers. A Literature.SE could not help but violate the principle of not asking discussion questions.
    – Robusto
    Mar 13, 2011 at 13:26

After spending a week or two here, watching the questions in my RSS reader, I'm beginning to think Writers.SE is... doomed to mediocrity, unlike, say, SO. Writing is a process, but unlike the "harder" disciplines, there's rarely an objectively "correct" answer. In this respect, a traditional discussion forum approach seems better suited to talk of literature, English, and writing where the discovery process can happen chronologically, in a more natural way.

As a fairly serious (non-fiction) writer, I'm interested in maybe 1 out of every 10 or 15 questions that are asked, and this ratio is getting worse, even in the two weeks I've been here. The reason I came to the meta section this morning is because yet again, my internal response to most of the questions in my RSS feed is "Ugh, are you serious?" I've never downvoted--I don't find the concept of downvoting very useful in a subjective subject area like writing--though I've been tempted to.

Writing and literature are so subjective that I just don't feel the one question -> one answer metaphor really works. (Even though I sometimes wish it did!)


All that being said, I know new services take time to discover themselves, and I plan on sticking with Writers.SE for a while yet.

  • @rianjs - hm...are you specifically referring to homework questions, or is this a general commentary? We've had other questions where more general commentary answers fit on meta. With regards to question quality you and only you can make sure that this site has the kind of questions you are interested in by asking them.
    – justkt
    Mar 15, 2011 at 15:33
  • There was one question specifically this morning: How to ask for exam results. WRT asking questions... I don't have any questions to ask. I'm not saying I never will, but it is incredibly rare (2-3x/yr), and it's generally related to a minor style point, which is inherently subjective. Maybe it's my expectations that need adjusting: I came to Writers.SE in the hopes of helping others with real writing questions, not the contrived stuff you see in college English classes. (I'm fairly convinced most college English classes are designed to make people hate writing.)
    – rianjs
    Mar 15, 2011 at 15:54
  • (I'm also more into non-fiction/technical writing than fiction, so that probably puts me in the minority, which is fine.)
    – rianjs
    Mar 15, 2011 at 15:58
  • 1
    @rianjs - in my experience we've had 2 or 3 technical writers now complain about the lack of non-fiction questions, but very few of them contribute questions. For a beta site it is not abnormal to "seed" a few questions of the type you'd like to see the site attract in order to start moving the pagerank up. Every time I've suggested to the technical writers that they ought to please contribute, and only one has taken me up on it.
    – justkt
    Mar 15, 2011 at 16:00
  • That has occurred to me, too. Seeding a question, and perhaps providing a sample answer, is not one of my strong suits, because I can't explain best practices without a great deal of effort. I just know them without knowing why. In short, unconscious competence. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Four_stages_of_competence I feel like any example I could come up with would feel very contrived, and therefore not especially useful. I'll keep it in mind, though.
    – rianjs
    Mar 15, 2011 at 17:02
  • @rianjs - perhaps seed the question and see if one of our other technical writers will jump on the opportunity to explain the best practice.
    – justkt
    Mar 15, 2011 at 17:04

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