There's a question that's just been added to the main stack which reads very much like a homework question with three combinations of:

I have this focal length, ISO, aperture and shutter speed on a tripod. How do I reduce noise/increase exposure/reduce depth of field.

If there was more of a context to the question. 'I was shooting a landscape but the image was really noisy, there was wind which meant my tripod wasn't overly stable.' Include attached images and settings I presume this would be on-topic.

Do we flag or answer the homework type quesiton? If so what do we flag it as, I had a check in help and they don't appear to be off topic, but at the same time, answering it won't help them learn the why. (Also presumably we're not a homework answering service)


On the main stackexchange site, homework questions are not off-topic. However they expect you to have made an attempt to figure out the answer yourself before asking.

In the example you gave there are three questions, and the answers to all of them pretty easily searchable. So they would need to break it up into three separate questions, but then each would no doubt be a duplicate. I would comment and ask what they know about noise or depth of field, and probably suggest they read topics here and then ask specifics if they don't understand.

But I wouldn't close it just because it appears to be homework.



With regards to homework questions on other Meta Stacks

It seems like most large SE sites that map closely to courses (SO/SU/SWEng, Physics, Math, etc.) have tackled this in their Meta sites. The consensus is all pretty much the same, basically what both MikeW and AJ said in their answers, so I'm not going to rehash the advice here.

What Biology.SE Did

Particularly of note is Biology.SE. They have addressed the topicality of homework questions and how to ask them in their Help Center page, Homework Questions. They require the poster to tag the question as [homework], in addition to asking a well-crafted question.

I really like that approach (documenting the expectations in a Help Center page), and suggest we might consider the same route. Of course, we don't get a whole lot of homework/test questions here (maybe a handful a year?), so the effort might not be worth it, with respect to other Help Center improvements we might want to make (i.e., gotta have priorities).

  • 1
    To me, requiring questions to have [homework] legitimates self-righteous bad behavior like not really answering the question. Answers that don't really answer the question don't make sites better. They just make them noisier. – user50888 Dec 5 '17 at 3:12
  • To me, requiring questions to have [homework] legitimates self-righteous bad behavior... To me, such a statement about self-righteous bad behavior is unavoidably self-reflective. – scottbb Dec 7 '17 at 0:40
  • Is it legitimate? – user50888 Dec 7 '17 at 0:50
  • Is what legitimate? – scottbb Dec 7 '17 at 0:58
  • The self righteousness here in these comments. – user50888 Dec 7 '17 at 1:07
  • Is consciousness green? Unanswerable. – scottbb Dec 7 '17 at 1:30

This is just my opinion, but my view on homework type questions is generally that they shouldn't be considered off topic, but should also be answered with a degree of care and not answered directly.

Someone with a question about homework may very well have a valid desire for knowledge, same as anyone else using the site. The goal should thus be to provide them with the knowledge they seek without directly giving them the answer to their homework problem.

This is the same approach I use when tutoring someone and they are stuck on a problem. I can explain the necessary information for them to be able to form their own conclusion, but leave the final step of formulating it in to the exact answer as an exercise for the learner to demonstrate that they have grasped what I am teaching them. A degree of care has to be applied to make sure it still is close enough to be an answer, but yet requiring an exercise in understanding on the part of the OP to directly answer their question.

This does have to be carefully approached on SE though as there are two possible cases where questions like this can be common. The first is homework questions, but the other is trying to make canonical Q/As that are generalized and easily discoverable. In the later case, it's best to go ahead and make the last jump to connecting the information directly to the answer.

I suppose a hybrid approach would be to provide an answer initially assuming it is a homework question and then after a time, come back and revisit it with the direct answer. (After the homework would have presumably been due and the direct answer is no longer of value as trying to fake understanding.)

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    Answers that don't really answer the question aren't particularly useful to other people. A premise when justifying treating homework questions differently is that some people don't deserve full and complete answers. – user50888 Dec 5 '17 at 3:21
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    @benrudgers - I'd tend to think of it as a difference in what a full and complete answer is. For a homework problem, the point is to demonstrate knowledge, so a full and complete answer provides them with the information needed to do that. – AJ Henderson Dec 5 '17 at 5:11

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