ELU has a rather detailed policy for dealing with homework questions. It seems like we don't have one on ELL, but lately we've been getting some questions that are basically "here is a homework question, tell me the answer":

Fill in the blank to create a correct sentence:

"_ you are missing three pages of work, your portfolio appears to be of extremely high caliber".

A. Except for the fact that

B. Besides that

In its current state I feel this question should be closed, to be reopened after the OP explains to us what their problem with the question is. I voted to close, although to be honest I'm not sure I picked the right reason—I ended up picking the "proofreading" reason because that's what the other close voter picked, but I'm second guessing that decision now.

Anyway, here's my general question:

Do we need our own homework question policy? What should we do with questions like this one?


2 Answers 2


I think there's a real difference between users asking us to “tell me the answer” and users asking us to explain the answers.

The first is illegitimate: it sidesteps learning. The second is legitimate and to my mind praiseworthy: it fulfils the function of homework, which is to seek a deeper understanding outside of the appointed class time. If I were an ESL teacher I would applaud students with the initiative to come here, where they get not just particular answers to particular homework questions but explanations which enable them to come up with future answers when they are put to the test.

In fact, I don't think we get any significant number of “tell me the answer” questions. What we mostly see is questions like the two you cite: OP (as he reveals on a little prodding from you) is working his way through a sample SAT exam; in each question he transcribes a question from that exam and supplies the “correct” answer; clearly, what he wants is an explanation of why the answer is right (in the first) or what the answer means (in the second).

So I don’t think we need a ‘homework policy’. We can just close those questions that are inherently useless to anyone but the asker, and answer those which have wider applicability. Most of those who come looking for an illegitimate shortcut will probably be discouraged by our volubility; and one or two may be accidentally edified.

These concerns, to be sure, are not clearly expressed in the questions themselves. I think you were exactly right to prompt OP for more detail, and the detail he provided should be incorporated in the question. I wouldn't quarrel with an 'Unclear what you are asking' closure until that is effected.

  • 2
    Well said. There's a world of difference between "what is the answer?" and "I think the answer is X but someone else says Y; why?" I've seen several of the latter but cannot immediately recall an instance of the former. Commented Aug 22, 2014 at 16:00
  • @EsotericScreenName Sadly these are becoming more prevalent. This one ell.stackexchange.com/questions/307601/… for example. Commented Jan 18, 2022 at 15:55

I don't think we need an explicit "homework" policy. If you think a questioner is being lazy, and simply using ELL to avoid putting in the expected effort to complete a homework assignment, downvote and/or closevote citing this from the Help Pages...

Please make an effort to research your question before posting it, and be sure to add as much detail as you can when explaining your problem.

Obviously by their very nature, most "homework" questions are reasonably easy to answer using standard reference sources, so by implication you could also closevote citing General Reference.

In practice what usually happens at the moment is some people post comments asking the OP to clarify what he's managed to establish using other sources before asking on ELL, and why exactly this isn't sufficient. Others just go ahead and post an answer (perhaps as a comment).

If in fact you do think there's a real problem with poorly-researched homework questions in particular, there's nothing to stop you applying the "show prior research" and "General Reference" criteria more strictly to questions you think are part of this problem.

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