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We recently had examples of rather basic homework or classwork questions, presented as such, asked without anything but affirmation that the poster tried and failed to solve them. The pattern includes asking a detailed or step by step solution, and that's indistinguishable from asking something readily suitable for submission as answer to the work.

Some of the questions also were posted as raw text rendering the sound of reading the problem including formulas, without any attempt of using TeX when that's the most sensible thing to do, and easy. Time may tell if fixing that with hint, or plea to do so, can improve the situation. Update: nope so far, despite earlier explicit promise.

Alas, I see more than one sign that the fine answers given, or my hints in comments, might have somewhat failed to help raise the poster's understanding.

Can we better handle such situation, and how?

In particular

  1. Should be we summarily improve at least the title of the question to the point that it makes sense, when that's an issue for the original?
  2. More generally: fix, or leave the body of the question as is until the OP fix it? (I realize the former goes beyond XKCD's Duty Calls)
  3. Should we upvote, ignore, downvote, or close the question (when it has become clear it won't improve)?
  4. Should we still reward by up-vote those many technically correct answers that give step-by-step answers?
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  • $\begingroup$ I went ahead and closed this recent one. $\endgroup$ – mikeazo Nov 5 '14 at 16:30
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There's a tl;dr at the end of this.

It is my understanding that questions which are obviously homework should not be answered fully, but instead given a nudge to the right direction.

It is, of course, within the OPs power to ignore partial answers and accept those which answer the question fully, as well as request and accept the nudge instead of the full solution. I've seen a very good example of the latter but I'm too lazy to search for it.

Which one is best from a pedagogical point of view? That's irrelevant. If the answer is technically correct and explains a concept with reasonable clarity, it deserves my upvote. And I think it's generaly agreed upon that good answers save otherwise bad questions.

On the other hand this isn't a homework solution centre. If a question ends with prove that for me, cheers and the answer is there you go laddy, that question isn't likely to help others in the future, and should be closed as too localized. The answer might as well enjoy the OP's acceptance. We don't really care.


On the call of duty: Once the OP posts a question, it does not belong to them anymore. It belongs to the community. Editing bad questions is entirely within the scope of the call to duty, and since your definition of beyond is probably different than mine (for any your and mine), feel free to downvote/flag/edit to your heart's content.

I agree with you that being ignored is quite annoying, and you've answered your call as far as I'm concerned, but some people just don't take suggestions. Downvoting because of non-use of TeX is entirely fair in my book, especially when the downvote can be undone after the question has been edited. Yet when you improve formatting you don't do the OP a favour, you're doing a favour to the rest of those who are going to read it, while giving the OP the equivalent of a cough, stern look, and a point to the sign that says "Use TeX!"

tl;dr Answer your call to duty, as captured by our poet XKCD, but when you feel you're going beyond it, it's probably a good sign you need to use the downvotes.

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Here are my few cents on this having followed what's going on for a few weeks. Currently, the site doesn't have a big following among academics working in the field. I've seen very few people here that could be considered experts within their respective subfields of crypto. Chris Peikert is one of the rare few.

I'm not sure what the goal of this site currently is and what direction it wants to take? Is the idea to make it a useful Q&A site for people working in the field (be it industry or academia) or more as a fairly low-level question answer site for students?

Personally, I would prefer to see a slight increase in the level of discussion while still allowing for beginners to post questions about topics that haven't been discussed to death. For this to happen, it would be good if all the million repeat questions about AES, DES, RSA etc. would be quickly closed as duplicates by whoever has the power to do so.

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    $\begingroup$ You propose the definition of "duplicate" gets changed. Do you have any such questions in mind to use as an example? I feel the spirit of your answer is enough to spawn a meta question of its own. $\endgroup$ – rath Nov 13 '14 at 21:33
  • $\begingroup$ Whoever has the power to close as duplicate… that's YOU! It takes five votes from users with ≥500 reputation to close a question. Users with 15 to 499 rep can flag as duplicates, which puts the question in a review queue where 500+-rep users can vote for or against closure. $\endgroup$ – Gilles Dec 8 '14 at 19:45

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