I've recently been hanging around this site because I enjoy problem solving on linux and learn heaps from seeing how other peoples solutions. I'm happy to pitch in to solve others problems, however -here more than other SE sites- I see questions that make me want to close my browser and walk away.

I think there are some things which are productive for neither the asking party nor the answering. A case in point would be today's "Can you write an awk script for me?" (Note: editor changed title to something less provocative).

I have no objection to writing scripts for people as proofs of concept or editing real code to help people get on track. What irked me about this question was that it was clearly a homework problem aimed at getting the student to read up on the documentation and understand the available options. It didn't help that the user has a history of asking homework questions, by which I've been bothered before. It presented nothing that would not be covered in any basic awk guide. There was no real-world application to engage or cause to further. I felt like somebody was trying to cheat me out of my time and wasn't even going to walk away having learned anything. If they wanted to learn they could read a man page first and then ask a specific question. There wasn't even room for people to present creative solutions with other software because the problem had a requirement of using awk.

I say that makes for boring clutter on a QnA site.

Should I suck it up and move on?

Should I tag them myself as homework (or doitforme :P) so I can ignore the whole lot of them?

Should we be a little tighter in our on-topic criteria?

  • @caleb if it helps in any way, we are aware of problems specific to the author of that question and are taking action. I'm curious if you've noticed problems outside of that user? Apr 26, 2011 at 1:20
  • @caleb I should also note I'm a fan of the homework tag, esp if the question obviously comes from something like a textbook Apr 26, 2011 at 1:35
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    @zenoterracide: Yes actually I've seen other cases, but I brought it up now because of how blatant this one was. I'll add links to the discussion if I run across more in the future. I would like to point out that my question is not only directed at the homework issue; sometimes people come through that really just want a script coded up for them and don't expend any energy understanding or applying the concepts in the answers. They complain that the relevant code that does get suggested is incomplete or not exactly what they needed.
    – Caleb
    Apr 27, 2011 at 9:28
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    @Caleb - I hope that I'm not being bunched in with this group. I don't think I am but if I were I'd like to be told. I've learned a huge amount from this site in a short period but I do realize that I'm amongst the most noobish of users on here. I'm in awe of some of the users' knowledge and what may seem trivial for you, may be a puzzle wrapped in an enigma for someone like me. I like the 'homework' tag idea but I also think it's important to contact users that are seen to be abusing the system.
    – boehj
    Apr 28, 2011 at 2:39
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    I'd encourage you to downvote any questions that you feel are particularly egregious "no reasonable effort shown". A strong asymmetry of effort in asking and answering is unsustainable and should be discouraged. Apr 28, 2011 at 6:41
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    @boehj: No I don't think this applies to you. It's not a crime to be a noob :) At least the questions I remember seeing from you it looked like you were actually trying to understand what was going on. My concern is more for people who want the answer for the sake of moving on and would prefer somebody else does both the learning and actual work.
    – Caleb
    Apr 28, 2011 at 7:22

2 Answers 2


I certainly defer to the others here who are active participants -- but our general philosophy is to heavily favor answerers.

We feel that the world is awash in questions, but not answers. Answers are the real unit of work in any Q&A system. Therefore, the only logical thing to do is to maximize the happiness and enjoyment of answerers.

If this means aggressively closing unworthy or uninteresting questions, so be it. Without a community of people willing to answer questions, it really doesn't matter if there are questions at all, does it?

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    I often don't mind writing people's script for them actually, but this is a repeat offender who's been posting his homework for a couple of months and has clearly made zero progress, so all he's getting now from me is downvotes or NaRQ closes. Apr 28, 2011 at 22:19
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    @gilles I know you know this, but questions closed as "off topic" or NARQ get a free downvote from community; that's crucial because in general there is not enough downvoting on questions. Apr 29, 2011 at 5:02

Regarding homework, see this previous meta question. I recommend answering obvious homework questions with hints rather than full answers.

If you see a homework assignment which is missing some bits or badly translated, don't hesitate to close it as “not a real question”. (Technically the fact that it's homework doesn't change whether it's NaRQ, but I'm less likely to be lenient on a badly-asked homework question than on someone's practical problem where it might not be obvious to the asker which error messages or configuration file contents are important.)

Regarding the specific question you link to, this isn't this guy's first post. He's been using multiple accounts, but he doesn't bother to disguise his assignments (I think they all have MSc stream somewhere). He's mostly NaRQ material, but this question looks ok and deserves a hint.

If you find that answering a question would be too much effort for an answer (that's not specific to homework questions), don't hesitate to say so. Just write an answer explaining general methodology (e.g. “This is a job for awk, here's a small script that meets requirement 1, and use for (i in arr) {…} for requirement 2”). If the asker insists on getting a full solution (“plzsendmetehcodez”, ignore them).

Regarding basic questions, don't forget that what's obvious to you may not be obvious to the asker. If the asker is an obvious beginner, a pointer to the specific place in the documentation as well as a short, commented example can be very helpful.

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