It is September once again (today is the 8755th day of September), and once again students are asking their homework problems on Stack Overflow and SoftwareEngineering.SE.

We start seeing questions like:

A car dealer has 10 salespersons. Each salesperson keeps track of the number of cars sold each month and reports it to the management at the end of the month. The management keeps the data in a file and assigns a number, 1 to 10, to each salesperson....

Write the code to store the number of cars sold by each salesperson in the array cars, output the total numbers of cars sold at the end each month, and output the salesperson number selling the maximum number of cars. (Assume that data is in the file cars.dat, and that this file has been opened using the ifstream variable inFile.)

The first thing to understand is that we are not a code writing service. You can't just copy/paste a homework into the text area and expect someone to do your homework for you.

Programmer education builds upon previous experiences. The compiler class has machine language and data structures as prerequisites because if you don't understand those, you will be hopelessly lost in the class and not even able to understand the lectures.

Lets assume you do understand the code (the person answering the question did a good job explaining it)... the curriculum is designed to take you from A to Z with 24 steps between. As industry programmers we often take shortcuts and don't need say, steps ijkl to do something. Learning from us, you'll never get these steps. However you may find in your next assignment or class that understanding jk is assumed and critical to the understanding of some other concepts. Just because we don't need ijkl to do it doesn't mean it isn't understood.

A programming class I took years ago used SPIM - a MIPS simulator. One of the students discovered a little-used DECStation in the lab that had gcc on it. Instead of writing the assignment (factorial) by hand with the concepts we had access to (we were supposed to write a recursive function to learn about the stack and frame pointer), he wrote it in C, compiled it with gcc -S and handed in the resulting MIPS assembler code. However, the compiler, recognizing an optimization, converted the entire code from a recursive subroutine into a for loop. He got a '0' on that homework and had trouble with the next one (which assumed you already understood the frame pointer and stack pointer).

Copy and paste takes no skill. It cheats you out of the education you are paying to get.

It cheats us of good interview candidates. Technical interviewers often complain about the quality of college graduates. You may be enthusiastic, but unless you can write code and explain concepts better than the other person, we're going to hire the other person.

Your first resource to look at should be your instructor. They are there for you and want to have you follow a specific path to get to the end point of understanding.

So, you've exhausted the resources. You've gone over your lecture notes. You've searched google. You've asked your peers and knocked on the TA's door during office hours. You've even tried asking your instructor. And you've come here...

Don't expect an answer in any given time frame. The urgency of your question is not something we are concerned with. Good questions and answers are timeless - not something that needs to be done by 5pm today or 8am on Monday (you may find the rate of answers drops substantially on the weekends and evenings of various timezones).

Describe the problem you are having, what your understanding of the problem is and where you are confused. For a question from a student, the best questions are often the ones that are asking how to take a single step in understanding rather than trying to leap all the way to the solution.

Realize also that the answer we give you may be completely wrong for the path that your instructor is trying to get you to follow. Having previously fought through the problem ourselves, we know and understand when one can jump directly from il and when one needs to go through each step of ijkl in a process. Our answers may skip over steps that aren't needed for this particular problem, but may be critical for understanding the next assignment or some problem years down the road where skipping jk is the wrong answer. In many cases, it is important to follow the curriculum as best as you are able. Going above and beyond is good where one gains a deeper understanding of a problem domain, but one must have the foundation upon which to build.

We want you to do your homework to the best of your ability. Getting points off on an assignment and learning something from that produces a better interview candidate than one who can copy and paste code that got As in school but can't solve a simple problem they've never seen before.

If you decide to post your question anyway

Please make sure you read the tour and help center. Software Engineering focuses on software design and architecture. Questions about "how to write some code" or "help me debug this code" are off topic on SoftwareEngineering.SE as they are issues with implementation rather than design. They may be on topic on Stack Overflow, but just posting the requirements or code and saying what amounts to "help me" is rarely enough for a good question - make sure you read How to create a Minimal, Complete, and Verifiable example before posting a question on Stack Overflow.

If your question on SoftwareEngineering.SE is just a copy paste of homework problem, expect it to be downvoted, closed, and deleted - potentially in quite short order.

  • 158
    You seem to be very morally bothered by this. Many many people and many students parents tell said students that success in school and education is your only measure of success as a human being in this cruel world of cronyism for a few, and high competition for the masses. They learn from an early age that if you are even given one shot at a better life then it is better to cheat and manipulate your way to get there and then worry about learning later, because growing up in a society amidst abject poverty and hungry competition teaches you that the smartest and most learned (cont...)
    – maple_shaft Mod
    Commented Sep 11, 2013 at 18:03
  • 133
    (cont) ... do not always get ahead, but the hungry, greedy and manipulative secure their spot. I think few are outright selfish sociopathic individuals, just desperate people who make bad choices based on the lessons that life has taught them. This is not an excuse to accept the behavior, but it is one to not be morally repulsed and judgmental about it. I pity these students, not hate them.
    – maple_shaft Mod
    Commented Sep 11, 2013 at 18:06
  • 285
    @maple_shaft I certainly don't hate them. I want them to get the most for their money through education. By asking us for the answers they are missing out on what education has to offer (if you're just going to ask P.SE for the answer, don't go pay tuition). Skipping to the answers in the back of the book doesn't help you learn and makes everything you need to understand after that even harder. And then when I interview people with a degree in CS who can't even program and working minimum wage at a loading dock, thats time and money they've wasted. I'd rather them not waste that money.
    – user40980
    Commented Sep 11, 2013 at 18:13
  • 71
    A few words on our side. We are educating our next generation of co workers here and fellow hobbyists. Lots of people use Stack Exchange sites every day when learning to code, often it's among the first resources they see and the first truly useful one. Anyone passionate about building things would sympathize with this letter - it's painful to see people give up on being better so easily even if it's completely understandable (as maple_shaft said). Being a community network filled with people who like coding, we should aspire to give them a good education, if not for their sake for our own. Commented Sep 11, 2013 at 19:21
  • 60
    Benjamin, yes they should use Stack Exchange. But the point is that they should post what exactly they are stuck on, not ask for copy-and-paste code. It's not about not using Stack Exchange, it's about copy and paste on its own not being a good education Commented Sep 11, 2013 at 19:38
  • 22
    @BenjaminGruenbaum When we are asked a basic question that is trying to understand how to take that next step in understanding, we can be an excelent resource. But when asking to skip to the end or take a short cut, we can help with that too (if its a reasonable question - on topic, not too broad) - but realize that by doing that way you may find that we've skipped or glossed over some necessary steps for some other concept that is to be used in the next assignment, making that one even harder.
    – user40980
    Commented Sep 11, 2013 at 19:43
  • 164
    Very well written. Both of the students who read it seemed pretty impressed.
    – psr
    Commented Sep 11, 2013 at 23:36
  • 38
    hey, I did the gcc -S trick too. But I still tried to understand it which led me to use -O0 (disable optimisation). That was 15 years ago, I've never seen another sparc since. Oth, knowing how to use gcc is still useful, more than understanding sun arch. I want my money back.
    – imel96
    Commented Sep 12, 2013 at 2:25
  • 38
    Copy and paste takes no skill. - You'll be surprised :D
    – CodeART
    Commented Sep 18, 2013 at 16:03
  • 9
    @JeroenVannevel well, it was outdated on the day after I wrote it (on the 7317th day of September 1993...). Given the Endless September, one could say it is still September.
    – user40980
    Commented Oct 14, 2013 at 19:08
  • 15
    If SE was serious about lazy students, both SO and P.SE would have a dialog box showing frequently (in the manner of Wikipedia's donation requests) reminding users to read this letter or more directly to be critical towards homework questions.
    – Piovezan
    Commented Oct 23, 2013 at 11:05
  • 24
    FWIW, asking the instructor is about the one thing the students are probably not doing. Poor students tend to see instructors as people who are there to mark them, not as people who are there to teach them. As such, they'll do anything to avoid showing up with the perfect answer even though they don't understand at all. If they'd been better students, they'd turn up at lectures and tutorials where they'd actually learn something and wouldn't need help here on specific homework problems. The ones who never turn up are almost always the ones who fail. Commented Jan 12, 2014 at 9:15
  • 41
    Sometimes I'll welcome the poster to the site, explain most of the above, and suggest they do their own work. But, y'know - sometimes when in a particularly foul mood I'll do the little snot's piddly-arsed homework and let them turn it in precisely because they won't learn the concepts, (hopefully) won't pass the course, and in due time will end up as furniture salesmen or appliance installers instead of software developers that I might someday have to work with. Be careful what you ask for - you might get it. Commented Jan 17, 2014 at 2:55
  • 17
    @JayScott - Perhaps it's "just a rant", or perhaps it reflects the community's response to a relatively common and recurring problem. This post won't necessarily prevent poor homework questions from being asked, but it handles the explanation of why it was closed and possibly heavily down voted. And for the not-quite-poor homework questions, this provides guidance on how to turn it into a constructive question.
    – user53019
    Commented Mar 18, 2014 at 15:50
  • 20
    When was the last time I read "It's September again". Used to happen every year on usenet, like 25 years ago. I don't agree with "it's just a rant". These student questions clutter stackoverflow, make it a less interesting place for most of us, and it doesn't help the students, as MichaelT already said. Good post, well written, useful, to students at least.
    – Christine
    Commented Sep 2, 2014 at 10:15

13 Answers 13


I agree with this open letter. I guess it's more directed at the people potentially answering this kind of thoughtless questions, because the people asking them -- more often than not Help Vampires -- will never read meta, or the FAQ, or try to understand the issues involved. So I guess it could be rephrased to say: "potential answerers, don't encourage these questions with answers, but downvote and close them instead".

Wasn't the purpose of StackExchange, as stated by Jeff Atwood, to increase the signal-to-noise ratio of the internet? This kind of questions reduce the ratio, plain and simple.

Don't encourage Help Vampires. Educate them, if you can, but know it's an uphill battle.

  • 33
    is there a homework.stackexchnage.com ? Commented Sep 26, 2013 at 6:13
  • 93
    @AmoghTalpallikar No, and I doubt there will ever be one. What would be the point? If you look at the whole range of stackexchange sites, none caters to the "help me solve my problem even though I've never made an effort to understand it myself" crowd.
    – Andres F.
    Commented Sep 26, 2013 at 12:48
  • 6
    Just to be clear i don't want one for myself. I was just thinking its not that bad idea to come up with a forum for students. sometimes teachers aren't that good. They may not get ready made answers but knowledge can be gained from a online forums, i am sure a lot of people who like teaching would like to give answers that a beginner can understand. Commented Sep 26, 2013 at 15:07
  • 5
    @AmoghTalpallikar With rules being strict and strong community checks in place on stackoverflow, so many useless questions which don't show any effort on the part of OP come daily, so if we make a official site for this , then god knows how many bad questions might come. Moreover, if the OP shows genuine effort on his part, then people on SO answer their questions. Commented Jan 22, 2014 at 17:48
  • 5
    @AmoghTalpallikar SE is fine with helping students with problems find solutions to those problems. It's NOT a platform for handing them ready made term papers, which is what the majority of this kind of question comes down to.
    – jwenting
    Commented Feb 5, 2014 at 11:55
  • 2
    @ps06756 seeing from other sites that are less dilligent at policing such rules, expect very quickly the vast majority of posts to be by homework kiddos, and any qualified people to answer them to disappear as they get sickened by it (or to try and stem the tide and eventually fail).
    – jwenting
    Commented Feb 5, 2014 at 11:57
  • 1
    @jwenting: true. I experience this on Quora. people post anything there. Even if thy will get the answer with a quick Google search, Commented Feb 5, 2014 at 12:11
  • Why not create a homework stack exchange site? It could be a honeypot, and potentially increase the quality of the "real" sites.
    – user22815
    Commented Mar 5, 2014 at 15:49
  • 42
    There should be a homework.stackexchange.com and it should be search engine optimized to be lead to for anyone searching for homework solutions. The caveat: The site is just one page, explaining to students all the things explained by the OP (how homework is for them to learn, and it's not someone else's job and it can't be done for free, copy/paste is no skill, etc, etc.. finally ending with a friendly invitation: If you tried to solve your homework, but are stuck at something specific, come on aboard Stack Overflow! See you there.
    – ADTC
    Commented Aug 29, 2014 at 4:35
  • 7
    @ADTC Interesting idea, which maybe could be augmented by an abbreviated version of How To Ask Questions The Smart Way and links to the various top Stack* sites with a short description.
    – l0b0
    Commented Sep 6, 2014 at 20:48
  • @AmoghTalpallikar "sometimes teachers aren't that good" and other such excuses are often given as justification for no-effort homework dumps. The truth is, everyone will have good teachers and poor teachers throughout their educational journey. Being able to learn regardless of who's running the class is critical. A dedicated student knows not all teachers are going to be perfect and will take responsibility for their own educational outcome by reading books, searching for answers, talking with peers and asking thoughtful, well-researched questions instead of laying blame on someone else.
    – ggorlen
    Commented Nov 28, 2020 at 23:50
  • @ADTC or it should be a container forum, where only low quality resides
    – Rainb
    Commented Apr 29 at 13:23

An Open Response

  • Does this belong on P.SE meta?
  • If so, should we expect and accept similar posts from other users?
  • Chances are, the students who paste homework don't read P.SE meta.
  • Your evidence in anecdotal. I could offer a story of how my education was saved by scooping the answer to a stubborn problem from the interwebs, which gave me time to focus on more important parts of a difficult class.
  • You assume that everyone shares your values. Things that are meaningful and valuable to you aren't necessarily meaningful and valuable to others.
  • Besides, pasted homework questions are adequately defined as out-of-bounds in the FAQ and many other meta posts.
  • The basic question you cite in a comment as a good homework question already received several downvotes, a close vote, and a warning from gnat. Even if a student wants to ask a good question, it's not easy. I've seen basic questions closed because they were too basic. More involved questions are often closed because the student (or any other learner) may not have enough experience to articulate their root problem.

I agree that the "car dealer has 10 salespersons..." is bad. It's too localized. Simple. I just don't see how your question/open letter helps prevent it.

  • 9
    Yes, maybe - there are other discussions. Its been tagged as 'featured' which means it shows up on the community bulletin, and hopeful useful for a user to link to as a comment. It is indeed anecdotal, but its ment to be cautionary that we aren't here to educate we are here to solve problems, the two are not always aligned. I certainly welcome other views and values. While C&P homework is off topic (for people who don't read M.P.SE), it doesn't explain why its a bad idea for a student to use that resource as a student. Alas I saw another person post the same car salesman question.
    – user40980
    Commented Sep 12, 2013 at 19:53
  • The static methods static data question, as I see, only has one downvote at the time of this comment - it will also likely remain open (follow the review). Asking questions on P.SE isn't easy (even for non-students). There is a difference between too broad and too basic. Basic questions are often broad. Another one (which took some refinement) is How do I easily print number triangles? Using for loops.
    – user40980
    Commented Sep 12, 2013 at 19:58
  • 8
    The key to a good student P.SE question is articulating where they are now and the direction of the next step they want to take. Questions that are one step at a time are rarely too broad. The difficulty comes when they want to jump to the end - and they may find future topics more difficult because of that jumping to the end.
    – user40980
    Commented Sep 12, 2013 at 20:00
  • @MichaelT - I took a look at the OP's reputation. That's where I noticed the other downvotes. I already reviewed and voted to leave it open. I didn't mean to focus too much on this one question. I was just pointing out that, as you noted, the P.SE rules can be tricky. Commented Sep 12, 2013 at 20:08
  • 2
    (back to your first point), do consider that FAQ posts are on Meta sites. The alternative is a blog posting (or both) - and I certainly wouldn't be disappointed if this was migrated in that direction, though it has a different level of interaction. MSO also has a fairly strong tradition of 'address the user base and see how people like it.' The Stack Overflow question checklist even made it into a close reason.
    – user40980
    Commented Sep 12, 2013 at 20:11
  • 1
    Ahh, you may have missed the '+2 undownvote' and interpreted the '-5 unupvote' as a downvote.
    – user40980
    Commented Sep 12, 2013 at 20:13
  • Open comment to your open answer to that open letter (bullet by bullet): * Yes * Yes, and yes we already do * Doesn't matter (guess why?) * Who cares * This is a trick and it works * I prefer this way * Who cares
    – gnat
    Commented Sep 12, 2013 at 21:53
  • 2
    was your education actually saved by scooping the answer to a stuborn problem from the interwebs?
    – psr
    Commented Sep 12, 2013 at 21:55
  • 21
    I think you're missing the point of this post. It's not meant to be preventative, it's meant to simply be a letter to share some thoughts that may hopefully inform students of a common opinion of this site's community and how they might work with it more effectively. I don't suspect any students will read this before they are instructed to, but now that it's here they may be instructed to read it. Posting it on Meta is a valuable way of ensuring this site's community can publicize feedback so it's apparent that it is not simply the beliefs of one person, if it were that too would be obvious. Commented Sep 12, 2013 at 22:18
  • 2
    I'm the 17th person to down vote this. I decided my downvote before I checked that stat. The crowd approach to SO is great and a huge part of avoiding SO becoming like the hundred sites before it that simply didn't work or survive as their quality bombed over time. Commented Oct 1, 2015 at 13:34

I think if a student is so lazy that they ask homework questions on this site, they are definitely too lazy to read this long open letter. Plus, this sort of thing should be directed at the people who answer homework problems. If people would simply refuse to answer obvious homework problems, the incentive to ask them will be removed.

  • 5
    is there a reason to post an answer that appears to merely repeat what was stated long time ago in top voted answer? "I guess it's more directed at the people potentially answering this kind of thoughtless questions, because the people asking them -- more often than not Help Vampires -- will never read meta, or the FAQ, or try to understand the issues involved..."
    – gnat
    Commented Sep 16, 2014 at 14:38
  • Yeah, I think one sentence warning before posting would be better. For Example: Some people, upon stumbling on homework on SO think it is a good idea to notify teachers - take that under consideration before posting.
    – user158037
    Commented Feb 5, 2016 at 11:54
  • I agree. Do answers to closed questions reward reputation ? Do views of closed questions reward reputation ? If nothing prevents people from asking/answering the question, and from gaining reputation with it (Googling the problem leading to the closed question page), then I don’t see how things may change. A few days timeout preventing the user from asking another question or voting for an answer or reading its answers may be nice (but I agree it is a rather radical stance and may be difficult to implement or contradictory with other stack policies …) . Commented Mar 6, 2022 at 12:18

This letter is missing something.

Software engineers enjoy solving problems and building things with computers. If a typical homework problem seems like a boring drudge, or 'too hard' for you, you're going to hate working as a software engineer.

Software engineers need to learn new things all the time. Every day can be like a homework question for something you haven't been taught yet, and needs to researched.

You can cheat your way to a qualification, and bluff your way into a job, but you can't cheat or bluff a computer. The job won't last long and you'll have wasted years when you could have studied something that interested and inspired you.


I agree that cheating is the worst thing a student can do; Not because it is dirty or manipulative, but because it causes significant harm to the student and the student along.

However, even some the most intelligent people in the worlds history (Einstein and Edison for example) have/had problems understanding even simple problems if they were not described in a language that they related to. To the point that many are/were considered "dumb" or "delayed".

It's the same system that leaves countless thousands of young people struggling to divide crates of apples and bananas in math class just to excel in calculating fuel:air ratios for fuel injection systems in shop class. Present the problem in a way that engages the student and they quickly understand things that they often felt was beyond them.

What I'm getting at is the greater question of why the student feels they need help with a problem. Assuming that they should only need help applying the concepts within the solution assumes that they should be able to fully understand the problem, which history has proven is a dangerous generalization during somebodies education.

I'm not saying that the basic point of your letter is wrong or unneeded, however your letter does seem a bit presumptuous and possibly negative towards people who need help.

  • 4
    The point that I'm trying to get across is that by asking questions of P.SE, the answers that one gets may be wrong for the class, skip over important things the instructor is trying to teach, or be otherwise counterproductive to learning the material (that the student is graded on). In trying to provide the best answer for a professional programmer we are often providing the worst answer for an academic. Without all the additional background of what is in the class and what isn't, we can't give an answer with the right constraints... which are arbitrary and not real world problems.
    – user40980
    Commented Jan 28, 2014 at 21:39
  • 3
    "Edison" does not belong in "most intelligent people". He belongs in "most willing to piggyback on and steal credit from the most intelligent people".
    – corsiKa
    Commented Sep 11, 2015 at 22:55
  • 1
    @corsiKa - That's debatable, but even if so, such people (such as Bill Gates) typically prove smarter than those that they swindle, scam, and steal from.
    – JSON
    Commented Sep 13, 2015 at 5:32
  • @corsiKa Stop reading the Oatmeal.
    – mrr
    Commented Sep 28, 2016 at 4:42
  • @MilesRout I don't even know what that is. I could google it, but it sounds like a webcomic?
    – corsiKa
    Commented Sep 28, 2016 at 14:42

SO and this community has gained a reputation that many of users do dream of following the trend. We see Jon Skeet and many many other.

I completely agree that asking for solutions against homework is not good. But if the user tried something, did researched on the topic and is stuck with it, that makes the question valid.

Asking good question and getting recognition is different topic. The point here is start to this community. I am so much obliged that this community has extended help to all those who seek the help!

Students face different situations as we do in work culture. I just hope we can make a difference by enlightenment to technology areas. I sincerely hope only start is the difficult part, once you get started the next steps follows easily.

  • 4
    The point I was trying to make is that even with a good question, P.SE isn't necessarily the best place to ask questions for academic approaches - we should be the last resource rather than the first for homework problems. Our answers may be completely contrary to what the instructor is trying to teach, or go off in the wrong direction. One example of this, I recently helped a student with an assignment. When complete, it was very well done using techniques both he and the professor were unaware of...
    – user40980
    Commented Jan 28, 2014 at 15:47
  • 5
    ... however, it also went in a direction that the assignment wasn't supposed to take. The core thing that the professor was trying to teach was completely gone because of the design approach that I suggested. And I can't know what the goal of the assignment was because I am neither the student nor the instructor. While the question was valid, the answer correct, it was wrong for the homework and the student likely got a worse grade by asking here than if help was sought from the professor first. This is the warning I'm trying to give to students who are asking questions here.
    – user40980
    Commented Jan 28, 2014 at 15:51
  • I completely agree with you, doing assignment is not correct. Help , guidance and direction to all is what i expect. I think its dependent on the OP how well he uses this site.
    – Aditya
    Commented Jan 29, 2014 at 6:55

I think there needs to be a flag for questions which have not been researched or could be found anywhere on the internet. Promoting questions which have answers which could be found in a matter of minutes on a search engine ought to be frowned upon.

Recently I have been observing questions on Programmers and Stackoverflow regarding interview questions. A user failed an interview and wants the answer. I feel like these questions, like those asked by students, can be damaging to the Software Programmer community at large.

I wonder if there is some way a policy could be developed to help handle these types of concerns.

  • 1
    Unfortunately, in many cases the people asking don't seem to care where they get their answers from. And it hits us quite hard at the beginning of the term (there's another point at the end of term when people try getting their last projects done). Interview questions are another matter that I address in another post. While it does damage the industry as a whole, it makes it much harder for the student to get past that first or second class and they get way over their head in other classes.
    – user40980
    Commented Aug 30, 2014 at 0:17
  • meta.programmers.stackexchange.com/a/6845/31260
    – gnat
    Commented Aug 30, 2014 at 4:54
  • 1
    @gnat i like that. Still think we need a new kind of moderator flag. Commented Aug 30, 2014 at 13:55

There's little to disagree with in there but there are a few points maybe worth mentioning.

  1. For some people getting better marks and a degree by whatever means it takes is more important than anything else. This view is often ingrained in the education system of a country, or is something kids grow up with at home. Either way, there's nothing you or I could do to change this, certainly not as contributors to SE, so it is what it is.
  2. There are others then who are willing to learn but simply don't know any better. They post their assignments on SO because that's the first thing that comes to their mind. These people are willing to take hints on possible paths to take and are quite happy to be led to the solution step by step...except this is a very bad fit for a Q&A site. There really should be a site set up to do exactly that but as far as I know, there isn't yet.
  3. I remember well when I was a student and I can tell you that very few of us had any notion of conscious self-improvement, even though a lot of us had been hobbyist coders from a young age. Self-improvement, job interviews or any kind of bigger picture just didn't occur to us.

Now of course all of the above is based on anecdotal evidence, though I'm certain that all these types do exist because I've seen them. But I've got no idea how big each of these groups are, whether there are any other groups and so on. And I don't think anyone else has either. It'd be nice to see it researched though, so if any sociology students are reading this... :)

  • 2
    We don't know, and to an extent, really don't care what group the student asking the question is in. The open letter was written as a "this is an explanation of the type of response you will get and what our expectations of a person asking a question are." Hopefully it can get the members of group 2 to re-examine how to ask a question and group 3 to consider the 'why' of the negative response from posting poorly asked homework. We will down vote, close, and delete poorly asked questions no matter what the source.
    – user40980
    Commented Sep 22, 2015 at 15:22
  • @MichaelT I agree, I am still curious though.
    – biziclop
    Commented Sep 22, 2015 at 15:24

Homework and projects can count for a large part of a grade, but there should be some sort of exam (maybe that is proctored) that has enough complexity to it and a time limit that makes SO not practical. A large code quality discrepancy between the tests and other tasks should be a red flag for cheating.

All questions should indicate some effort by the OP and not just ask for all the coding to be done for them whether it's homework or not.

If the "copy and pasters" can't get a job, they'll just have to spend more time actually learning to program and/or pay for additional training. Good programmers are hard to find, but if you can't spot a bad one, get someone else to do your hiring.

Imagine a company (not a software company but someone developing an internal app) that hires one beginner programmer, but puts the app on Github as an open source project or several posts on SO to get free coding. This wouldn't be good for the profession either.

  • 7
    Its not so much the 'get code from SO or get algorithms from P.SE' thats the issue that is the trouble - both of these spell problems well before an exam that students may not be aware of. We may gloss over some concept that the student will find is key for the next assignment. In that respect, going to the instructor first for homework is always best. Single steps, are much less likely to be problematic questions and have fewer concepts that can be glossed over. I believe this is key to getting good questions for us, and a better experience for students on SE.
    – user40980
    Commented Sep 13, 2013 at 20:19
  • 2
    @MichaelT - Be careful what you ask for. Students will expect you to respond 24/7.
    – JeffO
    Commented Sep 19, 2013 at 18:31

A minor addendum, but I think worth adding separately: the thoughts outlined in the question are correct, but here:

So, you've exhausted the resources. You've tried asking your instructor.

The instructor is very much not the first first resource to use. Given the fact that this open letter is shown to many newbies on various communities, it should be more precise.

Resources are:

  • The material that is given to a student during class. That might include a wide range of printed or online media, specifically intended for that class.
  • The peers! We really shouldn't send students to talk to their instructor first. Instead: tell them to form teams, and work together (insofar as the assignment setup allows for that)
  • Then the internet, then the instructor.

The only good reason to deviate from that order would be if some assignment is really unclear, or considered at fault.


Solution: create homework.stackexchange.com where those trying to get a fast one have the tables turned on them upon entering a valid question, where a valid question on Homework.SE would be as simple as a copy paste of the assignment.

The moment someone answers with google.com, let that automatically be set as the correct answer. Nah, just kidding, but most of the issue is finding information quickly so that a student can just get an assignment done, so answers on said site shouldn't be focused on doing the assignment for them; rather, focused towards what essentially amounts to hand-held problem solving and giving them the resources to solve it themselves, and maybe try showing them as gently as possible how absurd it is that they don't want to put in the least effort to solve the most trivial problems.

What more is that it can be a means to direct misguided students towards a better future and a proper path. One does not simply copy and paste an assignment unless one is disinterested in the course it came from--in which case it's more like a LifeAdvice.SE under a Homework.SE alias. Imagine that: a place where people can collectively share their experiences and wisdom in learning as students (of which every person on earth is) whether it be in primary school or otherwise.

Yes, we all get how stupid and annoying literally every word problem is from public school, particularly in America, especially in Mathematics, and I agree that SE in general isn't the place, but as everyone unfamiliar with SE as a student is thinking this is the place to post homework questions, why not actually solve students' homework troubles in a dedicated site? Then we can migrate all existing homework or homework-related questions to Homework.SE, and that isolates the problem. It could even be converted to maybe a sort of hired tutoring service for those willing and generous enough to do it for free (I'm assuming that's most people on here given that everything is posted gratis). Quite different from what SE is, but it would certainly fix the problem.

This certainly isn't a true solution, however. This only solves the problem of decluttering SE. It doesn't solve the fundamental cause of such homework questions in the first place: a subpar academic system in much need of reform and improvement globally. What would the best academic system look like? One that begins at infancy, with the parents as their first teachers (as they should be), constantly looking to see what the student's intellectual interests are until it is narrowed down to a single object, with all classes being oriented more and more towards that particular interest over time such that by the time everyone is in university or research-level learning, everyone knows exactly what he wants to be and do the moment he reaches the age of majority.

This school system failed me hard. Let's try to give the homework question askers the benefit of the doubt that perhaps he's just lost and doesn't really know what he wants in life for a career. I was blessed to know what career I wanted before I began high school here in the US four years prior to ninth grade.

  • 1
    Re "The moment someone answers with google.com, let that automatically be set as the correct answer." (yes, I read what followed): No, search is broken. It may have been true 10 years ago, but now false negative search results are the norm. Commented Oct 11, 2023 at 16:03

The target audience of this letter is not going to read a wall of text like this. Doubly so if they are loaded with coursework.


There is a dinosauric component to this eruption of frustration. In the pre-ubiquitous-internet-age, the solution for an assignment would be in the student's notes or in a book the teacher told him to read. We would "copy and paste" that solution, either from memory or textbook, and get a good grade in return. And somehow some geezers find that more worthy than finding answers on the internet.

We were mindless time managing copy-monkeys just like the target audience of this post, the only difference is that the books did not smack us in the face to tell us we were not thinking as we were doing it.

It is all in the game. It isn't easy to get effortless pan-ready answers here. Of course some students will try and if they do it in a smart way they may even succeed. It is up to the experienced lot to turn those fishing practices into learning experiences. After all, that is what we are here for, are we not?

  • 6
    I for one am here not to teach anyone, students or not. I am here only because of questions and answers. If students or anyone else learn from questions and answers, fine - but nothing more than that. I have absolutely zero interest in turning fishing practices into learning experiences - if I had it I'd pick different site(s) for that, with different software and community. "Ask questions, get answers, no distractions"
    – gnat
    Commented Sep 4, 2016 at 15:41
  • 1
    @gnat Do you know why you are here? Commented Sep 4, 2016 at 15:59
  • 4
    sure. To ask and answer questions. "No distractions", just as promised in tour
    – gnat
    Commented Sep 4, 2016 at 16:11

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