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According to the current guidelines we close questions that do not show sufficient effort at solution. Simetimes I find it more difficult to decide whether the effort described was serious. (I regard "I tried to solve it but couldn't" or "I find it confusing" as not serious because these can be applied to any question.) What I tend to do is look at the OP's profile. Sometimes it will show that the OP posted three questions in as many hours. I find this is indicative of little effort. Another time someone with close to 1000 points was accused of having asked a homework question, an idea that struck me as strange.
My question: Should we vote to close based on the question alone or should we use information available about the OP?


Note: This phenomenon is perfectly described by the word 'profiling'. While in the real world profiling is frequently used to describe discrimination based on ethnic or religious background, the profiling described in this question would be based solely on previous merits or lack thereof.


This meta question was created because of a welcome difference of opinions about this question.

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I'm actually quite against the "effort" part of what we're having, but I accepted it for now as a simple rule to prevent overflow of "bad questions", as bad questions correlated with low-effort ones.

The first-best, however, is to attack bad questions - not low effort questions. This is, to some extent, because showing effort reduces question quality. That is, unless it contains relevant information on where the issue is, which it often doesn't.

See the Meta.Stackexchange discussion on exactly the effort requirement in homework questions. My earlier suggestion was upvoted, but we never followed up on setting it into place.


Why is effort irrelevant?

And here is yet another reason why effort is us going down the wrong way: A question is good, and interesting, and useful for future visitors, independent of the reported user's previous effort on solving it. If it is clear, and concise, and not too localized.

Why is profiling bad?

In the same way, profiling hurts the idea behind stack exchange, which is that a question is a good question on its own. If it's a valid question, and useful, it is useful, no matter who asked the question.

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  • $\begingroup$ I agree with your earlier suggestion but I am the only upvoter of your actual answer. Perhaps you should hold a Yes/No referendum on meta about whether to actually put that into the Help Center? The current don't ask information is quite contrary to what we use: economics.stackexchange.com/help/dont-ask $\endgroup$ – Giskard Oct 22 '15 at 8:52
  • $\begingroup$ Hmm, it seems from other meta posts we may not be able to edit the don't ask page. A shame. $\endgroup$ – Giskard Oct 22 '15 at 8:54
  • $\begingroup$ (-1), I think your approach is misleading. The issue of "effort" has most and foremost to do with homework/self study questions. It is a "measure" adopted (imperfect as all measures) in order to deal with this specific category of questions. A Homework question can be very interesting, useful to future visitors and all the other things you mention, but still, we will avoid answering it fully, exactly because it belongs to this category. So while your post is a sensible approach to all other categories of questions, I believe it essentially ignores the special category we are discussing here. $\endgroup$ – Alecos Papadopoulos Oct 22 '15 at 14:28
  • $\begingroup$ @AlecosPapadopoulos I disagree. Why should "more effort" make a homework question more interesting? Have you read the Meta discussion I linked? It is focused entirely on homework questions. $\endgroup$ – FooBar Oct 22 '15 at 14:55
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    $\begingroup$ Also, this is not about "answering questions fully". One can always answer as detailed or short as one wants. This is about, collectively, deciding what type of questions we want to have. And there, the first principle is generating a stack of questions and answers useful for future visitors. That also includes homework questions. $\endgroup$ – FooBar Oct 22 '15 at 14:58
  • $\begingroup$ @Foobar ...a principle that generates the question "Are homework questions useful for future visitors?". If the answer is "yes", it in turn generates the question "Are visitors looking to outsource their homework welcomed here? And if not, but still homework questions are in principle accepted, how can we distinguish between them and other students that just look for a clue to help them move forward?" And here is where "effort" comes into the picture (as an imperfect tool)... I have followed discussions on homework questions on other SE sites. Never saw a satisfactory strategy to emerge. $\endgroup$ – Alecos Papadopoulos Oct 22 '15 at 15:06
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    $\begingroup$ @AlecosPapadopoulos I disagree. Outsourced homework questions are not interesting, at least to me. Specific subquestions are. Of course, it takes effort to specify questions, to get at the heart of the problem, in a way that makes the question not too localized and interesting. This is the main filtering mechanism. Listing one's own effort, on the other hand, is just noise, counterproductive to the overarching goal. $\endgroup$ – FooBar Oct 22 '15 at 15:16
  • $\begingroup$ I'd rather have no homework questions at all here than homework questions where two paragraphs verbatim copy/paste a homework question, and then the next two paragraphs describe a (failed) solution strategy. $\endgroup$ – FooBar Oct 22 '15 at 15:16
  • $\begingroup$ @FooBar Banning homework questions is a perfectly reasonable approach -the only strategic question is whether it will hurt traffic in critical ways or not. On your other points, while in description, "listing one's own effort" can be contrasted to "effort to specify the question" etc, I am not sure that in practice they can be really disentangled, in a useful way. We are talking about undergraduate students after all, their abstract understanding of their homework is most of the times low. $\endgroup$ – Alecos Papadopoulos Oct 22 '15 at 15:48
  • $\begingroup$ @densep, it's true that we can't edit 'What types of questions should I avoid asking?' As far as I am aware, the only part of the help center we have any control over is 'What topics can I ask about here?' (which currently contains a copy of meta.economics.stackexchange.com/questions/164/…) $\endgroup$ – Ubiquitous Oct 30 '15 at 13:29
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When it comes to low effort or homework questions, I often profile. If someone has shown that they will contribute in other ways, I'll be more inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt. I think I'd expect the same in return. Even when you have a clear idea of what you want to know, asking a permissible question can still be tough.

If they have 1 or 101 points or only asked questions, I see it as much more likely that no effort has been made behind the scenes.

What is rep for if it can't be used to make judgments about the poster?

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  • $\begingroup$ You're supposed to judge the question, not the poster. And for the latter, you don't need the former. $\endgroup$ – FooBar Oct 28 '15 at 6:33
  • $\begingroup$ @FooBar, I agree. Mostly. It seems to me that low effort questions get punished here. I think that's fine. The problem here isn't that these questions aren't good for this medium. They often are. The problem is that we don't want to be a substitute for basic research and an alternative to actual thought. For example, many posters clearly haven't even googled the topic they are asking about. If someone has shown that they are willing to contribute, I am less likely to view the question as a low effort 'do my homework' dump. $\endgroup$ – Jamzy Oct 29 '15 at 22:37
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A researcher cannot afford to waste information. I see what you call profiling as a perfectly legitimate approach to decide on such (or any other) matters. I would only caution (not you personally, all of us) against "losing the balance" between profiling and what the question actually includes:

To stick to the incident that caused this meta discussion, the specific OP has also posted another question, this one, for which I agreed totally with you and I have voted to close (see my comment there).

On the other hand, in the question that you linked and for which we had different points of view, the OP appeared to apply what little she knew/understand (i.e. that marginal cost has something to do with supply decisions), and she could use a little help to put that in context, without us becoming her homework outsourcers -and this is what I tried to do with my answer there.

As a concluding note, I may be a bit biased "in favor" of such questions, due to my off-line teaching activities -I will keep that in mind, next time around.

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