This meta question has sparked a flurry of responses saying we need to get tough on homework questions being asked under the guise of worldbuilding. This argument has come up several times in the 'are real world questions on topic' debate, and it's confused me the whole time.

It seems to me that this is attempting to solve a problem which doesn't exist. I've been moderately active for about a year at this point and I've never once seen a question that made me think someone was trying to circumvent the "no homework" policy of other sites. Worse, I can see anyone who doesn't agree with the no real-world questions using the homework policy to close questions they see as "too real world."

The whole concept seems too implausible to me. I can't imagine someone getting stuck on a physics problem, asking on Physics.se, getting rejected and having their next thought be Worldbuilding of all things.

Have I simply missed some glaring examples? Is this actually a problem, or are people simply worried that it has the potential to become one?

What is commonly called a "Homework question" on WorldBuilding.SE is basically a real-world question that can easily be answered by a little research and shows no interest in building a fictional world. It's fine to have a fictional world based on the real world (it's the only sample we have after all) and it's fine to ask about real world stuff in such a context if it's visible what problem you are trying to solve in constructing your world.

Take for example Would a diamond layering on a tool be more efficient than iron or steel?. The whole question reads:

If I put a diamond layering on a chainsaw or other tools, would it make it faster and more efficient than a layer of iron or steel?

It's a real world question and people are arguing that it should therefore be on-topic. But personally I don't see any worldbuilding context here, which is required as per the referenced meta proposal:

  • Provide context. Giving other users context around why you are asking the question allows them to better understand why you are asking and what kind of answer you want.
  • Attempt to do your own research. If a quick google search will answer your question it may not be worth posting a question on the site. Generally, querents are expected to demonstrate what has been tried and why it was not sufficient or did not work. This too helps people answering understand what you are trying to accomplish as well as your level of knowledge on the topic.
  • Define your requirements and by what you will judge answers.

Take some of the comments under the linked Main site question. L.Dutch mentioned:

a google search will answer that. There is also a dedicated wikipedia page

and the OP responded with:

Thanks, can you give me the link?

Apparently they aren't interested in building a world. They are not mentioning what they are trying to achieve with that layer of diamond. They don't mention why the tools need to be faster and more efficient. They don't mention what their goal is and what they expect from answers.

They simply wanted a link to Wikipedia.

And I have to agree with another comment from L.Dutch:

apparently the OP is satisfied of getting a Wikipedia link with a list of diamond tools... I am positive we are not just a mirror for Wikipedia...

We are a site dedicated to building fictional worlds, not a search engine for finding Wikipedia articles.

We need worldbuilding context and we need the OP to show that they researched the topic and found a problem while creating their world that we can help them with. We are not a copy of Wikipedia, we are not the search engine for people that don't want to google.

As I said under this recent addition to the linked proposal:

What are you trying to achieve with "X" in your story? Why is it necessary to have it faster/more efficient? What's your goal in asking this question specifically here? The goal of this specific guideline is to know what the OP is trying to achieve to know what direction we need to go with answers and what the problems are that the OP encountered. Adding "For a story" is insufficient for this and does not help at all to understand the underlying problems of the question.

We give the OP the benefit of doubt, but there are times when this benefit is just not warranted. If you post on "WorldBuilding.SE" you likely want a worldbulding perspective. But if you are not interested in telling us why you need that perspective then other sites might be better suited for your needs. Real world questions are on-topic if they show the effort to be with worldbuilding in mind.

If we can't see the context and effort a question is a "Homework question" and should be closed. We are not a dumping ground for whatever idea comes to mind. As I've mentioned in the chat before:

Give me some context about what you are building (Book? Game? ...) and why you need help from people with experience in building fictional worlds (Why is Wikipedia not enough?) and I am fine with a lot. But I am not fine with this being used as an excuse to ask anything that comes to your mind just because there could be a fictional world that is exactly like ours and where your character has the exact same problem with programming that you do.

This is a problem and with the current trend to declare everything to be on-topic just because "real world questions are on-topic" it is becoming a bigger problem.

  • 3
    While I agree with the point being made, I think we definitely need to call it something else besides a 'homework question'. Telling an OP that his question was closed because it's a homework question when he may not even be in school seems silly, and is likely to produce bad feelings – bendl Jul 12 at 14:51
  • There is a "current trend to declare everything to be on-topic"!!?? Frankly I haven't noticed this. I can see real-world questions as a basis for aspects of fictional worlds. For example, someone building a fantasy medieval world will need to ask questions aspects of the medieval to make their construct plausibly 'real'. Also, not every question about the real world can be answered on the internet. While your diamond-saw example doesn't seem to be about worldbuilding, I don't see OPs have to justify why theirs is a worldbuilding question except if if it too obviously isn't. – a4android Jul 13 at 2:22
  • @bendl I agree calling this type of question "homework" isn't helpful. Calling it something like a "No Research Question" or "Easily Answered on Wikipedia" would be clumsy. Its only advantage is its brevity. – a4android Jul 13 at 2:27
  • 3
    "Homework question" is simply a catchy and evocative name & of well understood meaning. Asking people here to do basic google / wikipedia research for you is just a waste of time & resources. Such questions show no particular intelligence, no particular imagination and no particular motivation. I'd much rather see a question that shows the OP has done a little intelligent investigation but is stumped on a particular worldbuilding matter. A creative question sparking creative responses makes this Stack a wonderful resource! Otherwise, we're no different than any other random Q&A forum. :/ – elemtilas Jul 13 at 2:32
  • @a4android I wrote a SEDE query that might give you some starting points to look it up. You can copy the query and replace the text '%real%world%questions%on-topic%' with other lowercase text you want to search for. The '%' means "anything can be written here, no matter how many characters". The link will guide you to the comment for more context. I ordered by the most recent comments so that you can see that it's becoming a bigger topic in the last weeks. – Secespitus Jul 13 at 8:48
  • @elemtilas I wholeheartedly agree with that comment and invite you to read through some more of my thoughts on that matter here. Also, I am not really a fan of the wording, but nevertheless this is what it's currently called following what other sites encountered throughout the existence of the StackExchange network. I'd prefer a "Missing Worldbuilding Context" close reason, but then again this is already pretty close to the standard "Off-Topic -> Does not appear to be about worldbuilding as defined in the help center" close reason. – Secespitus Jul 13 at 8:51
  • @elemtilas i generally agree with your comment. Catchy & evocative, yes. Well understood, not necessarily. The OP for one and myself. If people were asking others their research, that's plain lazy. I am aware many people are lousy at doing any research. I'm moderately good at researching topics, so it's constantly amazing that others aren't. There will be those who genuinely need help. Truly creative questions are an absolute joy. – a4android Jul 13 at 14:23
  • @a4android As you can see from the referenced question here and in the new iteration of this topic people are asking us to do their research for them, sometimes explicitly stating that they just want a link to Wikipedia or are too lazy to google something. – Secespitus Jul 13 at 14:25
  • @Secespitus I saw the lazy question. It falls in the too-stupid-for-words category. This isn't a problem. Really! They can be closed as not being about worldbuilding, off-topic or out of scope. There are enough WBers eager to close questions to handle it. The "Missing WB Context" close reason could be easily abused. Example: In a world with flying monkeys the OP needs to know how much explosive will blow open a steel door. That Q doesn't need to mention the flying monkeys, entertaining though that might be. The benefit of the doubt is a wise principle. It should be used more often. – a4android Jul 13 at 14:39
  • @a4android It is a problem. We wouldn't have discussions about making exactly these questions on-topic if they weren't a problem. The benefit of doubt should be applied - but there are cases when that benefit is just not warranted. Your example makes no sense. Your example would be better if it relates to the question that were posed here. The OP asks "How much dynamite to blow the door open?" We ask "Why?" The OP responds "My flying monkey need to get past the castle gate, which is similar to a steel door." We "What about flying over it?" -> the real problem is solved. Look at XY-problem. – Secespitus Jul 13 at 15:32
  • And there is no "homework" close reason. They are being closed as off-topic and the goal of some people is to make them on-topic. That's what all these meta discussions are about. – Secespitus Jul 13 at 15:33
  • @Secespitus My apologies I was getting confused between questions about whether there is WB content or context and homework questions. I do see problems with a possible "Missing WB Context" close reason. I agree WB SE should close lazy questions. I realized there could be genuine homework questions with actual WB context. "I have a school project about worldbuilding X. I have researched everything & can't find anything useful. Cites research effort. My question is Y about world X." This is the opposite of egregious I'm too lazy questions. I'd back answering it. – a4android Jul 14 at 1:16
  • @a4android You are confusing me more with each of your comments. Each site on the StackExchange network has some specific problems, but many are similar. On a lot of sites there are real homework questions. On those sites "Homework question" refers to "Here's my homework - please do my work for me", whereas I have never seen somebody mention real homework here. But people use the term in a similar way here to refer to questions in the form of "please do my work for me". – Secespitus Jul 14 at 7:26
  • Questions that align with the guidelines like the one you mentioned should of course be answered. But we are talking about those that don't. Saying we shouldn't close the questions that are good isn't useful when I was just explaining how people on this site use a term that refers to questions that don't align with our guidelines. If you want to talk about abandoning those guidelines you should mention it in the other Meta discussion that mixes scope and culture and where you are currently only talking about culture instead of scope. – Secespitus Jul 14 at 7:26
  • @Secespitus You're right about not understanding. I can barely recognise what was in my comment in terms of your responses. Everything in your sentence 3, para 2, onwards contradicts what I was saying. It seems pointless contradicting your contradictions. – a4android Jul 14 at 10:08

Most of the SE sites have a "we won't do your homework for you" rule. Usually, the question is posed using language that looks and reads very much like a homework question. Here's an example (not from our site):

A nearsighted (far-point = 98.2 cm and near-point = 11.3 cm) mad scientist wants to design a microscope that he can use without his glasses. The microscope should be designed to produce an image at his far-point when his eye is placed right at the eyepiece. The microscope is to use a converging objective lens of focal length fo = 0.34 cm, and a diverging eyepiece lens of focal length fe = -3.56 cm. The two lenses are separated by a distance of L = 44.9 cm.

if a 2 μm high object is viewed using this microscope what would the height of the image be (in µm)?

at what disctance from the eye does the image appear to be?

what is the angular size of the image (in radians)?

if the scientist viewed this object with just his eyes, how high would it be?

how close should he hold it if he wants to get the best look at it?

what would the angular size be if he looked at it with just his eyes? (radians)

what is the angular magnification of the microscope for the scientist? (Source)

The issue is one of principle. We're not here to help people cheat on their homework or exams, nor are we here to help people understand their homework or exams. It isn't that we don't have sympathy, its that the learning process is supposed to be one of discovery and internalization, and asking us avoids both.

I've seen homework questions on Electronics.SE that couldn't be easily Googled for an answer, so the simplicity of the question isn't the measure.

There is not a no-homework rule in our Help Center nor has the issue been discussed as a matter of policy in Meta (other than as an ancilliary issue in another question). It appears this question is as close as we've come to the issue.

So as far as I'm concerned, it doesn't exist.

HOWEVER! One could legitimately claim that since our purpose is worldbuilding, that intrinsically excludes homework. It probably does, but I was raised in a family full of lawyers and they'd see that as a grand opportunity for either a class-action lawsuit or a Supreme Court appeal.

Nor does this does mean I'm against it. It means we need to propose a rule here on Meta (preferably linked to other site's rules for comparison) and get some concensus so we have someplace with clear instructions we can send people.

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