It seems to me we're a bit inconsistent about some homework questions. The help guide says no multiple choice questions (I agree), and no certification/education questions (I take that to mean something like "Do I need to learn OSPF to get a CCIE?," which I also agree with).

But some questions are clearly homework that don't fall into either category, e.g., this one. Some people have suggested that any homework question should be rejected. If we think it's off topic, I think the help guide should be more explicit and say all homework questions are off-topic. As it stands, one would reasonably believe it is an acceptable question, even though we routinely close them.

My personal opinion is that there is a lot of grey here. I don't intend to do a lazy student's homework for them, nor do I want to deprive them of the joy that comes from struggling with a difficult problem. But sometimes when I see someone struggling with a misunderstanding, or just not clear on a concept, I don't mind giving them a nudge in the right direction, especially if they show they're trying.

3 Answers 3


I have made my views fairly clear before on this subject in this previous answer about homework questions or this answer about interview questions, but let my provide by viewpoint again with perhaps a bit more detail.

My belief is that homework questions should be off topic, for two reasons:

  1. I do not give my time to this community to do someone else's homework. If I wanted to do homework, it would be my own in pursuit of my own studies.
  2. When we spoon feed answers to people asking homework questions, they aren't learning what they should be from the work. This in turn will make weaker IT professionals that I may have to deal with "tomorrow" in a professional capacity, whether this is as a network professional, a systems admin, a developer, etc.

Even if the question doesn't state it is homework, it is usually easy to spot such questions because they are typically based on contrived situations or on technology/concepts that are no longer commonly used in modern networking. An example of contrived questions we have seen fairly often deals with dividing an IP range into networks of various sizes (i.e. you have a /24, subnet this to accommodate networks with the following numbers of hosts - 50, 24, 10, and 8).

In the off chance it is a real world question, the person asking should be able to provide more context or explanation about why they are asking and it can be reopened as appropriate. People asking homework questions seldom seem to realize the non-practical nature of the question. With the above example, a legitimate question asker might explain that they were allocated a /24 from their ISP and need to divide it up in this fashion for plausible reasons X, Y and Z.

The added advantage to this approach is that with further context/explanation this community may be able to provide legitimate posters with a better solution than what they are currently considering based on our collective knowledge and experience.

However questions about the concepts behind homework should be allowed (within reason). One of the requirements would be that the question is limited to the concepts and not specific answers. Based on my previously contrived example question something along the following lines:

  • Okay: What process would you use to efficiently divide an IP range into subnetworks of various sizes minimizing the unused IP addresses in each subnetwork?
  • Not okay: What process would you use to efficiently divide a /24 IP range into subnetworks of sizes of at least 50, 24, 10, and 8 hosts while minimizing the unused IP addresses in each subnetwork?

While the second is about the concept to a degree, it is leading those who would respond into using the supplied values and actually providing the specific answer to the homework question.

Additionally, questions about ideas/concepts inspired by homework questions should be allowed. Using the same example, something along the following lines (ignoring the opinion based nature) would be acceptable to me: "We were asked to divide up an IP range into small subnetworks of various sizes based on the number of hosts in each; is this an approach that I will normally be using as a network professional?"

My personal opinion is that there is a lot of grey here.

Agreed. And I firmly believe that not everything as part of these communities will be or should be firmly black and white. Life just isn't that simple. Nor are these communities and you will always have people with minor and/or major differences in their views on things.

That is the nice part of Stack Exchange as they allow the community to be self correcting. As our community continues to grow, there will be more viewpoints that will be able to cast close and reopen votes when they feel they should. Additionally, users are free to ask about their question being on/off topic on meta if they think it was wrongly closed.

As to the specific example posted in the question, on my first read through I thought it should be clearly closed. On reading it a second time, I still think it should be closed as it stands but it falls into the grey area. It matches my "Not Okay" concept example above; edit out the actual work and stick to the concepts and it should be fine to reopen in my opinion.

This example just came in and I wanted to point it out. This is a homework question, and the OP did all the work. They are simply asking for us to check it's accuracy.

By the other answers, this may be allowed since the OP did all the work and is not asking for the answer.

By my standard this would also be off topic since they are not asking about the concepts behind the question, have included the specific question/answer, and it is not inspired by the homework. This would prevent this site from becoming some sort of "homework validation" service as well, which I would like to avoid.

  • The impetus for my question is how the help section is worded. If we're not going to allow any homework questions, we should clearly say so. Right now, all we ban are multiple choice questions.
    – Ron Trunk
    Nov 2, 2015 at 13:40
  • I would agree, and I think the whole help section needs a revamp. I just personally haven't had the time to do so. I would also like to see continued emphasis on the approach we put into the help section. I can make the changes I want, but that doesn't always reflect the community.
    – YLearn
    Nov 2, 2015 at 17:05

I understand what you are saying. I certainly don't want this site to be completely turned into a "Do my homework for me" site, but, as in the question to which you refer, I think it may be OK to, once in a while, help someone who has put in a lot of the work and shows that.

The other side of that is that, suddenly, this site is flooded with homework questions and ends up hiding the real network engineering questions in all the noise. I believe this site was created as a separate site from Super User for a similar reason: all the network engineering questions were buried in all the noise.

I don't know if a balance can be struck, and I think that's the reason for the total ban.

I like the idea of people taking the initiative to learn network engineering, and I want to encourage them, but I don't know if this is the right place. There are many Internet sites that do this, but maybe there should be a separate Stack Exchange site for network engineering students. Based on the number of questions that come in on this subject, it may be a viable site, albeit "seasonal".

  • I think it's safe to say that no one wants this to turn into a homework site. I doubt that answering a few thoughtful questions will open the floodgates. We already get a lot of homework questions -- some explicitly so and some implied. And we're very inconsistent about answering them. If we're going to put our foot down and say absolutely no homework questions, then we should say so in the help section.
    – Ron Trunk
    Oct 20, 2015 at 16:59
  • OTOH, we do get (and answer) a lot of questions that are probably homework (or at least prompted by school). I suspect, but can't prove, that most of the "theory" questions come from someone's thinking about something they learned in class.
    – Ron Trunk
    Oct 20, 2015 at 17:02
  • I agree that answering a few well written and researched questions which show effort on the part of the person asking the question should be something we do; I want to encourage the next generation of network engineers. I, myself, just don't know how to word something like that, but I would be willing to back a properly worded change that gives such an exception. If anyone wants to take a stab at it, just post it here as an answer that we could comment and vote on.
    – Ron Maupin Mod
    Oct 20, 2015 at 17:41
  • 1
    remember: we get flooded this time every year, so it always seems bad in the fall when students are starting new school terms Oct 23, 2015 at 11:15

Yes. We absolutely need to be more explicit. Right now, it comes down to whether the reader thinks or feels the question is homework.

I really only think we should be closing questions that are obviously homework. And even then, we should be more inclined to answer than to close.

For example, if someone posts a homework question, then asks for the right answer. We should close it.

If, however, someone posts a homework question, then lists the possible answers, then states which answer is correct, then asks why it is the correct answer, then we should definitely answer it. This is a call for understanding, and a request for help. Not a dismissal of responsibility.

To put it simply, If the question is straight up, "solve my homework question for me", then yes, we should close.

If the question is anything else, or only possibly homework, then it should absolutely be left open. There is far greater risk in answering the occasional homework question, than there is in rudely dismissing a non-homework question based purely on suspicion.

  • In the question which started this, the OP specifically stated it was a homework question, then edited that part out when told that it was off topic. Other than that, the question had demonstrated actual work toward the answer, but the work missed one key point which Ron helped him with. I like the idea of helping people who help themselves. The problem boils down to how this exception should be worded.
    – Ron Maupin Mod
    Oct 29, 2015 at 23:55
  • @RonMaupin It seems to me the original question was more of a call for help than it was a dismissal of responsibility. I would say we should be willing to answer those types of questions. Maybe the wording should be surrounding a homework question which doesn't also include prior effort from the poster?
    – Eddie
    Oct 30, 2015 at 0:01
  • @Eddie, in regards to your question/example, if you feel comments are not appropriate, please flag them for a moderator to check. I have cleaned up the comments on that question, edited to remove a bit more of the verbiage that could make it sound like a homework question and put a bounty on it so it will receive more attention. I don't think the question was ever closed, and another mod had previously viewed and declined a "recommended closure" flag. Hopefully all of this will help address the problems you had with that question.
    – YLearn
    Oct 31, 2015 at 2:14
  • @Ylearn, Thank you for doing that. I feel you went above and beyond and saved that question from certain doom. Making those edits was far more helpful than simply dismissing the question.
    – Eddie
    Nov 2, 2015 at 15:19
  • @Eddie, I didn't see the question the first time around, bit I tried to answer it.
    – Ron Maupin Mod
    Nov 2, 2015 at 20:45

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