Suggested policy: questions yes, tasks no


I came across a comment on a Stack Overflow page that got me thinking:

This is not a question, this is a task. SO is not your free coding service, please show your attempt and describe why it failed.

I feel that having a policy against posting tasks rather than questions might help solve some of the challenges this forum has dealing with homework and might encourage better practices in general.

To be clear: I think that any question is good and should be encouraged and I do not attempt to bring some of the SO harshness into this very friendly forum. By "task" the comment author means to post a problem and expect people to solve it for them.

People who attempted to solve a problem are welcome to seek help understanding why their attempts are not successful. Or ask about alternative approaches. Or ask for guidance as to how to get started. Or ask specific questions about a function, or syntax, or some code, etc. All these are questions.

The only thing that would be out of bound with this policy would be posting a problem (homework or otherwise) and expecting to have it solved (i.e. posting a task).

Happy to hear your thoughts!


Note: I liked this comment because it addresses some of the issues that I have seen being discussed in this forum. For instance the problem of homework copied and pasted without any work being performed by the OP.

I had never thought about it in these terms, but I now find it useful:

A question expects an answer, which is an opportunity to learn. It requires work before seeking help, then after receiving the help.

A task requires no work and may or may not be an opportunity to learn (depending on whether the OP only cares about the result or is interested in learning from the answer). Tasks are not questions because the OP is in fact saying: "Do this for me."


Generally I like this distinction between questions and tasks, and I think having a policy or some guidance around well-crafted questions rather than tasks is a good idea. We do have the "Tips for writing R-related questions" FAQ, and I think adding a questions-vs-tasks subsection would fit nicely there. It might also be worth adding to the "Welcome" post.