Looking at other answers, I realized that I should have better formulated what I mean by homework questions, perhaps making a distinction between them and beginner questions (which I have nothing against, if it is clear that some effort was made there), similar to what @Verbeia did in her answer. By homework questions I mean those where we are presented with a very specific context, within which some problem(s) occur, and such that it takes us considerable effort to strip the irrelevant details and see the actual problem. And when we do, the problem happens to be RTFM-type or very close to that. These questions often have these distinctive features:
- It is not quite clear what is being asked, and it changes many times throughout the discussion
- Even though the actual problem may be simple, it takes considerable effort to answer (unlike well-formulated beginner questions which are typically taking a few minutes to answer)
- You end up spending much more time on the question and subsequent conversation with the asker than you anticipated from looking at the problem
- Even when you answer those, you are not sure whether or not your answer was really helpful to the asker.
It is this type of questions that I am concerned about. Here is a very recent (as of the time of this edit) example of such (it may not be a homework, but it is exactly the type of questions I mean).
It was not an easy thing for me to make up my mind on this, but I think that the default for homework questions should be that they are not welcome. We have limited amount of resources, as a community, and homeworks are intended to make people do some things on their own, so by providing extensive help for them, we are not doing anybody a favor.
If we think about what homework-type questions bring to our community, then I don't find anything really valuable. Specifically, homework questions are likely to
- Discuss very specific situations, so that answers will be unlikely to help in somewhat similar other cases.
- Create information noise, since many of them will be variations on the same theme
- Lower the overall quality of questions and discourage our core of regulars (experts and advanced users) from answering more frequently and extensively
- Lead to information duplication
- Make it harder to find the relevant questions
- Promote the attitude of not making an effort and asking before thinking
- Waste valuable efforts of experts and advanced users, which can be better spent elsewhere.
There are other concerns which I already expressed in a somewhat different context. Overall, I think that we should do anything we can to keep the quality of information on our site superb. And, if some number of beginners are put off by our policies, I wouldn't find it particularly worrying, since there will also be beginners who will make an effort and ask good quality questions.
That said, I think we need a well thought-out section in our FAQ titled something like "Why my question was closed", as well as "What can I do to make my question better", and we can direct new users there. This way, there will be fewer reasons for them to take that personally, and we won't have to be softer than we should, just because we don't want to hurt someone's feelings.