# Should I add the self-study tag to a question that is copy-pasted from a book?

This question was asked earlier today https://stats.stackexchange.com/questions/239640/simulation-problem-in-r#comment455733_239640.

The text is copy-pasted from an Exercise from Introduction to Probability (Joseph K. Blitzstein, Jessica Hwang) (see here, Exercise 47.b).

I added the tag without asking the author, kinda like the consensus achieved in Should we tag questions that smell like homework?.

The tag was removed pointing towards other threads in meta debating this kind of tagging.

So, should (or shouldn't) I tag such blatantly self study questions?

• Yes, and I would also format the copy-pasted exercise as a quote. I don't really know why Tim rolled your edit back. Would be good if he comments here himself. In this particular case it does not seem to matter though, as the Q is downvoted and closed by now anyway. Oct 11 '16 at 20:15
• For one thing, the tag wiki says not to so it's not surprising that someone would edit it out. At the least, I would encourage you to first ask the OP to add it themselves, at the same time as asking them to read its tag wiki as that will encourage the correct understanding and behaviour. If the OP doesn't do so within a reasonable time (I'd suggest at least 24 hours or at least an hour of the next site activity by the user, whichever comes first), then follow what you see as the consensus position. Oct 11 '16 at 20:56
• @Glen_b I don't really see why one should wait 24h/1h for the blatantaly obvious copy-pasted textbook exercises. Can you explain why you (or our wiki) consider this preferable to editing straight away plus posting an explanation comment? I do understand that in less obvious cases one should give OP a benefit a doubt. Oct 11 '16 at 21:03
• Among other things (which concerns I have already addressed in a couple of places, I think) I think one burning issue is that changing the treatment of the tag (that the OP places it) may lead to people closing many fewer questions that should probably close until the OP understands the expectations and edits the question Oct 11 '16 at 23:40
• @Glen_b (sorry, I noticed your comment only now): I am not sure I understand this argument correctly. Are you saying that you would prefer "blatantly obvious" self-study Qs without a self-study tag to be closed (right away?) rather than to be edited to add the self-study tag? Oct 12 '16 at 13:55
• The ones that don't follow the requirements and/or that the OP doesn't fix (if they happen to be asked to when asked to add the tag and read the wiki and follow the guidelines) should close. If we're no longer asking, they'd more usually have to close immediately as off topic, wouldn't they? Oct 12 '16 at 14:14
• I agree w/ @Glen_b here. I think the best course of action is to leave a comment (& possibly vote to close &/or downvote if egregious) immediately. There is sample text here. Whether the tag is present is a very salient cue regarding whether the OP is familiar w/ our policies & is trying to comply. If the tag is not added w/i a reasonable period of time, the thread can be voted to close, even if it did not seem particularly egregious at first. Oct 12 '16 at 20:17
• @Glen_b: I see. My only problem with waiting for 24h is that after 24h it is likely that nobody will start voting to close anymore. If, however, one leaves a comment asking to add self-study and simultaneously votes to close as gung seems to suggest, it can be a viable strategy. If this turns out to be the new consensus though, we should revisit those old Meta threads. Oct 13 '16 at 16:15
• @gung Just to be clear: so you have changed your opinion since that comment of yours from Jan 2014, where you said: "I don't have a problem w/ people editing questions to add the [self-study] tag, & I do it myself"? That was the most upvoted comment (8 upvotes, including mine) in that 2014 thread. Oct 13 '16 at 16:18
• It seems I have changed my opinion, @amoeba. In truth, I don't really remember the version here. The rationale for not adding the tag, but having the OP do it, is that (1), it is more likely the OP will be familiar w/ our policies, & (2) a concrete action on the OP's part represents some buy-in from them. Oct 13 '16 at 16:54
• Isn't it a copyright violation to do so, and thus the question needs to be removed? Oct 14 '16 at 16:41
• @Anony-Mousse Probably yes, specially if they don't give credits, but does it change the fact that it's a self-study question? For the record I'd add the tag AND flag as off-topic (self study questions motif) Oct 14 '16 at 17:00
• @Anony-Mousse: It's not our job as CV users to try to act as some sort of copyright police, but quoting without attribution does contravene our policy on plagiarism. Oct 14 '16 at 18:05
• The self-study tag was created in response to a discussion at meta.stats.stackexchange.com/questions/1556/…. It includes a long, useful comment thread which bears on the present question.
– whuber Mod
Oct 17 '16 at 15:24

As for me, the whole idea about is that people are working on some exercise and are looking for some hints since they are stuck. Copying-and-pasting a textbook exercise produces off-topic rather then self-study questions.

In my opinion, any new user who and pastes a homework question should be encouraged to show some effort in solving it, or at least to point out where they got stuck and what kind of hints are asked for. Applying the does not make a copy-and-pasted question a self-study question... In such cases I'd rather vote to close it, rather than re-tagging.

• (+1) I can get behind that opinion, it's just that at the time it seemed right to add self-study tag to a question that's obviously fit (as in asking for help in an exercise of a textbook), and flag it at the same time. I flagged it as off-topic (self-study questions motif). Oct 13 '16 at 15:25
• So the argument is copy-pasted questions aren't self-study in your opinion? While I think they could show some effort, these questions still sound self-study to me. Oct 13 '16 at 15:27
• The argument is that question can be either [self-study] (and on-topic) or copy-and-pasted homework that are off-topic. What would be the reason for tagging the questions that are to be closed as off-topic?
– Tim Mod
Oct 13 '16 at 15:28
• They might not be closed if further clarification is added, and the self-study tag would remain there. I often do try to edit and improve questions that I flag to be closed, after all they might not be closed if the person asking makes the effort to clarify the question is the meantime. Oct 13 '16 at 15:30
• Right. This is the reason why I prompted OP to read the self-study tag info page and adapt his/her question to it (what leads to adding self-study tag). Adding the tag yourself does not solve it. Sorry if you felt rolling your edit as overreacting - I rather wanted to make a point to OP that he/she should read about our policy.
– Tim Mod
Oct 13 '16 at 15:35
• No need to worry Tim, you and me are just trying to improve the site, no resentment (and for the record it didn't strike me as overreacting, just need clarification here on meta). Oct 13 '16 at 23:05
• (In editing your question for style I've tried not to import my own views, which are not identical.) Oct 14 '16 at 11:08
• @NickCox What are your views? Would you perhaps consider writing an alternative answer here? I think we need to try to bring this discussion forwards somehow. Oct 14 '16 at 12:30
• I'm with @Glen_b. Self-study tags should show self-awareness of the kind of question being asked and the expectations attached. Oct 14 '16 at 12:56
• @NickCox I am not sure I understand then why you don't agree with Tim. Tim argues that we should not add [self-study] to other people's questions, which is Glen_b's position too. Also, just to clarify: didn't you have a different opinion expressed in this 2014 comment? Oct 14 '16 at 13:01
• @amoeba Ouch. I must have changed my mind. This is politics, not science. I'll vote for anything well argued according to mood. Oct 14 '16 at 13:05
• Just to jump the gun on amoeba finding people holding different opinions in the past, ... if you look hard enough no doubt you can also find me expressing a different opinion to my current one. The fact that a number of us have changed our mind over time should be enough to give us some degree of pause here. Oct 14 '16 at 21:19
• @Glen_b: Just to prevent possible misunderstandings: I am certainly not blaming anybody for changing opinions and am not at all implying that this should somehow cast doubt on any of the changed opinions. All of us change opinions sometimes (it'a good thing, not a bad thing). I hope I did not create a different impression. What you mentioned certainly does give me a pause. (Perhaps I should say that I personally do not care much about it either way; I am not active in the [self-study] tag anyway and am not very familiar with its issues.) Oct 14 '16 at 22:33
• (+1) I have some nuances but found it too long to fit into a comment, hence another answer has been posted. But I like this answer, particularly for the succinctness which eluded me! Oct 15 '16 at 23:56
• My point is that we shouldn't be trying to adjudicate or advise on potential copyright infringement by other users. SE has a procedure for copyright holders to assert their copyright & allege infringement; &, presumably, a legal dept competent to decide the appropriate response: this is a quite separate matter from site moderation. Oct 21 '16 at 8:57

I agree with Tim's position that "Applying the self-study tag does not make a copy-and-pasted question a self-study question".

But I suppose there are some nuances in my position which I will elaborate as briefly as I can manage.

• Sometimes the question is part copy-and-paste from a book, and partly explanation of where the OP is stuck. I appreciate this type of question may not be what this Meta thread is mostly talking about, but it's common enough, and there is often no clear demarcation between where the C&P ends and the OP's thoughts on the question begin, nor any indication of the source of the material. In this case, the question generally meets our self-study guidelines, is on-topic, and therefore merits the self-study tag. There's no harm asking the OP to read the self-study wiki so they have appropriate expectations of the kind of "getting unstuck but not giving it away on a plate" answers they'll receive. But in this situation a brief edit and tidy up (putting the source question in quote formatting, adding a reference to the source material if e.g. the OP has mentioned it in the comments or it turns up on a quick internet search) seems appropriate. It's often the case that doing this stuff for the OP takes less time than writing instructions for the OP on what I'd like them to do, the OP can still see our expectations of future questions from the way the question looks after editing, and I don't need to remember to check back in a couple of days' time to see if anything has been done. As far as I can tell, there's no harm including the self-study tag as part of this sprucing up.
• Sometimes the question is pure copy-and-paste from a book and the question doesn't meet our self-study guidelines. I will leave a comment to the OP alerting them to our expectations, and vote to close as off-topic. If the OP fixes things up in short order, then hopefully the question will be saved from closure (or if it's too late for that, reopened) by other users on the review queue. Again, there is no need for me to check back. Adding the self-study tag doesn't seem to help much, so that might as well be left on the to-do list for the OP.*
• If the question has been around for a long time, is blatantly self-study, and especially if the OP is no longer active, then I don't see any harm adding the self-study tag myself. This even applies to those questions which arguably should have been closed in the past, but have been around for so long, and have had good answers posted to them, that I can't see any point voting to close them. If it were a fresh question I might have voted to close, but in this case I might just edit and add the self-study tag (plus any other tidying up that needs to be done, and there's usually something beneficial to do other than add the tag) then otherwise leave it be. Once again, there is no need for me to check back - once 'tis done, 'tis done.

$(*)$ There is one counter-argument to this that I consider quite strong based on my previous experience: when presented with a list of changes we expect the OP to make, lots of them just add the self-study tag and think they are now done! So perhaps if we added the self-study tag for them and then said "now check you comply with its conditions", it might prompt them to focus on the substance of our self-study guidelines rather than the superficial addition of the tag. If I change my mind about this issue in the future, this is probably going to be what tips my mental scales.

• +1. I agree with almost everything here. I understood Tim such that he is against ever adding [self-study] tag (as are Glen_b and gung, who both explicitly said so in the comments under OP); that's why I did not upvote his answer. But I certainly agree with him & with everybody else that a copy-pasted exercise without any evidence of reflection is off-topic (under our policy) and should be closed as such. I feel that the main issue under discussion is whether to add a self-study tag for questions that are not off-topic (your bullet #1), at least potentially. And here you and I seem to agree. Oct 16 '16 at 0:19

I think tags should describe the contents of the question and nothing else. If our policy is that we treat textbook exercises differently (i.e. only provide "helpful hints"), then it makes sense to have a tag that is applied to questions posting textbook exercises. I think that's essentially that. If I see a question about PCA that does not have a [pca] tag, I add it. If I see a question that is obviously (!) a textbook exercise, why not adding the [self-study] tag.

In this thread @Glen_b and @gung (and @Tim?) argue otherwise. For the sake of discussion, I will now quote earlier statements that argue in favour of adding the [self-study] tag in obvious cases.

We had this discussion in 2012: Should we tag questions that smell like homework? There @whuber wrote in an answer that has 17 upvotes:

I think it's fine to retag (without comment) as long as it is perfectly clear that the problem is homework.

We then had this discussion in 2014: Is it okay to add the [self-study] tag through an edit instead of asking OP to do it? There are no answers, but most upvoted (9 and 8) are two @gung's comments (note that @gung wrote has changed his opinion since then, see his answer & comments):

I don't have a problem w/ people editing questions to add the [self-study] tag, & I do it myself. This is especially true when, as here, someone just copies & pastes a question from their homework. [...]

Regarding the issue of politeness, you raise a good point. When I edit to add the tag, I always also leave a comment (which I just copy & paste & change the name). [...]

@NickCox agreed:

Always asking first would be polite, but I don't think it is especially practical. Often these questions come from new or inexperienced users not familiar with tagging, or much else; indeed they often back off and disappear when people don't do as they ask. Removing a mistaken tag is easy and painless when needed.

• One small difference is that if you add pca as a tag you do not expect the OP to do anything about it but with self-study you do. Oct 14 '16 at 15:20
• What would you expect OP to do, @mdewey? Oct 14 '16 at 15:24
• Assuming the OP has not taken the advice in the wiki then to give us that information about progress so far, where stuck, and so on. Oct 14 '16 at 15:31
• @mdewey: If the OP hasn't taken that advice then their q. should be placed on hold (regardless of whether the self study tag's been applied, & by whom.) +1 to this answer by the way. I'm not very keen on any suggestion that people should be routinely returning to posts to check if simple guidelines have been followed. Oct 14 '16 at 15:33
• Precisely. I fully agree with @Scortchi. Oct 14 '16 at 15:38
• I agree with both you and @Scortchi so I think I must have expressed myself badly. Oct 14 '16 at 16:18
• @Scortchi, if the concern is checking back, it seems to me the optimal choice is not to add the tag & vote to close. Voting to close now or checking back later strikes me as orthogonal to whether we should add the tag for the OP, or the OP should add the tag for themselves. Oct 18 '16 at 16:03
• The problem w/ this argument is that the SS tag is not like [pca] or any other. Whereas [pca] describes the content of what the OP is asking about, SS is a meta tag. The OP isn't asking about SS, they are asking about the content of their HW problem. The SS tag marks the Q as different in character from all others, & to which special conditions apply. The OP adding the tag indicates some minimal familiarity w/ our policies & intention to comply. The question for this thread is whether its better for us to add the tag for them or them to add it for themselves. W/ pca there is no difference. Oct 18 '16 at 16:13
• @gung: Quite agree on the orthogonality of the closing vs leaving open decision & the adding the tag vs prompting the OP to add the tag decision. I had the (mis?)understanding that mdewey was suggesting adding the tag or prompting the OP to add the tag, then waiting to see if they comply with its requirements before doing anything else, which would involve checking back later - I don't like that idea. Oct 20 '16 at 10:27
• Fair enough, @Scortchi. But I gather amoeba believes you think the SS tag should be added by others through edits. Oct 20 '16 at 14:02
• @gung That was my impression of Scortchi's opinion, yes (but I would say "could" instead of "should"), because of his +1 to this answer. It would be good if Scortchi clarifies. Oct 20 '16 at 14:07
• @gung: I do think the SS tag could be added by others through edits. In the case of a q. that's clearly going to be closed anyway I don't think it matters very much, & you make the good point in your answer that adding it to a closed q. pointlessly moves it to the re-open queue. Oct 20 '16 at 14:41

The various answers in this thread reveal that we, as a community, use for multiple purposes, of which the major ones are:

• To signal a desire for conceptual help and hints rather than a full answer.

• To acknowledge that the question comes from a textbook or exam.

• To serve as a search term.

One discussion we could--and probably should have--concerns the merits of splitting into categories along such lines. However, I'm interested in something a little different:

As a moderator, what I care most about is having the ability quickly and firmly to close peremptory or artificial questions.

• A peremptory question is one that demands a particular answer: true/false, multiple choice, state a formula, etc. IMHO, those are of no interest; they almost surely have answers on the site already; and allowing them to stand would rapidly litter this site with tens of thousands of threads that reduce its value.

• An artificial question is one with no context or background. It is typically fabricated as a routine exercise of an elementary concept and often requires a near-mindless application of some mathematical procedure. There is no possibility of exploring statistical issues concerning how the data were obtained, how they were measured, what decisions will be made from them, etc. As such these questions are stripped of all intrinsic interest and are just math problems in disguise.

These are intrinsic qualities of the questions: my descriptions make no reference to who might be asking them or what their motivation might be. (It sometimes takes a brief conversation via comments to establish that a question truly is artificial. The key is that the OP is unable to provide any clarifying information: "this is what my teacher said" or "that's all the textbook has" are the usual responses.)

There are mitigating circumstances. Such a question that has been augmented by a description of approaches the OP has taken to solve it by virtue of that unique, personal description can thereby become new, interesting, and on-topic.

The option we currently have to close questions as "self-study" has served well to explain the reasons for closing them. I think it is important that we continue to have some version of this reason for closure and that we continue to make it clear that such questions are unwelcome.

One thing we need to be cautious about is unilateral tagging: sometimes a genuine statistical question is originally phrased in a peremptory or overly abstract form. (This is relatively rare but it happens.) Our policy always has been to respect the OP and not apply the tag ourselves. However, whether or not that tag has been applied, if a question clearly is peremptory or artificial, I do not hesitate to close it.

Maybe, then--to answer the original question in this thread--we should not be too concerned about applying the tag, but should focus instead on how best to address the question itself, whether by answering, editing, commenting, or closing.

I have been asked by @Firebug during https://stats.stackexchange.com/questions/240780/binomial-distribution-and-mean-variance-standard-deviation to contribute to this meta.

What I did most recently is

1) put the self-study tag in.

2) Hint that the newbie (invariably) should validate that

2a) it is self-study

2b) that he should let us know what he attempted to do to solve the problem already, and that

3) We will give hints after a college try to solve the problem.

Lastly,

4) Asked the newbie to read up on the self-study tag information because it is as clear as mud to a newbie even if it is crystal clear for us.

As a result of my effort, the question was put on hold. As off topic by @whuber after the newbie responded truthfully that

"My book has literally 0 information on how to do this problem. I have emailed my professor for assistance on how to start it (more than a week ago) and he, as usual, did not respond unfortunately. The book only covers finding P when given the number, so in this case it would cover something along the lines of find the probability that at least 5 people were American-born."

So, it is obvious what one sentence hint the newbie needs to see.

The clear as mud problem I brought up before with the prediction that this issue would be ongoing What is the exact meaning of the [self-study] tag? Should we consider renaming it? the most common solution accepted for this is to make a textbook-style-problem. There were more votes for the status quo, however, that is also not a solution.

• Thanks for the input. That's exactly what I'd do, but I can also see the other argument. Oct 17 '16 at 23:24
• @Firebug Agreed, and also see my comment above on Copyright infringement. So, I also have more than one opinion on this. This is also a real head-scratch-er for me. My one statistics course 45 years ago was "Intro to stats for mathematicians." The rest of whatever little else I know is actual self-study. Irony, no?
– Carl
Oct 17 '16 at 23:53

Homework problems have a special status here. One aspect of this is that we want them marked with the tag. However, I think the tag needs to be added almost exclusively by the OP. I leave a comment, of varying levels of severity (there are examples listed here), for the OP to add the tag and read its wiki. There are several reasons for this:

1. If the OP adds the tag, they are more likely to have read the wiki and be familiar with our policies.
2. Adding the tag is a positive action on the OP's part that communicates some buy-in; i.e., that they will abide by our polices.
3. If the OP does not add the tag, that is a concrete signal that the thread should be closed.

Adding the tag for the OP obscures all three.

Another issue is that adding the tag to a thread that was closed for not meeting our standards bumps the thread into the reopen queue. Reopen is one of our slowest and least reviewed queues (in part because it takes the highest reputation to access). So these threads often just sit there for a long time, only to eventually be marked to be left closed (since, again, the OP has not taken any action to meet our standards). Moreover, if the OP does edit their question to meet our criteria afterwards, their question will not necessarily be bumped back into the reopen queue, since it was reviewed already.

I have a hard time seeing under what circumstances it would be better to add the tag for the OP, rather than them adding it for themselves. @Silverfish's scenario in which

the question has been around for a long time, is blatantly self-study, and especially if the OP is no longer active... and have had good answers posted to them... in this case I might just edit and add the self-study tag

seems eminently reasonable, but that strikes me as an infrequent occurrence.

It would be much easier if we just ended the meta tag, because it is difficult to be consistent using it. Many questions are not about homework; yet they are self-study.

I propose treating self-study questions like the other ones: voting according to their content, close when they are broad, unclear, opinion-based, duplicate, etc.

Clear homework questions (like the ones which are copy-paste) can be closed as too broad, or using the specific closing reason we have designed for it; but without needing the tag.

Self-study questions (including textbook exercises, old exam papers, and homework) that seek to understand the concepts are welcome, but those that demand a solution need to indicate clearly at what step help or advice are needed. For help writing a good self-study question, please visit the meta pages.

The 'self-study' close reason has a link which redirects the OP to a CV meta post that has guidance about what to do next. That is it.

Answers which only provide hints to OP about solving the question would still be ok, but complete answers either. It might happen the user who is providing a full answer thinks it will genuinely help future readers, rather than just OP's.

• That's what happened with [homework] tag on Math.SE: it does not exist anymore -- and neither does any special policy for homework questions (AFAIK). We have had several discussions about it here on Meta and most of the people maintain that it's a good idea for us to maintain this tag and the respective policy, and that stats.SE is sufficiently different from Math.SE to warrant this difference in approaches. What I want to say is that I don't think your suggestion has any chance of going through. Oct 18 '16 at 14:27
• @amoeba, not only Math.SE but also other SE sites I participate such as GIS SE and SO SE. It has worked in my opinion. Oct 18 '16 at 14:43
• The issue w/ Math.SE is that without the HW questions, there are essentially no questions. So the HW tag there was effectively equivalent to a [question] tag. For us, HW / SS questions are (fortunately) a minority. Eliminating the tag is one option (it is a meta tag, in truth, & the only one we allow), but if we did that we should make all HW-type questions off topic here, whether the OP shows their work & asks for hints or not. Oct 18 '16 at 16:18
• SS is our word for HW-type. They are essentially synonymous here; we changed the name so that it would be nicer-sounding. Our definition is given as a "routine question from a textbook, course, or test used for a class or self-study". Oct 18 '16 at 16:33
• @gung, I wonder why should we make a SS/HW question off-topic, when it is not unclear, not broad, not opinion-based, not duplicate and does not fail to indicate clearly at what step help or advice are needed? I don't see a connection between eliminating the [self-study] tag and making all self-study questions off-topic. Oct 18 '16 at 17:11
• I don't think they're contradictory. I'm saying they should go together. If we eliminate the SS tag, we should automatically make all SS questions off topic. FTR, I'm OK w/ the status quo, but if we eliminated the tag, that's what we should do. Oct 18 '16 at 17:17
• The tag is part of our protocol for handling these special kinds of questions. It marks them as distinct, not by content, but by character. If we cease to handle these questions specially, in accordance w/ their special nature, we would do best to stop addressing them altogether. I don't want my students getting their HW done here, & I don't want to undermine others' classes in the same manner. Oct 18 '16 at 17:43
• (-1) Despite the tag's rather inapt name, I don't think it does give us trouble. In principle we could keep the policy & ditch the tag - IMO examples of questions we might really want to answer differently according to its presence or absence are few & far between - but in practice it's handy to have a clear indicator (for askers & answerers) of a special use case for CV. As for changing the policy: answerers already have considerable latitude in deciding how much to give away, & when; & I'm sure Oct 24 '16 at 12:03
• ... no-one is really being hampered in posting any material they think helpful by having to comply with the self-study policy. Oct 24 '16 at 12:03
• +1 from me. I added the self study tag for a first time user asking his first question. We discussed the situation of what self study means and how to make his question more acceptable. The question was put on hold and stayed on hold. So my editing really didn't help as much as I hoped. Who is the final arbiter on changes to the system. I don't think statements like "most of the discussants agreed to keep the tag" really settles the issue. Dec 29 '16 at 21:03