Our guidelines for homework question say to use the self-study tag and tell what you've tried. But what about when a person says, "I have no idea where to start?"

Should such questions be closed? That seems to follow the letter of the rule (and I saw one "close" vote on such a question), but it doesn't seem like the best use of the site.

Surely many people have faced a question and had no idea where to begin. It's certainly happened to me! I think this may be especially common when people are getting used to the idea of having to formally prove things.

  • 12
    $\begingroup$ Asking to clarify what does OP understand about the problem sometimes helps. It usually helps to clarify the misunderstandings that may need clarifying. $\endgroup$
    – Tim Mod
    Oct 11, 2018 at 13:05
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    $\begingroup$ "Have no idea where to start" is nonspecific and personal. It makes for a poor question on our site. @Tim's suggestion is a good one: find out what the OP might know so that you can figure out where to start. For questions about proving things you might remind the OP that all proofs have to begin with premises and suggest that they begin by quoting relevant definitions or theorems they have learned. That might get them started--and obviate any need for an answer--but even if it does not, it gives respondents a place to begin in formulating answers. $\endgroup$
    – whuber Mod
    Oct 11, 2018 at 14:33
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    $\begingroup$ Suppose a person says "I need to run a regression and don't know where to start." One can't tell whether they've looked at any of their data; know univariate from bivariate from multivariate procedures; are thinking along predictive or causal lines; and so on. They may as well be asking "Please coach me in every phase of this work," for which we do close questions. Thus, while asking for more background and referring people to our question guidelines is most considerate, closing such questions is acceptable too. $\endgroup$
    – rolando2
    Oct 22, 2018 at 20:18


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