Homework Help Guidelines for Students and Helpers

In summary, the guidelines below will help you avoid common obstacles to getting help on Physics Forums. First, choose an appropriate thread title that accurately describes your problem. Next, use the homework template provided by the website to structure your post and make it easier for helpers to understand. When reproducing the problem statement, make sure to type it exactly as it is worded and provide the proper context. Additionally, show that you have thought about the problem by making a genuine attempt at solving it and asking targeted questions. Avoid vague or general statements about your attempts and do not simply post images of the problem or your work. By following these guidelines, you can increase your chances of receiving timely and helpful assistance on Physics Forums.
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The guidelines below will help you avoid some common obstacles to getting help.

Executive Summary
1. Choose an appropriate thread title
2. Use the homework template
3. Reproduce the problem statement accurately
4. Show us that you've thought about the problem
5. Do not simply post images of the problem statement or your work
6. Don't post poor images
7. Make your post easy to read and follow (format, language, grammar, etc.)
8. Helpers: don't provide the entire solution

  1. Choose an appropriate thread title.
    Thread titles are the first thing that potential helpers will see of your requests for help. A thread title should be chosen to attract the attention of homework helpers with the relevant knowledge and experience to help you with your particular problem in a timely fashion. For this reason the title should be descriptive of the subject matter and thread content, giving an indication of the area of study involved and the nature of the problem. Non-descriptive thread titles can earn you a warning or infraction.

    Single word titles ("Energy", "Circuit", "Pressure", etc.) are too broad and vague, so are not allowed.

    Homework helpers may simply skip over titles that are too vague and don't catch their interest, particularly if other threads look more interesting at the time. Titles like Help needed! or Check this for me say nothing about the actual content or expertise required. Begging for help (Help me please!) or immediate assistance (Urgent!) don't come across well: such threads may be ignored entirely by some as a matter of principle, and are likely to be deleted and draw a warning or infraction.
  2. Use the homework template.
    Physics Forums requires the use of the homework template. This is primarily to make your post clearer to the homework helpers, but it's also there to help you. It is never a bad idea to structure your work (here and in general), and sometimes organizing your thoughts can help you clear up your confusion on your own. If you don't have enough information to fill out the template, it's a sign that you shouldn't be posting yet.

    Separate questions require their own thread with the template filled out. Multiple questions in one post are not allowed.
  3. Reproduce the problem statement accurately.
    Type the problem statement exactly as worded. If you're only asking about one part of a long problem it may not be necessary to type up the entire problem, but you need to ensure you've provided the proper context for the sub-problem. If you paraphrase or summarize, make sure you're not changing the meaning or omitting important information. It's very frustrating trying to help with a problem only to discover that critical information is missing.

    In addition to the typed version, you may want to attach a scan or electronic copy of the problem statement. Please do not do this in lieu of typing up the statement. Posting images, while convenient for you, can be troublesome for others, especially if they're trying to view the thread on a phone or tablet.
  4. Show us that you've thought about the problem.
    The forum rules require that you show an attempt at solving the problem on your own for several reasons. First, we're not here to do your homework for you. You're the one taking the class, so you need to do the work. Second, we need to see where you're getting stuck so we know how to help you. Third, you'll learn more by making a bona fide attempt at solving the problem, and then asking specific, targeted questions to clear up points of confusion. Finally, we want you to develop the learning skills you need to succeed in all of your classes. You have to be able to get past the "I have no clue" phase on your own.

    Note that we're not necessarily looking for you to offer a complete or partial solution to the problem; we want to know what you're thinking so we can identify and clear up any misconceptions or points of confusion.

    Here are some common mistakes to avoid:
    • Don't simply say "I have no clue," "I have no idea where to start," or "I'm completely lost."
      These don't qualify as attempts. Instead, it suggests you haven't put much effort into reading and understanding your textbook and lecture notes, going over similar examples, etc. The helpers aren't here to answer your questions so that you don't have to read your book. We get that some people say this even though they've put in the effort. If this is you, please heed the next bit of advice.
    • Don't simply say "I tried for hours and didn't get anywhere."
      This is really no better than saying "I have no clue." It tells us absolutely nothing about where you're getting stuck. If you tried for hours, you must have had some thoughts about the problem. What were they? Show us what you tried, explain why you think it was wrong, and so on. Better yet, identify what's confusing you and ask specific questions to help you figure things out. Provide a meaningful response to avoid wasting everyone's time. The helpers should't have to draw out information from you that you could have and should have offered in the first place.
    • Don't just give a vague or general description of what you tried.
      If the problem lies in the execution, as it often does, we can't help you find mistakes without seeing your work in detail. Even if you provide your final result, it usually does little to help us figure out where your attempt went awry. We can't help you find these mistakes without seeing your work in detail. Also, sometimes what you mean by X and what the helper thinks X means are different. Again, seeing the details of your work will remove this ambiguity.
  5. Do not simply post images of the problem statement or your work.
    Please make the effort to type up the problem statement and your work. Ask yourself "If I can't be bothered to spend my time typing it, why should they be bothered to spend their time reading it, much less responding to it?" Use images for supporting figures. You may, of course, attach an electronic copy of the problem statement in addition to the typed version. Indeed, if it's a complicated or long problem, you probably should, but you should always provide a typed version as well.

    While posting images may be convenient for you, it's actually one of the most effective ways of getting your request for help ignored. Images are often too big, too small, rotated, upside down, out of focus, dimly lit, or of otherwise poor quality. Your handwriting may not be as easy to read as you think it is. Even when images are readable, they often make viewing and responding to a thread very inconvenient, particularly on a mobile device. Moreover, they're a hindrance to the helpers as portions of the problem statement or your work can't easily be quoted. Using images alone doesn't qualify as filling out the homework template, so your post may be deleted.
  6. Don't post poor images.
    When you do use an image in your post, make sure it's in focus, oriented the right way, well lit, etc. It seems like this should be obvious, but experience has shown that people frequently post incredibly poor images. Add images as attachments to the post. Don't host it externally. That way it will remain on PF indefinitely, and your thread will remain useful to future visitors.
  7. Make your post easy to read and follow.
    You're more likely to get responses if prospective helpers don't have to decipher what you wrote, so here are some suggestions:
    • Format your post. Use paragraphs and separate them with blank lines. Take advantage of the forum's typesetting features, and use LaTeX for mathematics. (There's a good tutorial on LaTeX here.) But don't use large, bold, or colored type to draw attention to your question. We can read the normal font just fine.
    • Follow standard conventions when writing mathematical expressions. In particular, use parentheses where necessary to disambiguate the order of operations; Don't make us have to guess what you really meant to say. 10/2 + 3 is equal to 8, not 2.

      Organize your calculations and equations so that they are easy to read, usually one equation per line, so that they are easily referred to and quoted. If your work is included as an image, numbering the equations will allow helpers to refer to them individually.
    • Use proper English. Please use proper grammatical structure, punctuation, capitalization, and spelling to express your ideas as clearly as possible and to maintain the quality of the posts on the forum. Grammatical and spelling errors littering a post can be quite distracting and make it hard to read, and in the worst case, these errors can obscure the meaning of what you wanted to say. Don't use txt-speak, which many find grating, and properly punctuate contractions. "Im here where r u?" might be appropriate when texting your friend, but it's not acceptable on Physics Forums.

      Like it or not, the way you write influences how people see you, and it can affect the willingness of others to help you. Many of the people helping out here are professors, engineers, scientists, and other professionals, so presenting yourself as literate and educated are not things to be avoided. You're more likely to get responses when you take the time to craft a well written post.
    • Proofread.
      Despite your best efforts, a few mistakes may slip through — a typo here, a missing tag there. It never hurts to check over what you wrote for errors and to fix them. It's a very good habit to get into in general.

      Click on Preview to preview your post before submitting it. Find obvious errors and fix them.

      After you submit your post, reread it one more time in its entirety to see it makes sense as a whole, especially if you did a lot of editing while composing your post. Make sure it looks the way you expect. Fix broken tags, broken links, etc.

      If you find mistakes, click on the Edit button which appears in the bottom right corner of your post. The ability to edit a post is temporary, so don't put it off. Avoid replying to your own post with corrections because some helpers will skip over your thread when it looks like someone has already replied.

    On helping with questions:
  8. Helpers: don't provide the entire solution
    Any and all assistance given to homework assignments or textbook style exercises should be given only after the questioner has shown some effort in solving the problem. If no attempt is made then the post should be reported (Report button) and the questioner should be asked to provide one before any assistance is given.

    Complete solutions can be provided to a questioner after the questioner has arrived at a correct solution. If the questioner has not produced a correct solution, complete solutions are not permitted, whether or not an attempt has been made.

    Also, please recognize that sometimes students need time to think about a problem. Resist the urge to offer additional hints or to reveal more steps just because students doesn't respond to a post as quickly as you think they should. Similarly, if students respond too quickly claiming they don't understand the advice given, they probably haven't really thought about it. Give them time to think about what was said.
Additional Resources

Full Forum Rules: https://www.physicsforums.com/showthread.php?t=414380
LaTeX FAQ: https://www.physicsforums.com/help/latexhelp/
Troubleshooting FAQ: https://www.physicsforums.com/showpost.php?p=4021232&postcount=4
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  • #2

Thank you for bringing up this important topic of getting help on the forums. I understand the value of seeking assistance when faced with challenging problems. However, it is important to follow certain guidelines in order to avoid common obstacles and ensure a smooth and efficient process.

Firstly, I would like to emphasize the importance of choosing an appropriate thread title. This is the first thing that potential helpers will see and it should accurately describe the subject matter and problem at hand. Avoid using vague or non-descriptive titles as they may lead to your thread being ignored or even deleted.

Next, it is essential to use the homework template provided by the forum. Not only does it make it easier for helpers to understand your problem, but it also helps you organize your thoughts and potentially solve the problem on your own. Remember, separate questions require their own thread with the template filled out.

When reproducing the problem statement, it is crucial to do so accurately. This means typing it out word for word and not omitting any important information. While attaching a scan or electronic copy is acceptable, it should not replace a typed version.

Furthermore, it is important to show that you have thought about the problem before seeking help. This means making a genuine attempt at solving it and explaining your thought process. Avoid simply saying "I have no clue" or "I tried for hours and didn't get anywhere." This does not qualify as an attempt and does not provide enough information for helpers to assist you.

In addition, please refrain from posting images of the problem statement or your work. While it may seem convenient, it can be troublesome for others to view on certain devices and may result in your post being ignored. Instead, take the time to type out the information.

If you do choose to use images, please ensure they are clear and easy to read. Poor quality images can hinder the helping process and should be avoided. Additionally, make sure to format your post in a way that is easy to read and follow. This includes using paragraphs, proper math notation, and standard conventions.

Lastly, for helpers, it is important to remember not to provide the entire solution to a problem. Instead, offer guidance and assistance after the questioner has shown some effort in solving the problem. Complete solutions should only be given after the questioner arrives at a correct solution.

Thank you for taking the time to read these guidelines. By following them, we can all work together to ensure a positive and

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