I'm a member of an online community of developers (not a moderator). It's not specifically a Q&A community, but the community allows people to ask for help, of any kind.

Obviously, like on Stack Overflow, people will come along hoping someone will do their work for them.

I'm wondering if anyone has found an even vaguely effective way to motivate these people to do a little work? I'm happy to help people, but I feel if someone posts something like

Write a program in javascript to display the prime numbers upto 20?
//Proper full details please...

then anything I write trying to encourage them to look into it themselves is either going to fall on deaf ears or be snarky and drive them away.

It's especially this type of post, where the answer, to me, is trivially simple (so answering doesn't really help them, because it probably won't grow their understanding), where I want a way to give the person the spark they need to motivate themselves to get to the answer.

In the above instance, my first thought is to ask them to define "prime numbers", and then ask further questions to help them see the problem in a more solvable light, but I get the feeling they will either disregard me, or think I don't know what I'm talking about.

Is it possible that I could motivate them, or should I assume they don't want to consider putting in effort?

2 Answers 2


First, don't assume that they don't want to put in the effort. Assume that they don't know what effort they should be putting in.

Second, help them break the problem down into a set of questions. In the above example such a question might be "How can you determine if a number is a prime?". Point them to information that answers those questions, but don't solve the problem (how to calculate it in JavaScript).

Finally, end it with an open invitation for additional help. I use something like "These should give you all the pieces you need to build your JS program. If you have any trouble connecting them all together, or don't understand something in the links, come back and I'll help you with those too"


I am active on a Discord server that attracts many C++ developers and they often ask questions like pasting in their homework assignment. I never tell them "you have to do some of the work yourself" but I also don't paste in a solution to their assignment. Instead I ask questions. "What part of that is giving you trouble?" "What have you managed to do so far?" "How far have you got with it?" "Do you have a plan for tackling this?" and so on.

With many users, they literally don't have any idea what to do at all. They can't see any of the pieces. In some cases, they can't even see the piece where they build and test it to see where it works. So that's the help they need.

Instructors often assume that new programmers know how to take a bunch of words and see that this phrase means there's going to be a loop, and this phrase will need an if, and this sentence is going to mean you need a function, and so on. In my experience they rarely teach this part of this process. If you're willing to do so, you can leave teaching the actual syntax of the language or the way to run it to the instructor; you're filling in the gap the instructor just doesn't think about. The asker isn't lazy or not willing to work at doing their homework (or at least, not always) -- they just don't know how to start because they are missing this piece.

I might ask, for the particular question you have there, "is the issue how to tell a number is prime, or how to do just the ones up to 20, or how to display them?". Another time I might be more obvious: "so if I was solving this, I'd need a loop that went through the numbers 1 to 20, and displayed the number if it was prime, and nothing if it wasn't. Does that sound like what you were thinking of?"

The nice thing about this approach is that, because you never paste code, the ones who don't want to learn but just want to pass the class will go find another place to ask. The ones who want to learn but cannot map the word assignment to the shape of some code will learn that skill from you, and syntax from their instructor, and might well go on to be good developers. And they won't have been called lazy or told they were trying to get other people to do their work, or just not cut out for this field, along the way.

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