We've had a few cheating-related questions lately (this, this, tangentially this). Almost all of these end up yielding a number of answers to the effect of "I think X, because Y". While the reasons are good, they're really individuals expressing their personal ethics, rather than being definitive. The tough part is that they're not definitive because in these instances there often isn't a definitive answer.

So, that said, my question is: should questions related to students cheating (where the answer isn't explicitly defined in their academic integrity policy) be closed as "primarily opinion-based"?

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    where the answer isn't explicitly defined in their academic integrity policy – In this case the question is either pointless (since the answer is already known) or should be closed for depending on individual factors.
    – Wrzlprmft Mod
    Commented Nov 17, 2016 at 21:06
  • @Wrzlprmft - Check the first and second linked question, neither of those situations would be explicitly covered in an integrity policy.
    – eykanal
    Commented Nov 17, 2016 at 22:00
  • I am aware of this. The point of my remark was rather that the exception in your question seemed pointless to me as it excludes questions that are clearly off-topic.
    – Wrzlprmft Mod
    Commented Nov 18, 2016 at 6:21
  • @Wrzlprmft - Fair enough, and I agree. Being a mod has made me overly pedantic, apparently :/
    – eykanal
    Commented Nov 18, 2016 at 14:48
  • And I thought I was the one being pedantic right now …
    – Wrzlprmft Mod
    Commented Nov 18, 2016 at 19:51

3 Answers 3


should questions related to students cheating (where the answer isn't explicitly defined in their academic integrity policy) be closed as "primarily opinion-based"?

No, this is far too general and comprises almost the entire cheating tag.

I agree, however, that we should take care that these questions are asked in a way that makes them a good fit for this format. For example:

  • Questions should not just ask whether something is ethical or not, but for ethical arguments for and against something or for an ethical analysis. The asker has to make the decision, not we; but it is valid to ask us for aspects to consider when making the decision.

  • Questions should specify an ethical framework or paradigm (e.g., fairness, avoiding disproportionate measures) on which answers should be based.

  • Questions that aren’t actually about determining the ethics of a situation, but for example about possible legal consequences or similar should specify this.

(Also see my answer on “Attitudes of academics towards X?” On or off topic?.)

Of course, the questions should not be off-topic for other reasons, like depending on individual factors. I would close at least I used a solution that I happened to already have on my laptop on an exam. Did I cheat? for this reason.

  • For what it's worth, the fact that my question covers the whole cheating tag isn't bad to me; I'm personally on the fence as to whether those questions are worthwhile here at all.
    – eykanal
    Commented Nov 17, 2016 at 22:01
  • The issue covers more or less the whole ethics tag, not only questions on cheating. Commented Nov 25, 2016 at 13:27
  • I agree with what you wrote, but I'm curious why you would close the "solution on the laptop" question and not the others. I thought that was a pretty good thread, and I'm not seeing a substantial difference between that and the other two @eykanal mentioned in the OP.
    – Jeff
    Commented Dec 2, 2016 at 4:18
  • @Jeff: I freely admit that the solution-on-laptop question and the oral-exam question are both borderline with respect to closure. However, with the solution-on-laptop question, I do not think that we can answer anything substantially beyond “it depends (on the rules set for the exam)”, which is more or less confirmed by the answers.
    – Wrzlprmft Mod
    Commented Dec 2, 2016 at 9:12
  • I don't know, in so far as "ethics" is an appropriate topic of discussion here, it seems like "this is a gray area and will depend on the rules" is a valid response that doesn't make the original question inappropriate.
    – Jeff
    Commented Dec 2, 2016 at 15:26

No, such questions usually can be answered, and should not be closed.

Ethics questions should not be answered based on the answerer's personal ethics anyway, but rather, based on their understanding of the consensus ethical standards of the overall academic community. Ideally, explanations should be given that help the asker understand academic ethics.

If an answerer believes there is no consensus on a question, then they can answer "no consensus" and explain why not. They should not take this as an opportunity to air their personal opinions on the question itself.

People may disagree on whether there is a consensus, or what it is, but votes can help resolve such disagreements.


I suggest that Yes, these questions should be closed.

My primary motivation here is that the voting-based nature of Stack Exchange will result in some answers being given more votes—sometimes many more votes—than others. Unfortunately, given that there is no "correct" answer in these instances, the votes really just indicate how many other anonymous internet denizens happen to agree with that answer, making the entire question simply a morality poll. The specific, appropriate answer may differ based on local norms, the individual's personal beliefs, and subtle nuances that people outside the questioner's culture may not recognize as important.

As such, rather than allowing the poll to occur, I suggest is that the user would be better served by being explicitly told to consider it themselves and ask individuals within their own social and cultural circle, rather than relying on the wisdom of the masses.

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