I think in the last week or so some users have been picking up the discussion of how to help this site grow, and trying to narrow down what is on and off topic for us. One area where we could improve on is the number of questions asked per day. We're at 2.1 as it stands, and the general goal is 15 a day.

We need new and current users to feel unafraid to ask questions. Yes of course, they must be on-topic and this post is not to ask to widen our scope.

In order to get users to ask questions, we need to foster a friendly atmosphere, but I'm afraid that that is not easy when questions are down-voted without explanation. Perhaps on a larger SE site, where many votes can get lost in the shuffle, this would not be important, but I feel that votes here tend to matter more.

What I'm asking is that if you feel that a question does not belong on this site, and you chose to vote accordingly, please explain why. (And please be nice about it...we're here to help each other.) This way people can reword their questions for clarity or whatever the case may be. I'm asking this so we can improve our questions, and the atmosphere of a friendly learning-environment.

EDIT/UPDATE: I think this should go with votes to close as well.

  • Regarding the last paragraph's "does not belong": are questions downvoted because they're off-topic, because they're too beginner, or because they're too RTFM-esque?
    – Golden Cuy
    Apr 5, 2012 at 3:13
  • @Andrew: That's exactly what I want to know. Apr 5, 2012 at 4:18
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    I think this is important too. There's something about language learning where people are afraid to ask questions. This is made 100x worse when someone senses hostility the first time they try to ask something. It would be nice to foster an open atmosphere where people can ask anything (provided they've put in at least rudimentary research beforehand) without fear of condemnation, and if necessary get guidance in comments on how to do better, not insta-downvotes. This whole site is supposed to be a learning experience anyway.
    – ジョン
    Apr 5, 2012 at 7:41
  • @ジョン +1 on guidance! I've asked meta.japanese.stackexchange.com/questions/732/…
    – Golden Cuy
    Apr 5, 2012 at 9:08
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    On the other hand, this can easily lead to fights in the comments when someone downvotes for a reason other people disagree with. I don't agree with some downvotes, but it's still the voter's prerogative to vote the way they want to.
    – Troyen
    Apr 26, 2012 at 4:18
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    @Troyen But then how can the users know what should be improved with their question? Personally, if I had something downvoted, I would want to know why so that I don't make the same potential mistake in the future. I'm not saying that users aren't allowed to downvote, and I'm not saying the comment is a defensive tactic. Rather, the comment with explanation is advice on how to improve the question/answer and avoid this same problem in the future.
    – atlantiza
    Apr 26, 2012 at 4:47
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    @atlantiza I agree in theory. But in practice, I've noticed some fights break out where someone has explained a downvote and other people disagree with it.
    – Troyen
    Apr 26, 2012 at 4:49
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    @Troyen Then the problem is with those creating and continuing the argument, not the person explaining their downvote.
    – atlantiza
    Apr 26, 2012 at 4:53
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    See a related discussion at meta.stackexchange.com/questions/138189/…
    – Troyen
    Jun 29, 2012 at 23:01

3 Answers 3


The chart from the tex blog seems relevent: http://tex.blogoverflow.com/2012/04/voting-up-voting-down/

In particular, I think we're going about this the wrong way because we don't actually want people to "explain downvotes". We want the conversation to happen first, and if a problem can't/won't be fixed, then downvote. Doing otherwise is destructive.

Note the "Make a comment" -> "Wait a few days" -> "Is it fixed?" pattern in the chart.

  • 1
    I fail to see how we're "going about this the wrong way" by asking them to explain... The people downvoting are going about it the wrong way; they are downvoting in a way that leaves multiple people wondering what is wrong with the question/answer. We wouldn't have to ask if they would've commented/explained in the first place. I can't change what's already occurred, so I ask them to explain afterwards.
    – atlantiza
    Apr 25, 2012 at 18:28
  • @atlantiza: Hmm... that's what I meant. Basically "Downvote and explain" is not what want to ask people to do. We'd like them to explain, then downvote if their concern isn't handled.
    – jkerian
    Apr 25, 2012 at 18:30
  • The way you worded it made me think you were saying it's wrong of us to ask people to explain their downvotes because of whatever reason - people can downvote what they want, it's none of our business, etc. Sorry for the misunderstanding.
    – atlantiza
    Apr 25, 2012 at 18:33
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    See! Comment first, before the downvote. :)
    – jkerian
    Apr 25, 2012 at 18:36
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    I agree with you. Commenting on a question and waiting to see if it get's fixed is a much better approach...however, seeing as this isn't happening and people (although I suspect it is a minority of users) feel the need to downvote immediately, particularly as the first vote of a question, I would like them to at least tell us why they need to do this...By the way, that is a fantastic flowchart! Everyone should see it! Apr 26, 2012 at 0:42

I don't know how prudent it would be, but there is the possibility of forcing to explain one's downvotes, i.e. the system only allowing a downvote if someone has activity in the comment section of the question/answer he or she wants to downvote. That is to say, one could force that downvotes are only possible if one either writes a comment or upvotes a comment by someone else (so that the same criticism can be used for anyone to downvote).

Commenting, downvoting and then deleting the comment should also undo the downvote.

Then the "countering unexplained downvote"-upvotes won't be needed anymore, which always leave the answerer with more reputation than necessary.

Of course, there is the possibility of upvoting a random comment first and then downvote, but at least posts without comments are immune to downvotes and having the system make you explain your downvote might actually encourage discussion. That said, I receive most of my downvotes before anybody comments on my post.

I don't know if it is written elsewhere, but a clear policy on voting would be

  • vote up if you consider it a good question/answer
  • vote down if you consider it a bad question/answer for a reason
    (e.g. poorly researched, false information, etc.)
  • leave alone otherwise

This makes sense because many people, if not most, would consider a downvote something negative, not just applied to something that didn't catch your fancy. A community after all works best if the focus is on the positive aspects. Neutral feelings don't have votes (yet). A "read it but don't feel like upvoting"-button is probably not necessary, although Amazon has "44 out of 57 people found this review helpful", not just "44 upvotes".

  • I thought the Amazon thing was "44 people upvoted, 13 people downvoted", not "57 people read it".
    – Troyen
    Jan 27, 2013 at 22:48
  • Well, I think it is a bit milder than up/down. The question is "Was this review helpful to you?" Voting "No" is plausible for both neutral and negative feelings about the review. But it is not possible to get a negative score, which sends a different message, I think.
    – Earthliŋ Mod
    Jan 27, 2013 at 22:59
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    I should add that downvotes don't bother me much anymore. I can expect that 1 out of 10 posts get an unexplained downvote. But they did confuse me when I first started to use the site. A clear policy on up/downvotes (and maybe a technical hurdle for downvotes) might prevent users from leaving the site, because their first question/answer received downvotes. A zero score tells you that you should do more for a good question. A minus score sends the message that you don't belong on this site.
    – Earthliŋ Mod
    Jan 27, 2013 at 23:06
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    I like this idea...it can be gamed, but not as easily as the current system. Also, one has to actively try to downvote without explaining, not just clicking a button and being too lazy or what-not to type a few sentences. I think what you said is valid about not being bothered by downvotes anymore, but that also might have something to do with being a veteran Stack Exchanger...and the people who I would guess be the most affected by unexplained downvotes are newer users. Jan 28, 2013 at 20:16
  • What would you do about disagreements over the downvote? We've had a number of situations where someone downvoted and explained why "this isn't accurate because of X" and the poster got offended, leading to a nasty comment war and some serial downvoting retribution on the downvoter (who had to expose their name to comment). Not coincidentally, after several such episodes, downvotes started to become more anonymous on JLU.
    – Troyen
    Jan 28, 2013 at 21:51
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    @Troyen I guess it takes more resilience to accept outright criticism than a silent anonymous downvote. But only from the former can you learn something. Without it, you have to guess at your post and wonder what part (if any!) someone didn't like about it. Most times I gave up guessing. Nasty comment war isn't something anyone wants, of course. Coming to think of it, there is also the possibility of offering an (anonymous) downvote "menu", like for close votes. "Too brief to be useful" "Implausible and lacks references" "Doesn't answer the question asked" might be a few options...
    – Earthliŋ Mod
    Jan 28, 2013 at 22:16

I just came over to meta after reading the -1 scored answer to Use of ~のか (~んですか) in questions not seeking a yes/no answer. You'll notice there that the answerer no longer has an account on the site, and I have to wonder why.

Being the recipient of the odd unexplained downvote, both for questions and answers, I can tell you that is disheartening. Almost as bad is that people seem reluctant to vote questions up, and the ones they do vote up are usually trivial and unnecessary anyway. The result is that asking questions on StackExchange sites can be an arduous experience.

I'd like to see the downvote system either totally revamped or removed completely. Users should be encouraged to use the alternative methods of fixing issues with questions and answers: discussion via comments, or editing/removing (as a last resort).

Good questions should get positive votes. Good answers do get voted up and so rise to the top. Lesser answers will still be at the bottom, whether they have 0 or -1 or lower. It makes me sad every time I see an answer with a score < -1. It means someone has seen the answer and the negative rating and thought "I think that person deserves another kick in the guts".

Possible solutions?

1 . Remove downvoting

Use other methods of fixing incorrect or correct-but-with-issues answers.

One variation on this solution might be to only allow downvoting when the question/answer has a positive score, although this is not a likely situation.

2 . Penalise the downvoter more

Downvoting currently reduces the votee's rep by 2 and the voter by 1. Let's change the voter penalty based on the question/answer's current rating. Say, exponential using a factor of 10?

eg. If an answer has a 0 rating, the current penalty of -1 applies. If an answer has a -1 rating, the penalty is -10. If the rating is -2, the penalty is -100 (and so on).

3 . Force the voter to comment

The system could reverse the downvote if the voter has not supplied an accompanying comment.

  • 1
    I thought question voting was fairly generous on JLU compared to many other SE sites. I also haven't noticed much pile-on down-voting on this site except in extreme cases like really off-topic questions or a user abusing the site. Really advanced questions tend to get a lower score in general probably because fewer people understand them. How can you judge the accuracy of an answer if you don't understand the concept in the question?
    – Troyen
    Jun 29, 2012 at 7:31
  • People toss out down-votes sometimes for reasons I don't agree with, but I don't think that means the downvote system should be modified. (Also remember that downvotes on meta just indicate disagreement and don't affect your site rep.)
    – Troyen
    Jun 29, 2012 at 7:34
  • Ultimately, questions are asked and answered to help future visitors trying to find a solution to the same question. If a visitor sees a negative-score answer, it should be a warning flag that "the accuracy of this answer is in doubt". A zero-score answer can give the impression that nobody has weighed in yet. Regarding an exponential penalty - just because something is popular doesn't mean it is accurate.
    – Troyen
    Jun 29, 2012 at 7:36

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