There's been some recent discussion on meta and in chat about the direction of the site. In general there seems to be a tension between

  1. a desire to maintain academic rigour in questions and answers
  2. to welcome questions and answers by non-experts both for the aim of growing the site and for providing a bridge between experts and non-experts

One area where this issue manifests relates to downvoting answers.

We have had a recent case where a user had a large number of their answers downvoted at once. This was not experienced as welcoming behaviour. I'm not making a judgement either way about whether the downvotes were justified in that particular case.

  • Assuming you have decided to cast a vote, what influences whether you cast no vote versus casting a downvote on an answer?
  • What is a reasonable decision rule when choosing between no vote and a downvote on an answer?
  • In justifying such a decision rule, how does this relate to the competing goals of providing a welcoming site and maintaining a high standard of questions and answers?

2 Answers 2


I down vote when I see a problem with a post, and without it being addressed, the post is wrong, useless or ambiguous. The SE format works because of this, good argumented answers can rise to the top, while wrong answers, or posts which aren't answers at all sink to the bottom.

I don't down vote posts which simply lack sufficient information for me to be able to judge whether it's correct, but I don't up vote those either.

This can come across as rude, which is why I usually leave behind a comment with guidance.

In my opinion, we should be striving to down vote often, but take care and give proper guidance when a user might misinterpret it.

If you down vote but want to make sure you don't offend anyone:

  • Thanks for linking to the broader discussion on Stack Overflow. Apr 4, 2012 at 11:18
  • 2
    Regularly check on the questions you down voted to see whether they were improved I find using favorites (the star below the downvote icon on a question) is somewhat helpful for this.
    – Josh
    Apr 4, 2012 at 11:58
  • @JoshGitlin That's a good idea. I never did find a proper usage for favorites. I usually star and totally forget about those questions, only to have to clean up all my favorites up again afterwards if I want to make any sense out of it.
    – Steven Jeuris Mod
    Apr 4, 2012 at 12:13
  • Regularly checking isn't feasible; people have hundreds of downvotes on some sites. Downvotes are in part to shape future behavior; improving your answer in response to downvotes should also drive up the quality of future contributions which will result in a better up/down ratio
    – Ben Brocka
    Apr 5, 2012 at 15:01

I'd like to say don't take downvotes personally on such a scientific site, and I would encourage users to vote as much as possible; upvote posts based on their research merit and quality. Downvote questions showing no attempt at research or incorrect/poor answers.

Protecting the quality of content is vital and downvotes are very important in that. Questions showing no research effort and answers that don't properly answer the question should be downvoted and improved.

When choosing between no vote and downvote I think the effort and appropriateness is key; downvotable posts are conjecture, drawing from the wrong sources (personal opinion/expertise for a question which requires facts/research), or they cite incorrect information.

A danger I see is often people upvote conjecture based posts when they agree upon them, so I would have no qualms about downvoting such a post, and please don't upvote based on whether or not an answer matches your opinion. Questions calling for expertise are acceptable (when they're Good Subjective), but saying "This probably happens because X..." with no research to back it up is often Naive Psychology at best and shouldn't be encouraged.

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