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Earlier I asked What's the point of voting on questions (especially downvoting)?. From this question, I understand that down-voting (questions at least) seems to be for general house keeping among other things.

This question is more about down-voting answers especially those of new users. I see a lot of new users who try to answer questions who maybe don't have all the information necessary (as they can't comment to find more information) or they don't really know what a good answer looks like.

These answers (based on my personal experience) inevitably get down-voted to the depths, often with no comments. I don't always agree with this as I think it is great that new users want to get involved in contributing and it's unfortunate that they are ultimately met with some form of disdain. And they don't know what they did wrong.

Rather than down-voting the answer, I personally prefer to leave a comment detailing what they did wrong, and if it is really bad, generally flag it as well [1].

So my question is, is it generally a good idea to down-vote new user answers?[2] And how do we convince more low rep-moderators [3] to leave a comment rather than simply downvoting?

[1] I will say that I consistently see a few users who do in fact do exactly this as well but they all seem to be quite high-rep users and I can't say whether or not they personally down-vote as I don't know who up/down votes

[2] I say new user as I think veteran users should know better about how to post, and these generally get down-voted for misinformation or god-awful formatting (again based purely on anecdotal evidence)

Edit 1: I would like to add that I see a lot of this behaviour in the First Posts review queue

Edit 1.5: I'd also like to add that I don't have a problem with downvoting answers of any user if it is a bad answer. My problem is downvoting and not leaving a comment (when no one else has commented) detailing why it was deserving of a downvote and how to improve it. Or better yet, as mentioned in one of the answers, edit it yourself to improve the answer.

[3] Edit 2: By "low rep moderator" I was more meaning those with access to the review queue. Often when going through it in the morning it is quite empty, and I often run into answers in the wild from new users that have been down voted to the depths which are often easily fixed ie they merely posted a link to a solution rather than taking the time to type out the solution themselves, or some misinformation.

I think a good example would be my most recent answer to a question, Measuring performance with shell I made a couple of blunders (forgetting which shell I was in and referencing the wrong help/man page). Rather than downvoting I was left a few comments detailing what I had done wrong, and it seems new users aren't granted the same liberty. (Granted the comments were from those I referenced earlier who tend to do the same as me)

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    And with “low-rep moderator” you mean every user who gained the “Vote Down” privilege, so basically everyone with at least 125 rep? – dessert Mar 23 at 8:06
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    I disagree with the premise that new users can't know what they did wrong if they don't get comments. They can simply look at other answers with many upvotes. – fkraiem Mar 29 at 1:46
  • There is also the case where a new user wants to answer a question with no existing answers. So the only way to gain information is via commenting, which can't be done since they do not have the privilege... Yet – Craig Wayne Mar 29 at 14:08
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Typically, I prefer using comments as well. Voting up/down sort of sends the wrong message to new users, even though as Zanna explained it is not intended to be a form of punishment/reward, but people see it that way. Well, OK, maybe it actually is intended. Stack Exchange is sort of built on the game principle to retain users; to quote Jeff Atwood - one of the creators of Stack Exchange - from his blog post Gamification:

It is true that all our stolen ideas about reputation systems, achievements, identity, and vote scoring are in place specifically to encourage the adoption of the brave new no-nonsense, all-signal Stack Exchange Q&A model. Without those incentive systems, when left to their own devices, what you get is … well, every forum ever created. Broken by design.


So now - questions. "Is it generally a good idea to down-vote new user answers?" Voting on answers is always a good idea, but new users may not be familiar with the whole system of Stack Exchange. Good idea and intention, but if the user doesn't understand its purpose, it leads to bad results. Sorry, but as much as I like Stack Exchange and Ask Ubuntu, this is not the most intuitive site to use for the beginner. So as far as new users go, it is better to do the following:

  • Comment to say what the user did wrong and how they can improve. This will do much more good than just downvoting with no explanation. Make it a learning case for the new user.

  • Use the gamification idea and positive language in comments. They'll listen to you if you talk to them in encouraging way, rather than offensive "You're wrong, n00b!!!". For example, something along the lines of

    Welcome to Ask Ubuntu! Please edit your answer to clarify which exact module the user should remove. It is best to provide exact steps which the question author could follow.

Once the user gets past a certain reputation barrier - maybe 50-100 points - they should be familiar with how the site works and the purpose of downvotes. So it is OK to downvote the answer if it is incorrect, wrong, low quality, or off-topic. For new users, a downvote (and probably deletion) is warranted without a comment only if it is spam, a security risk, off-topic, offensive, or a question - not an answer.

how do we convince more low rep-moderators to leave a comment rather than simply downvoting?

FYI, there's no "low-rep moderators". The site is designed to be self-moderating by the community. Actual moderators step in in cases where the post is offensive, the user has crossed behavioral boundaries (and it is ban-hammer time), etc. The way to convince people is pretty much the same as in any other place:

  • Give them an example to follow; do leave comments yourself, let others absorb your behavior

  • Give them incentive; add +1 to the comment if it mentions good reasoning for why the answer is downvoted

IMHO there seems to be some irrational fear of new users and their so called "clutter" and "poor answers". New users on the other hand get frustrated because of downvotes and take it overly personally. Neither is a serious issue. Just focus on "playing the game without playing it", if you get what I mean.

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    I think by "low rep moderators", j-money actually meant new reviewers, but maybe it would be good to clarify that – Zanna Mar 23 at 8:57
  • @Zanna desert already left a comment for OP, so we'll find out sooner or later. It is secondary to what they asked, though. – Sergiy Kolodyazhnyy Mar 23 at 9:05
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    I think the fact that voting isn't personal needs to be specifically stated in the Help Center for all sites. While there is a page that says what voting is for, it doesn't specifically say what it's not. It even says upvotes are a good way to say "thanks." – TheWanderer Mar 23 at 15:47
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    Re. "IMHO there seems to be some irrational fear of new users and their so called "clutter" and "poor answers".", how did you form that opinion? – Justice for Monica Mar 24 at 13:38
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    I'd upvote 100 times if I could. Actually, we are lucky that Ask Ubuntu is really way above average in terms of friendliness and welcoming to new users. We rarely see high rep users patronizing newcomers, or finding every possible excuse to claim a valid answer is "not an answer". It is, in a sense, the opposite of Interpersonal SE (which I left after witnessing repeated bullying against me and other users). – Andrea Lazzarotto Mar 31 at 12:21
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Voting is really important on Stack Exchange sites and its purpose is often misunderstood. The purpose of voting is not

  • to reward users with unicorn dollars1
  • to punish users by taking their unicorn dollars away
  • to encourage users
  • to discourage users

Votes have the above effects and we should not ignore those effects. But the primary purpose of voting is to show which content is useful and we should try to use voting to do that wherever possible. Therefore, bad content should always be downvoted unless it can be fixed.

Since you mentioned it in your question, I'll point out that as for questions, downvoting answers does have a housekeeping purpose, as answers with a negative score can have delete-votes cast on them by users with 20k reputation, and might attract passing attention as potentially deletable.

I prefer to leave a comment detailing what they did wrong

Great. Leave a comment suggesting how to fix it. I often downvote as well as doing that, but I always remove my downvote if the post gets edited into a decent state, or upvote if it becomes good. IMHO, it's even better if you can edit the post to fix it yourself and then give it an upvote.

if it is really bad, generally flag it as well

No! If it should be deleted, downvote it and flag it. If it is bad but should not be deleted, just downvote it.

how do we convince more low rep-moderators to leave a comment rather than simply downvoting?

Simply downvoting is often a reasonable action, and there is already a prompt to leave a comment if the post can be improved. If a post should be deleted, I downvote it and flag it without commenting. If others have already said what's wrong, I downvote without commenting. Besides, you might not always want to comment when you downvote, depending on the style and content of the post. As one CM wrote here, sometimes critical comments are more hurtful even if they're polite, and comment-free downvotes encourage post authors to think.


1 i.e. reputation points

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    Maybe I'm misinterpreting this post, but I feel it partially misses the point of my question. Yes downvoting is easier, and is a good indicator of a bad answer, but I remember back to a few of my first answers which got downvoted to oblivion and not a single comment. All I wanted was to know what I had done wrong and with a faceless downvote, I didn't even know who to ask what they thought I had done wrong, so I can improve my answer. (Looking back a lot of it was tone/formatting) – j-money Mar 23 at 9:44
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    @j-money I understood your question I think. I just don't think we should hold back on downvoting. So, it's not the answer you wanted to hear. – Zanna Mar 23 at 11:26
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    @j-money to put it another way, I see plenty of voting I disagree with (not always downward, but, sometimes yeah) and I often wish people would leave better comments (I especially wish people would be more careful with canned comments in the LQP queue) but in general I see not enough voting of all kinds and I couldn't agree with a proposal to refrain from voting. – Zanna Mar 23 at 12:05
  • Hmm maybe I can be a bit more clear. Despite how it may sound I have no issues with downvoting, other than this one circumstance. I think the SE is proof that it works for the most part. But I think for example, while in the review queue for first posts, you can't downvote without an extra action, such as leaving a comment, or voting for a comment that already says what is wrong in the post. – j-money Mar 23 at 14:40
  • I've been there, getting crazy downvote with no explanation, because I wasn't provide enough info. As a new user, I was also eager to answer to gain rep. So I can see that it's not good to downvote a new user – linuxandria Mar 29 at 13:30
  • “Votes have the above effects and we should not ignore those effects.” This is the most important part of this answer and might be as well written in 72pt on every SE page. :P Seriously though, I fail to understand how an anonymous downvote without any further explanation would be more polite or friendly than a carefully worded, non-confrontational comment accompanying it. – Andrea Lazzarotto Mar 31 at 12:26
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I would add that, especially on older versions of the mobile app for StackExchange, the UI presented various hot questions from multiple communities in a way that a new user might have thought that he or she was being polled. That could have encouraged people to respond beyond their actual knowledge base. Newer app versions have addressed this by presenting more of a notice board look.

I will downvote answers, regardless of new user or not, if the answer is not thoughtful or does not show that the respondent actually took the time to read the original post. If someone tries to be constructive but simply is ignorant of some facts, I may comment or refrain, depending on the specifics. But I still appreciate the effort and will not downvote the answer unless it counsels something that could result in data loss, hardware damage, etc.

I also ignore perceived tone in general, especially if the answer is helpful. Some very intelligent and helpful people nevertheless sometimes write like the BOFH. If the info helps, I will upvote it.

  • "... but simply is ignorant of some facts, may comment or refrain, depending on the specifics." I think this is the exact mentality that I am am referring too. If they really are just missing a few facts, or possibly having some formatting errors, I think it would be best for the community (especially for new users) if you simply point these out, or even better, as suggested edit the question yourself and then upvote it. I would also like to note, that I in no way disagree with down-voting. – j-money Mar 26 at 5:28
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I'm a new user, and here's my experience. I asked a carefully written question on stackoverflow, and it promptly got downvoted and, eventually, automatically deleted as a result, all without explanation. In the original (now deleted) question I had an exchange with a user who had left comments on my question, where I asked them if they knew why it was downvoted so much, and they replied that it was probably because it belonged on unix.stackexchange.com.

So I went and re-posted it on unix.stackexchange.com, as is... where it was promptly closed and migrated right back to stackoverflow, where it still resides, no downvotes, no comments.

If someone posted a question with the subject "HEELLLP!!!!1111 I dont know how to fix!" I can understand a downvote with no comment, because it's so obviously bad that the poster will very likely learn why in any number of ways. But when someone has spent so much time making sure the post is succinct and informative... well, without explanation, the downvoting and closing of questions quite honestly seems arbitrary, and leaves me with the feeling that the people doing the downvoting don't actually understand the question.

  • Sorry that happened :/ I think it's a pretty common experience for anyone who dares to ask a question on SO. This meta question is specifically about answers though, not questions – Zanna Apr 6 at 7:24
  • Yeah I'm getting that. I've been reading SO longer than I've been posting questions, and often I see good, honest questions closed for strange reasons, it just seems like some moderators on there must be on a power trip or something. And yes, the question is about answers, but it's also about downvoting without explanation, which I think is a more general issue worth discussing that can be applied to both questions and answers. – Domarius Apr 6 at 20:27
  • As a new question asker, I experienced all the negative effects described in this thread. For people less strong willed than me, I think it's conducive to breeding negativity and elitism, like the analogy with the monkeys and the banana at the top of the ladder. – Domarius Apr 6 at 20:30

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