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On one hand, I think many of the first posts / answers are quite messy, and not only in bad English, but, and that is probably worse, the result of practically no effort to do some research before asking (or answering).

At the same time, sitting at the other end of the table, I feel uncomfortable in "Helping them to learn to use the site by reviewing their posts" as the review page puts it. Furthermore, I find it difficult to find the right "language" to do so, and I am not too happy about the comments I gave on the (still very few posts) I reviewed, being critical to the poor basterd who gave his first answer.

Is that a common thing?

  • ! "probably worse, the result of practically no effort to do some research before asking" – don.joey Mar 22 '14 at 10:00
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On one hand, I think many of the first posts / answers are quite messy, and not only in bad English, but, and that is probably worse, the result of practically no effort to do some research before asking (or answering).

There are two very separate points there. If the problem is bad English, that is often not the poster's fault. If their English is not that good and they nevertheless put the effort into attempting to answer, there is no reason to penalize them, on the contrary, they should be congratulated. Just edit the post and improve it and vote it up if it was a decent answer apart from the language issue. Mind you, if their English is fine but they write like

Pls hlp me!!!!!!!!! im trying to isntl ubnuntu and its no working. Why??????

Then downvote to oblivion, please. We do not expect people to write perfect English but they're not texting their mates either. There is no language that allows multiple successive punctuation marks like that and we expect users to at least re-read their posts before submitting them.

Now, if they have not done any research but have just written the first thing that came to their mind with no explanation, no details and no useful resources, then that is a crappy answer, get rid of it. You should not be afraid to dowvote bad posts and flag really bad ones. Please do it as much as possible.

Think about it, the Stack Exchange sites aim to be (and largely succeed) different from similar sites in terms of quality. Allowing bad posts just so you don't hurt the poster's feelings is bad for the entire site. So, maybe the poster gets an (undeserved) warm fuzzy feeling but the rest of us have the quality of our site reduced, and the next person to come visiting will i) see that post and say "Cool, so I can answer crap here" or ii) Look for an answer and find crap.

People in this particular SE site (AU) seem to take downvotes very very personally. That's just silly. If someone downvoted you, there are two possible reasons:

  1. Your answer is wrong/low quality/incomplete/not useful. Then the downvoter was very correct in downvoting. You should have a look at your answer and see how you can improve it. I have had very useful downvotes that helped me learn and improve my posts.

  2. Your answer is fine and the downvoter misunderstood/hates you/is an idiot whatever. In this case ignore the downvote. Come on, not only are these useless internet points, you also just use 2 rep per down vote. It really isn't such a big deal.

Since, presumably, any downvote you give to a new answer will fall into the 1st category, you should most certainly do so. Since it's a new user, you can also leave a nice message explaining why. Here's an example of a comment I left after a downvote on an answer that was very simply completely wrong:

-1 because 1) Never parse ls, 2) this will break on file names with whitespace, 3) What is the point of piping ls to for anyway? It does exactly the same thing as the for loop alone. 4) You grep -ow does not do what you think it does, it will simply print out the first 3 characters of every file that contains three successive [A-za-z_] characters followed by a non word one, so it will also match on foo123 or 123foo` etc, irrespective of its length.

So, there is no reason to be rude or aggressive but you should be strict. That's what reviewing means. If you don't want to hurt people's feelings, skip the post or don't review. You can also flag instead of downvoting, but only do that for the really bad cases. But please, please don't give a positive review (upvote, no action needed) on bad posts to protect the poster's feelings. If that's the way you feel, stay out of the review queues. Please.

  • You might want to mention flagging too ;) – Seth Mar 19 '14 at 19:05
  • @Seth good point, done. – terdon Mar 19 '14 at 19:11
  • I agree to the first paragraph (as well as about all of the rest of the answer). What I meant is not so much literally “bad English”, but mostly a bad formulation, in which you have to read three times before you get a hunch of what is actually being asked. Furthermore, also @Braiam, I did not mean to bring the review system itself into discussion, the use of that is perfectly clear and it does work. I guess one has to “grow” into it, and the weird thing is that I feel more freely to comment on posts spontaneously, trying to improve the question or answer, than if I am in the “review room”. – Jacob Vlijm Mar 19 '14 at 19:40
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    @Jacob don't :). The problem is that in the review queue you see many bad posts one after the other so you get the feeling you are putting everyone else down. You're not, your helping the site and helping them learn. It's just that they're all together and it can be overwhelming. – terdon Mar 19 '14 at 19:49
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If you can't bear it downvote and flag/vote to close accordingly. Sometimes (well, most of them) there are askers/answerers that don't give the little minimum effort that the SE network requires, in helping the people that could potentially answer their questions or in structuring a good answer, don't read the help pages before asking/answering, don't try fit in the system. Repeat offenders are weeded out by the system and it's very aggressive at it, but it needs your help by voting, flagging.

Remember, that being nice is second to being honest. This has been discussed several times already, and the network came to the consensus that we shouldn't lower the quality to give more participation, that doesn't fit the SE model which is providing high quality content and authoritative answers.

More about this in Stack Exchange is not a forum: the role of “niceness” on a Q&A site

  • Yes, being nice is second to being honest in the behavior page, but we still need to be nice. I read your answer as roughly saying: be honest in your assessments and use the tools to allow the system to work. But I think you could also say that when commenting directly or providing help, we should be nice as well as honest. – chaskes Mar 19 '14 at 16:16
  • @chaskes I'm not saying that you don't need to be nice, just that just for being nice you shouldn't let the quality of the content lower. Be nice is always second to being honest, and seriously a downvote is the least rude you can do. – Braiam Mar 19 '14 at 16:20
  • I was only suggesting you might edit your answer to make it a little clearer that we still want to be nice. I'm sorry if my comment itself was not entirely clear. :) – chaskes Mar 19 '14 at 16:24
  • @Braiam "Above all, be honest. If you see misinformation, vote it down. Add comments indicating what, specifically, is wrong. Provide better answers of your own. Best of all — edit and improve the existing questions and answers!" That sounds completely different to me. Misinformation is harmful = downvoting is okay. For everything else: help to improve. – LiveWireBT Mar 19 '14 at 18:37
  • Thank you for the link! Clear information. Braiam and also @terdon: thank you for taking the time to give a reaction, I needed the framework – Jacob Vlijm Mar 19 '14 at 20:13
  • @LiveWireBT how you vote is up to you, I said this several times. The posted here is my interpretation of the guides/rules. I won't change them (my behavior) unless the guides change themself. Period. – Braiam Mar 21 '14 at 2:54
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    Though I see your point, being nice and being honest are not opposites. We should be nice and honest. This is a community. But I am fairly sure you agree on that. We should downvote poor questions without hesitation, but welcome and encourage the OP while doing so. – don.joey Mar 22 '14 at 10:04
  • @don.joey just remember me when I said not to being nice? – Braiam Mar 22 '14 at 12:46
  • @Braiam I did not say you encourage us not to be nice, I said you ranked being nice and being honest and that's a logical falacy. That's all. I know you don't wont us to be mean. Don't worry. – don.joey Mar 22 '14 at 13:03
  • @don.joey I did not, SE did and looks logic if what you are pursuing is quality. They put "Be honest" before "be nice". And as I said, seriously, a downvote is the least rude you can do in SE. Also, while we are not rude, we also expect people not being rude to us. – Braiam Mar 22 '14 at 13:11

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