As a newcomer to this forum, I am trying to tread carefully and familiarise myself with the protocols. I realise the question I am about to ask already has been asked in various permutations, but I am primarily asking it in relation to new users of ELU.

I have seen a number of downvotes for newcomers' posts with no explanation about what they have done wrong or any comment on what they need to do - even it's to do a site tour. That seems to me to be a little disheartening, and not very constructive.

Here is an example: Using they/them.

My question is: Shouldn't newcomers to this site be afforded some latitude and be given an explanation and a chance to redeem themselves before being downvoted?

I think explanations are provided in most cases, but I just came across a series of downvotes with no explanation on posts for people who have just joined.

(I now wait anxiously to see whether I am downvoted on my first venture onto the meta stage!)

  • 5
    "reviewer's burnout" - that's when I switch from "downvote + comment" to "anonymous downvote"
    – NVZ Mod
    Commented Oct 5, 2017 at 5:25
  • Downvotes on meta just means they disagree, not that it's a bad question. But still, WTH downvoters!
    – Mitch
    Commented Oct 6, 2017 at 0:30
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    Hmm... that one question you linked to was pretty bad all around. Sometimes a teacher doesn't have time to cover a paper with red ink.
    – Mitch
    Commented Oct 6, 2017 at 0:35
  • @Mitch, point taken. As a newcomer, I am just feeling my way. I had encountered other examples but that was the one I recalled – possibly because of its content.
    – Livrecache
    Commented Oct 6, 2017 at 1:31
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    Downvotes on meta do not lead to a loss of reputation. Commented Oct 7, 2017 at 0:35
  • @Livrecache - Meta is a safe place. You can feel free to request guidance here and you can share proposals and concerns. Commented Oct 7, 2017 at 2:53
  • @Scott Thanks for clarifying.
    – rjpond
    Commented Oct 7, 2017 at 9:14
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    @NVZ I'm afraid I've succumbed at times too. It's encouraged by retorts like 'Whaddyamean, it's lacking research? I don't need to shew references, because I've been a native speaker since the days of Shakespeare.' Commented Oct 9, 2017 at 15:47
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    @EdwinAshworth You are maybe one of those few users I admire. You add comments to death to explain your downvote, and quickly reverse your downvote if the OP updates the post to improve it accordingly. (At least, in my experience)
    – NVZ Mod
    Commented Oct 9, 2017 at 15:49

5 Answers 5


Downvoters often do not explain why they have downvoted. I've gotten downvotes with no explanation on what I think are decent questions and answers (most recently an hour ago.) I think nearly everyone has. We call this downvoter the "drive-by downvoter."

I've also seen users give guidance to a new user on his/her Q or A, and seen that guidance totally ignored. And, of course, the opposite is true: downvoters explain why, and the OP responds with an improved Q or A.

The question in question showed no research at all, and the downvoter may have been tired of asking OPs to show their research or to at least explain why they are confused.

In an ideal world, you are right; the experienced users should all be interested in being helpful. Other users -- or the usually helpful user, when he is tired -- may feel that part of being an adult is figuring things out for oneself, such as what constitutes a good Q or A by reading good and bad Qs and As.

My analogy has always been: the new user is encountering a strange new tribe with strange customs and taboos; be an anthropologist. Part of that is asking questions on Meta, which you have done.

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    "strange new tribe with strange customs and taboos" __ totally right @ab2! Commented Oct 5, 2017 at 22:07
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    Ridiculous. Our customs and taboos are normal; it's the rest of the world that's strange. Commented Oct 6, 2017 at 11:17
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    “the opposite is true: downvoters explain why, and the OP responds with an improved Q or A” And that's the point when reasonable downvoters should consider retracting their downvotes. Unfortunately, nobody does. :( Commented Oct 15, 2017 at 20:38
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    @Andrea Lazzaraotto One reason is that early downvoters usually don't return to the question and do not notice that it has been improved. The downvoter who has engaged with the OP is more likely to retract their downvote, especially if the OP sends them a message saying he has addressed the problems the downvoter had.
    – ab2
    Commented Oct 15, 2017 at 21:00
  • @ab2 that seems a good idea, unless the engaging downvoter seems aggressive. Commented Oct 15, 2017 at 21:08
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    @Andrea Lazzarotto True. If my Q or A was criticized in an uncivil manner, I probably wouldn't reply, although if the criticism was a good one, I would edit my Q or A. If a grumpy but civil criticism came from one of the high-rep users, then I probably would reply, thank him for his suggestions and ask if I had adequately addressed his comment. Where is the line is between grumpy and uncivil -- it depends in part how I am feeling when I read it. But there is no point in replying to a comment far over that line, even if it does help reframe the Q or A.
    – ab2
    Commented Oct 15, 2017 at 21:23

Here is my perspective, as more of a longtime user of this site.

In general, explanations for downvotes are not required, and so shouldn't be expected.

Downvotes are ... something that different people use differently. There are a few clear rules (don't downvote just for reasons not related to a post's content) but in general, I don't think it's useful to talk about "productive" and "unproductive" uses of downvotes in contexts like this.

This question does not show any research effort; it is unclear or not useful

is the downvote tooltip for questions. Many people use downvotes to convey this message. It's not necessary to write an additional comment to explain what the downvote means; this is, more or less, what it means. I think it's fairly clear that the linked question does, in fact, show little if any research effort. It's fairly clear, but could benefit from some edits to clarify the source of confusion. People will have very different ideas about if it is "useful".

So overall, it's not too surprising to me that it was downvoted. As long as Stack Exchange works the way it does, some downvotes on questions like this are inevitable, so I would recommend not worrying about them.

People nearly always have the opportunity to redeem themselves. Posts can be edited, and votes can be retracted. Both of these actions are relatively rare. Even if the specific person who downvoted doesn't retract their vote, other users' votes on a question can easily improve its score.

People have different opinions about whether new users should be given more "latitude". I tend to feel like it's somewhat irrelevant. It's possible that being more lenient on new users will allow them to slowly adjust to the site. It's also possible that it will just extend the period of time when they post low-quality questions, because they don't get quick feedback. That's an empirical question that I don't know the answer to, and I'm pessimistic about my chances for finding it out.

I'm sure the rate of downvoting affects how "friendly" people perceive this site to be, but I don't know the practical effects of that either, and I'd imagine that there is a wide variance in perceptions of "friendliness" from person to person anyway. Some people are quick to see aggression, while other people are thick-skinned and don't care if they seem to have caused offense.

Actually, I'm somewhat skeptical at this point of the whole concept of voting on questions, and the voting + reputation system in general. Do downvotes really cause users to change their behavior for the better? I have no idea. Maybe they more often cause users to behave worse. But that also isn't clear to me. A single downvote on a question has very little obvious effect on anything: at most, it removes two reputation points, a pretty trivial amount (even for a new user). Note that for new users, downvotes may not even affect the reputation score at all, since you can't go lower than one. That's another reason why I think it isn't worth worrying about downvotes on questions like these.

Nowadays, I mainly vote on answers, since that has the clear effect of contributing to the ranking of the answers on a page (and I also vote up questions that interest me, just because it feels natural I guess).

I have downvoted questions without leaving comments in the past. There were various motivations for this; sometimes the following considerations felt relevant:

  • anonymity. If the questioner seems antagonistic or rude and I don't want to get into an argument, I might value the anonymity of a downvote

  • Not being able to think of anything useful and nice to say. It takes effort to write a good comment. Sometimes, I feel like it isn't worth the effort: e.g. if a question seems likely to be deleted soon, or if it seems so low-quality that I think it's unlikely the user who asked it will become a helpful member of the community.

An expansion on that: in my opinion, too many users on this leave patronizing, mocking, or superior-sounding comments on bad questions. (E.g. beneath a question about some grammar error, someone "cleverly" imitates the error in some comment saying the question doesn't belong on this site). I definitely think I have been guilty of doing this, but I want to try to avoid it. I feel like I'm being more rude if I downvote and leave a comment that can come across as mocking or patronizing than if I just downvote without any comment.

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    'too many users on this leave patronizing, mocking, or superior-sounding comments on bad questions'. very much this, only I don't think there are a lot of users who do it, just a few who do it often.
    – Spagirl
    Commented Oct 5, 2017 at 11:27
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    "As long as Stack Exchange works the way it does, some downvotes on questions like this are inevitable, so I would recommend not worrying about them." __ yes indeed that's the take-home message for OP! Commented Oct 5, 2017 at 22:09
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    "It's also possible that it will just extend the period of time when they post low-quality questions..." Yes, it does do this. One reason it does this is that too many closed downvoted questions will cause the system to block further questions from the author. The method of determining when to block is secret. However, because it might only take two such questions, helpful comments on how to improve the questions may be worthwhile. On the other hand, they may be so basic that allowing the question block to happen is actually the best course of action.
    – Andrew Leach Mod
    Commented Oct 6, 2017 at 10:53
  • @Spagirl - Am I one of the few? Genuine question - there are times that I worry my attempts at witticism don't come across the way I want them to.
    – AndyT
    Commented Oct 16, 2017 at 9:48
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    @AndyT I don't think so, but I've been less present on ULU lately so can't necessarily remember which posters i had in mind 10 days ago. I just sometimes notice that the first comment on a post will be some kind of wordplay that its clear the writer of the question is unlikely to understand or benefit from. So it's a joke for the cognoscenti. I always think that if that were my question, I would suspect I was being mocked and clear off never to darken SE again. I suspect that if you already worry about such things, you are unlikely to be one of those I was thinking of.
    – Spagirl
    Commented Oct 16, 2017 at 10:43

I'm a newcomer too. I've gotten some downvotes without explanation. If a post of yours was on-point, apt, and well-intended, then what can you do if someone knocks it? There are a lot of good writers on here. I say, read their responses. Anyone who downvotes you without explaining why is (insert word here I'd get downvoted for using).



Unfriendly criticism, or a lower vote of a newcomer without explanation appear to be violations of the rule "be nice".

In fact, offenders can sometimes be found among individuals with a high reputation score. From a human perspective this may be understandable: on one hand they must have been there for a long time and there can be a fatigue effect. On the other, one might get the erroneous notion that social approval affords increased license, or a duty to act as "vigilante patrol" for the good of the forum.

This is not so: there are "legal" mechanisms of control on Stack Exchange (from putting questions on hold, measures to avoid "me too" answers, up to account termination) and those are to be exerted in case of need; but for the rest, freedom should reign.

As is often reminded, "the law is the same for everyone", for otherwise it would allow the tyranny of those who consider themselves above it.

I have seen today a valid first answer downvoted because it quoted a dictionary and someone wrote that it "did not bring anything new". This type of behaviour appears as arbitrary (opinion and not fact) and likely to undermine the goodwill of participants: by giving them the impression that standards of participation are not only beyond their reach, but also a moving target.

  • 3
    Very pertinent and insightful last paragraph.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Oct 7, 2017 at 17:28
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    While I agree with some of your other points, a down-vote is not a violation of the "Be Nice" policy. No-one should feel that they can't down-vote content that they believe isn't useful because down-voting is "not nice". Down-voting is a necessary part of the StackExchange model. I'm not saying that everyone's motives for down-voting are pure and that no-one ever casts a vote directed at the author of a post instead of the content, but voting can't in and of itself violate the "Be Nice" policy.
    – ColleenV
    Commented Oct 7, 2017 at 19:37
  • I agree, it isn't. The issue we are discussing (and I made sure this was explicit in my message, I believe) is "downvoting newcomers with no explanation or comment".
    – fralau
    Commented Oct 7, 2017 at 20:56
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    @fralau Downvoting newcomers without an explanation or comment” is also very much not a violation of the “Be Nice” policy. No matter which way you slice it or frame it, downvoting bad content is every user’s right and duty. Same as upcoming good content. We humans are here to help the machine sort the wheat from the chaff, so future humans can find the wheat more easily.
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Oct 7, 2017 at 21:03
  • Well in the end it is a question of personal values -- whether or not we want to act as "machine men with a machine heart". I believe we are not here to serve the machine, but the machine is here to serve us. Perhaps underneath this, there is the ideal of extending a helpful hand to other beings and feeling empathy for them. It all boils down to our respective notions of respect.
    – fralau
    Commented Oct 7, 2017 at 21:09
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    @fralau I think we’re here to serve the machine so the machine can serve us better: it’s mutual, symbiotic, as I said. But I agree with you on respect: when I downvote newcomers, the reason which outshines all the rest is if I feel they’re simply asking for handouts, for us to do work so they do not have too, which I find find disrespectful in the highest degree. I am unlikely to downvote a new user who’s clearly put some meaningful effort of his own in first, and is simply stuck.
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Oct 7, 2017 at 21:24
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    I agree with you: a newcomer who did not put meaningful effort (e.g. failed to open a dictionary) has violated the rule. Respect should go both ways.
    – fralau
    Commented Oct 8, 2017 at 7:57
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    Have you considered that new members who wear neediness on their sleeve are like strangers in my kitchen announcing that they’re hungry? That puts the cook in a bad mood. Because some OPs argue back when I’ve explained the problem with “I’m hungry,” it’s easier to downvote to begin with. Commented Oct 8, 2017 at 16:48
  • Yes: as I had already commented, respect should go both ways.
    – fralau
    Commented Oct 8, 2017 at 17:36

What is truly inexcusable is not that the question was downvoted, but that no one (until me) had voted to close it. If questions are closed quickly then the close message will indicate what is wrong with the question in a more neutral manner that won't imply people are picking on the OP like a meanly worded comment would. (Of course many people in this community write very welcoming and friendly comments, so thank you to all of you who do so frequently!)

  • 1
    Eh, I'm not a fan of using the "proofreading" close reason when the word the question is asking about is fairly clear (in this case, it's asking about the specific word "they"). I think the close reason that you selected, although polite enough, will just confuse or annoy the questioner. Maybe it's a little unclear, but closing seems like overkill. I can see how the "research" close reason might be applicable, just because it's such a broad close reason, but I don't really see how adding more research could improve the question.
    – herisson
    Commented Oct 4, 2017 at 3:16
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    @sumelic I think the close reason text does need changing - I very frequently see it being used for all sorts of proof reading questions. I think it should just say no proof reading questions at all. On this question I was 50-50 on which tag to use. Thinking now research is probably better. The OP doing research won't improve the question - research will make them not need to ask the question any more, which is what we want! Commented Oct 4, 2017 at 3:23
  • I tried to leave a comment suggesting some possible improvements. It would be nice if that close reason were changed, since as you say, many people use it for all sorts of proofreading questions. It's not really obvious to me where you could research the answer to this question: the sentence sounds wrong to me, but I don't have a quick explanation for why. I feel like I would have to look in a syntax textbook, or do a Google search for some papers or book chapters. Do you understand what's wrong with it? Or is it grammatical after all?
    – herisson
    Commented Oct 4, 2017 at 3:24
  • @sumelic it's grammatical in my AusEng. There are lots of examples online. I don't know if there's a common term for this type of construction, I'd describe it as a kind of tag or ellipsis. In general this question though is the please-serve-as-my-substitute-for-having-a-native-speaker-friend kind of question, which is just not useful to allow on this site. Commented Oct 4, 2017 at 3:31
  • Well, "When you fall in love with someone and they you" does seem grammatical to me, but I interpret "they you" here as an ellipis of "and they fall in love with you". An expansion like that doesn't seem to work for the OP's sentence: "It can be quite rewarding getting to know the kids, and *they getting to know you" is ungrammatical. "It can be quite rewarding getting to know the kids, and they get to know you" could be grammatical with a certain interpretation, but doesn't seem to express the right idea bcause of the lack of parallel structure. So I think the question is somewhat complicated
    – herisson
    Commented Oct 4, 2017 at 3:42

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