It makes a lot of sense to me that if people are more generous with their upvotes—even with questions that are just "okay" and fall slightly short of the standard—then the people asking questions will be motivated to form better ones the next time.

As someone who uses multiple websites here, I can tell you, undoubtedly, that the sites which reward my questions with more upvotes are the ones where I ask the highest quality questions. The feedback you get with upvotes really does inspire you to write thoughtful questions.

But the problem here is that, even a thoughtful, well-researched question can receive zero to one upvotes, giving one little incentive to ask thoughtful, well-researched questions.


Examples are always useful, so I'll try to come up with some examples. The questions below show basic research but haven't received many upvotes (at least, at the time of writing this).

  1. Is it undesirable to have two consecutive words end in "s"? (1 upvote)
  2. Is "leave out to dry" an accepted variation of "hang out to dry"? (1 upvote)
  3. When do you use "relate to" versus "relate with"? (0 upvotes)

Unfortunately, the problem runs even deeper. Not only are good questions only getting 1 upvote, but single-word-request and idiom-request questions are getting plenty of upvotes. This likely happens for the wrong reasons, i.e., the multiplicity of answers, each answerer upvoting the question merely to get an upvote themselves.

  1. Idiom for magic object (or idea) that fixes everything (24 upvotes)
  2. Opposite of "witty" (8 upvotes)
  3. What are some ways to say, "a return to what things were"? (6 upvotes)

Conclusion / Food for thought

I think the influx of bad questions has created a culture of non-voting, which, ironically, has prevented people from asking good questions, since there is less of an incentive.

Would you agree that upvoting more questions that are "good" or "good enough" will eventually produce better questions? That it will motivate askers to form a better question the next time?

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    Why the downvote? Can the downvoter please explain? I actually spent a lot of time researching this and wording it well. This actually serves as an example of what I was saying. People here might be upvoting/downvoting for the wrong reasons: upvoting for selfish ones and downvoting for spite. – ktm5124 Nov 3 '17 at 6:15
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    On Meta, upvote = agree and downvote = disagree. (I haven’t voted on this as yet; I find the premise worth thinking about, though.) – Lawrence Nov 3 '17 at 10:16
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    The best encouragement for well-asked questions (in my opinion) are well-written answers, not up-votes. – ColleenV Nov 3 '17 at 12:24
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    @Lawrence: Not always. As elsewhere on the network, Meta downvotes can be used to mean either "I don't think the questioner did enough research" or "I don't think asking this question is useful". – herisson Nov 3 '17 at 15:16
  • @sumelic True. When an OP frames their question as a clear proposition, though, the agree/disagree model is an accepted practice at ELU Meta. – Lawrence Nov 3 '17 at 15:29
  • "Not only are good questions only getting 1 upvote, but single-word-request and idiom-request questions are getting plenty of upvotes". I get where you're coming from but how do you -know- a particular question is 'good'? I often disagree with the high voting (one direction or the other) but that's what voting is for. Just because you disagree with others doesn't make you right. Nobody is right, that's what voting is for. – Mitch Nov 3 '17 at 19:48
  • @Mitch You make a good point. I think what Sven's answer led me to believe is that the voting is a little skewed towards questions that take very little effort or questions that take a lot of effort. I think voting here is parabolic, not linear, in relation to effort. – ktm5124 Nov 3 '17 at 19:54
  • @Lawrence On meta, upvote = agree and downvote = disagree, on posts tagged feature-request. Otherwise, votes reflect usefulness of the post, just like on main. See: “What is ‘meta’? How does it work? - Help Center”. – MetaEd Nov 3 '17 at 21:00
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    Thank you for highlighting six questions that should be closed. – curiousdannii Nov 5 '17 at 4:52
  • @curiousdannii Why should they be closed? – ktm5124 Nov 5 '17 at 4:54
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    @ktm5124 Various reasons depending on the question. Some don't show research. One's extremely opinion based. One is a proof reading question. – curiousdannii Nov 5 '17 at 5:06
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    @curiousdannii To say that all six should be closed is a bit draconic. – ktm5124 Nov 5 '17 at 5:11
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    I'm an outsider, but based on experience, SWR and "idiom request" tend to get into Hot Network Question (HNQ on the right bar of all sites) since they are easy to get hot enough (mainly: many answers and upvotes in a short period of time). Thus many users from other sites come and can only upvote, but not downvote due to association bonus rep. Thus the vicious cycle of upvotes and maintaining HNQ status. In other words, those questions were lucky enough to get more attention. – Andrew T. Nov 5 '17 at 14:46

When I checked your six examples a couple of hours ago, they had the following vital statistics:

Group 1

1. Posted 10/24/2017, 45 views, 2 upvotes/1 downvote, 0 answers

2. Posted 3/27/2017, 592 views, 1 upvote/0 downvote, 2 answers (3 up/0 down: 2/0 & 1/0)

3. Posted 12/30/2016, 6,473 views, 0 upvote/0 downvote, 0 answers

Group 2

1. Posted 7/24/2013, 6,787 views, 25 upvotes/1 downvote, 12 nondeleted answers (142 up/3 down: 56/1, 20/0, 19/0, 12/0, 11/0, 10/0, 8/2, 6/0, 4/0, 3/0, 2/0 & 2/0)

2. Posted 5/24/2014, 2,726 views, 8 upvotes/0 downvote, 9 nondeleted answers (15 up/2 down: 2/1, 7/0, 4/0, 1/0, 1/0, 0/0, 0/0, 0/0 & 0/1)

3. Posted 4/16/2017, 154 views, 7 upvotes/0 downvote, 6 nondeleted answers (12 up/1 down: 5/1, 2/0, 2/0, 2/0, 1/0 & 0/0)

The two closest matches in terms of page views are #3 from group 1 and #1 from group 2. The level of total viewer interest in these two questions appears to be quite close: #3 in group 1 (posted 10 months ago) is only 314 page views behind #1 in group 2 (posted more than four years ago).

But the numbers for question upvoting, question answering, and answer upvoting are strikingly different. The group 1, #3 question has received 0 upvotes and has drawn 0 answers, while the group 2, #1 question has received a net 24 upvotes and has drawn 12 nondeleted answers that have received a total of 142 upvotes and 3 downvotes.

How can we explain this tremendous difference in voting and answering with regard to two questions that have received, respectively, 6,473 and 6,787 page views?

It can't be that site visitors aren't interested in the group 1, #3 question. At the rate its page views are accumulating, it will surpass the total page views for group 2, #1 by the end of the year. And yet no one has attempted to answer group 1, #3 and no one has upvoted or downvoted it.

A deep dive into group 1, #3

One theory might be that people who have looked at group 1, #3 have been irrationally unwilling to upvote it even though it is a "good" or "good enough" question. Another possibility is that it is a very difficult question to resolve, which discourages people from answering it or upvoting it. A third possibility is that it is flawed in some way that makes it unappealing to people who might otherwise be able to put together a reasonable answer to it.

I suspect that the third theory—or perhaps an amalgam of the third theory and the second theory—is the likeliest to be true. The header asks when one should use "relate to" and when one should use "relate with." The body of the question proposes a hypothesis that "relate with" applies to people and "relate to" applies to things, and then asks for a rule about using one phrase or the other.

According to the hypothesis in the question, people tend to say things like "how do you relate to President Trump's immigration policies?" but "how do you relate with President Trump?" Some people may divide their usage of "relate to" and "relate with" in that way, but in my experience most people do not. Further, I suspect that there is no rule one way or the other governing the use of "relate to" and "relate with."

Here is an Ngram of the phrase "relate to him" (blue line) versus "relate with him" (red line) versus "relate to it" (green line) versus "relate with it" (yellow line) for the period 1900–2008:

As you can see, the incidences of "relate with him" and "relate with it" very nearly flat-line, while the incidences of "relate to him" and "relate to it" are quite healthy—and track each other fairly closely until about 1980.

Also, if you look at the linked matches beneath the chart in the Ngram graph version of the chart, you'll find lots of examples in recent years of sentences like "None of the Zambians had any reason to relate to him" (1984) and relatively few sentences like "The more he could get people to relate with him, the more these people would lean in his direction without even knowing it" (1998). You'll even find some sentences like "They actually relate with it through the set of elements that they have placed between it and themselves" (1998). Clearly if there is a rule about using "relate to" with objects and "relate with" with people, a lot of writers aren't following it.

But there is another complication: "relate to him" and "relate to it" don't just mean "feel a connection to [someone or something]"; they can also mean "tell [someone or something] a story or narrative." Consequently, the Ngram chart is unreliable as a gauge of "relate to" versus "relate with" in the narrow sense of "feel a connection to [someone or something]."

So we're left with anecdotal evidence that writers don't widely follow a rule that "relate to" goes with things and "relate with" goes with people, suggesting that for practical purposes there may not be any such rule, plus an Ngram chart that, though impressive looking, is essentially useless owing to a confounding variable. To my mind, that's a poor basis for a convincing answer—especially if the preliminary data puts the answerer in the position of trying to prove a negative in answer to the posted question. I wouldn't be inclined to submit an answer to group 1, #3 on that basis, anyway.

A shallow dip into group 2, #1

Group 2, #3 asks for an idiom that describes "a magic object or idea that fixes everything." It's a simple question with many possible answers. The obvious single-word answer is panacea, which happens to be the highest-voted (and accepted) answer. But there are lots of other possibilities.

People love answering questions like this one, and they love to check the answers that others have suggested, and they tend to upvote ones that either match what they would have suggested or strike them as good ideas they hadn't thought of. Back in 2013, I often added my two cents to questions like that one, which is why one of the answers is mine (I also upvoted the question). But there is no mistaking the answers or the question for anything profound or carefully researched. The whole page is essentially fluff.

But people like fluff—and they especially like fluff involving single-word and phrase requests. They just do. The idea that questions like group 1, #1, #2, and #3 could become as popular as questions like group 2, #1, #2, and #3 if only people would upvote them more freely is based (in my opinion) on a misunderstanding of the huge difference in voting power and voting behavior between "word and phrase request" voters and "grammar, usage, and etymology" voters. The two groups do overlap to some extent, but in general they aren't engaged in the same activity, and they are looking for very different sorts of entertainment at this site.

Parting advice

I think that people at English Language & Usage upvote questions that they find interesting and that meet or exceed their criteria for baseline acceptability as EL&U questions. I don't think that people would post better questions if those questions received a stronger positive response in the form of upvotes. It certainly doesn't seem to be happening with SWRs/PRs/IRs—and many of them get lots of upvotes.

If you have a question that you think is interesting, and if you can meet the threshold criteria to avoid having it closed, I don't see why you wouldn't post it. A question that is "good enough" rarely becomes a target of heavy downvoting—and if no one upvotes it, so what? It's there because you care about it—and maybe an answerer will care about it, too, and try to offer a useful answer to it.

That, I think, is the most that any question asker can reasonably hope for from this website.

  • But I am also saying that in order for me to put in the research necessary to make a question (especially a grammar/usage question) meet the guidelines, I need some incentive... And if the only questions which consistently receive upvotes that are not SWRs/PRs/IRs are the questions that are exceptionally interesting, where does that leave us for questions that are not exceptional? In fact, it seems as if questions on either extreme (basic SWR/PR/IR or exceptionally interesting linguistic question) get all the upvotes. I think this creates a harsh environment for normal questions. – ktm5124 Nov 3 '17 at 9:46
  • In a nutshell, there's no incentive to put in research for normal questions, because there is often little to no difference in the upvotes for a well-researched and a completely unresearched "normal" question. – ktm5124 Nov 3 '17 at 9:48
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    I though that learning and helping others to learn is supposed to be the incentive, and that reputation points are just a "thank-you" tool. – Davo Nov 3 '17 at 13:05
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    I get a few people commenting on my questions saying "this is too basic" or "not enough research", expecting me to put in that extra work. So I honestly asked myself why it is that I put in more work on other sites, such as Latin and Hermeneutics. And I think it's because I have accustomed myself to expecting no upvotes on ELU regardless of the work I put in. – ktm5124 Nov 3 '17 at 17:39
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    Site participants' views of the importance of upvotes vary quite a bit, I imagine. I have posted 2,439 answers on EL&U, and more than 300 of them have received zero upvotes; this is aside from the 16 answers I've posted that currently have net voting tallies of -1. My totally biased view is that the vast majority of those 0 and -1 answers are actually pretty good and potentially useful—but I'm not inclined to see the lack of upvotes as a sign of site-wide ingratitude and a disincentive to answer additional questions. ... – Sven Yargs Nov 3 '17 at 20:17
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    ... I wrote those answers to resolve open questions, not to reap imaginary points from random site voters. The value of asking and answering lies in contributing something useful to the site. And the more site participants concentrate on that goal, I think, the less likely they are to get caught up in the notion of being justly rewarded or unjustly ignored for their hard work. – Sven Yargs Nov 3 '17 at 20:17
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    @ktm5124 if a user cannot be bothered to look up the meaning of a word or an idiom before asking on EL&U that is 1. laziness 2. counterproductive 3. plain rude. In order to ask a question, or be sure it remains open, you don't need to cite a page from the OED, or have stayed up until 03.00am reading Wikipedia. Just show the squad on EL&U the answer is not easily "googleable". What's so exacting or demanding about that? We're speaking in general terms, some questions are simply not googleable because they are POB or need answers of a very specific nature. – Mari-Lou A Nov 4 '17 at 15:24
  • @Mari-LouA You make some good points, but I would add one of my own. I actually find it quite pleasant and useful to have a record of the questions I have asked about the English language. Even if the question is "googleable", simply googling the question and then putting it to rest leaves no trace of the question. There is no way to go back and see what questions you had in the previous months or years. But on this site you can — it keeps a record of your questions. And if your question is a duplicate, you can star the original, and keep a record all the same. – ktm5124 Nov 5 '17 at 7:14
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    @ktm5124 non-sequitur for all 4 comments actually. Your question was about motivating users to ask better questions, my comment referred to users who cannot even be bothered to look up a word or an idiom in a dictionary, "believe me" (DJT). Their questions will nearly always be poorly received. Instead, you speak about the commodity of having a record of questions you have asked, and ask me why I don't participate in SE Italian language. What has either of those got to do with your claim that users should upvote poor questions? – Mari-Lou A Nov 5 '17 at 8:00
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    @Mari-LouA But if we see the glass half full, then this question may have been a way for me to reflect on my reasons (and perhaps others' reasons) for asking poor questions. – ktm5124 Nov 5 '17 at 8:13
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    @Mari-LouA But why don't you participate on Italian Stack Exchange? – ktm5124 Nov 5 '17 at 8:14
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    @ktm5124 start by casting some votes yourself, and reward users who have posted good questions and answers. Why don't I participate in SE Italian? Because it's a boring site. – Mari-Lou A Nov 5 '17 at 8:14
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    @Mari-LouA Yes, that's a good idea. It's probably the case that I am not asking thoughtful questions and people are voting a bit too harshly. – ktm5124 Nov 5 '17 at 17:51
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    @ktm5124: although it's not so common, another possibility is to do the research and then post your question along with the interesting answer that you found. – herisson Nov 5 '17 at 19:30
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    Posting an interesting question and answering it ourself in order to share or document a notable piece of knowledge might be explicitly encouraged by Stack Exchange but I am not sure it is well received here on ELU @sumelic. Somehow this site culture does not seem to encourage it. I cannot recall the exact Q but when somebody asked and simultaneously answered their own question, somebody commented: "why ask us if you have already found the answer?" and somebody else said: "for your information this is not an interesting question." That may be part of the reason it's not commonly seen here. – English Student Nov 9 '17 at 17:56

I might support your premise if you said that more generous upvotes on truly good questions could eventually lead to an overall improvement in question quality.

However, I really dislike the notion that I should more generously upvote "okay" questions, as though that will somehow inspire people to write better questions in the long run. I would guess such a change would have the opposite effect: Why would an OP bother to put in extra effort to write a very good question when people are already upvoting their "okay" questions?

That sounds like a strategy that will get the site further mired in the muds of mediocrity, as opposed to one that will lead to substantial improvement across the site over time.

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    Man, I wish bounties were a thing on Meta so I could +500 this. – Dan Bron Nov 15 '17 at 23:06
  • @DanBron Yep. Another +350 from me. (Not 500, cuz I need to stay above 20k). ;) – NVZ Nov 16 '17 at 11:08

May I suggest that what really inhibits someone asking a question on any Stack Exchange sites is not downvotes or lack of upvotes on the question but the very real prospect of your question getting closed for some reason or the other before anybody can write a good answer.

Receiving upvotes on a question is certainly good feedback but it is not critical to getting the question answered. As long as I get a satisfactory answer to my question that addresses my main concerns and provides authoritative explanations or solutions, I am unlikely to be bothered by downvotes or lack of upvotes. I won't even mind my question getting closed after someone has written at least one very good answer.

Please note that the numerous upvotes on SWR questions do not often indicate quality of research and usually simply reflect the very high popularity of single word requests. In any case, most users on English.SE earn a big majority of their reputation not from upvotes on questions they asked, but from upvotes on good answers they have written.

To conclude, the real worry on any Stack Exchange site is our questions getting closed too early, and the real encouragement for asking more questions is getting good answers to our previous questions.

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    If a question is closed, then we neither want nor need more questions like it. – Tim Lymington Nov 4 '17 at 18:43
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    If a question is closed, then we neither want nor need more questions like it." __ isn't that very obvious @TimLymington; why do you feel the need to say so? I was talking about close votes only in the context of OP's suggestion that upvotes on questions would encourage people to ask better questions. Not necessarily 'more questions like it', I should think. Personally my worry on any SE site is that my Q can get closed for some reason before I get an answer. In short I am not thinking much about upvotes or downvotes, and will feel quite encouraged by getting a good answer to my question. – English Student Nov 4 '17 at 20:15
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    @TimLymington That is not necessarily true: We have the option to reopen closed questions, and should use it when it is appropriate, such as when a question is misjudged by its closers. Also, we should more often be closing questions because we want to compel the O.Ps. to make necessary improvements for reopening their questions, than barring them entirely. Yes, some closed questions are both deserving of their closure and not salvageable, but it does not always stand to reason that simply being closed is a good indicator of that. – Tonepoet Nov 5 '17 at 9:09
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    @TimLymington That's plainly not always true. If a question has been closed it often means a cabal of single-word-request answerers didn't understand the question and voted to close it. Many, many of the best questions on EL&U have been closed at first. – Araucaria - Not here any more. Nov 5 '17 at 9:26
  • I think closures and (even worse) moves to another site constitute a real problem for many users who might, and could, ask questions here on a regular basis. It is simply too discouraging, and induces the "why bother?" attitude. Plus, it's often a very private act of a few users rather than a consensus of the community. – anemone Nov 6 '17 at 10:13
  • Yes indeed @anemone. It might easily be argued that 5 votes are too few to close a question in a community having tens of thousands of users, but that is why Stack Exchange never really deletes a post and has the very sensible option to reopen questions and undelete posts. Moreover I found users do apply close voting strictly, yes, but also very fairly and consistently here. Users are even willing to reopen questions they closed themselves, but we need to present a very convincing argument! – English Student Nov 6 '17 at 12:20
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    Of course questions can be reopened (so one can argue fairness), but that usually requires someone campaigning here at meta, so it is not very practical, especially if the asker is not just trying to while away an afternoon, but really needs their question answered. And if you find closevoting here consistent, than perhaps I misinterpreted your post. Anyway, I don't. – anemone Nov 6 '17 at 14:26
  • Close voting on English.SE is strict enough to intimidate the person asking the question, even if they are reasonably experienced like you and me, but it is fair and consistent @anemone. My post is not about the consistency or inconsistency of close voting and I only said close votes are a much bigger worry than lack of upvotes and certainly inhibits the user. I personally never close-vote and am in favor of leaving questions open if it is in the least possible to do so, but every site has well developed policies and senior members are committed to enforcing quality control measures here. – English Student Nov 6 '17 at 14:36

One of my very eminent professors at MIT (in quantum mechanics) said that "there are no bad questions". Of course, that was about quantum mechanics, and in the late 1950s, when it was still often said of quantum mechanics that "nobody understands it". Expanded to any question about anything, his statement is, of course, not true.

But it is true enough to be relevant to this Meta Question.

By this I mean that some mediocre questions on ELU and other SE sites give rise to surprising and deep answers. It is always hard to find an example when one needs one, so I offer one of my questions on Motor Vehicle Repair and Maintenance on repair of a tiny ding as an example of a mediocre question, with a great answer.

In my opinion, when a question leads to a exceptional answer, it deserves at least an upvote from the person who answered it (as my ding question received.) I find a situation where a question with few or no upvotes gives rise to highly upvoted, excellent, answers....perverse. The question is the mother of the answer; the question sparked something in the answerer. That should be acknowledged, for sure by the answerer, and by at least a few upvoters of the answer.

Please note that I am not talking about poor questions that elicit perfunctory answers, or answers in comments.

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    The usual followup is "There is one bad question. It is 'Will this be on the exam?'.". – Mitch Jun 19 '19 at 12:41
  • @Mitch And the answer to that is: "Maybe". – ab2 Jun 19 '19 at 13:07
  • Yikes! I saw your suspension on MSE. They're a very touchy lot.... but mentioning the women ratio aspect, when it's wasn't in the blog entry, and it wasn't mentioned by the OP was... asking for it? Anyway, keep fighting the fight! – Mari-Lou A Nov 17 '19 at 13:47
  • @Mari-Lou A Thanks for your acknowledgment of my suspension. There was a post by someone in the know that I cannot now find -- he anticipated his post being taken down soon -- that said that SE was trying to make it easier for women to ask questions. That was what set me off. – ab2 Nov 17 '19 at 15:48
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    Yes, I know about the leaked letter. But in the end, the official announcement in the blog did not mention anything about making it more inclusive for women. I imagine that that management realised what a huge own goal that would have been. – Mari-Lou A Nov 17 '19 at 16:26
  • Slight correction, stats seem to suggest that women tend to ask more questions, so the reputation increase is a way, I guess, to encourage them to stay. – Mari-Lou A Nov 17 '19 at 16:34

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