My answer to the question: Negative question on the English.SE, received a downvote. I want to become a part of this community, and I accept that we all sometimes make mistakes, but on SE it's often the case that the mistakes we novices make are often quite hard to understand because of the almost unspoken rules of SE.

So I just wondered if anyone would be able to explain to me what is wrong with my answer, for example:

  • Is it too long?
  • Is it too broad in scope?
  • Does it not address the actual question?
  • Is it poorly written?

Or any other faux-pas that I may have unwittingly made. I only ask so that in the future I can raise the standard of my answers on this site.

  • If StackOverflow is anything to go by, the downvotes to any questions will increase. Back in 2008 - 2012 you could ask a basic question and if it was half interesting it would get plenty of upvotes. Now people downvote and tell you to read a book. – Zebrafish 2 days ago
  • The current answers are appropriate. But the superficial direct answer is that there is no way for any of us to know. The single downvoter has their reasons (if they can be articulated at all). We can only guess. – Mitch yesterday
  • I think your answer is full of errors but the conclusion seems about right. It is not wrong enough to get a downvote in my view. – James Random yesterday
up vote 4 down vote accepted

I notice the question was closed as a duplicate. That gives me an idea of why your answer might have been downvoted.

Some members of the community tend to downvote answers to duplicate questions. I believe that's as an attempt to discourage the practice.

Joel Spolsky, the co-founder and CEO of the SE network, gave a pretty good explanation of why:

Yeah, you might earn a couple of points of reputation, but, because you are duplicating content, you are actually making the internet worse. Why? Because that answer might be true today, but as technology changes, it might not be true tomorrow. There are almost certainly thousands of wrong facts on Stack Overflow already, which may have been true when they were written but are no longer true. These facts will pollute the Internet for years. This problem is not tractable if we allow Stack Overflow to become just an endless river of questions and answers. It has to be more like a Wikipedia of Questions and Answers, with canonical answers that can be edited in one place, if we are ever going to stand a chance of keeping all the information that we expose to the Internet at least reasonably correct.¹

So avoid answering duplicate questions – questions that have already been asked. The fact that you wrote a long and detailed answer clearly says you want to contribute something of lasting value to this site. A better way is to search and see if the question already exists, and if it does, link the new question to the existing question as a duplicate.

In fact, the question you have asked here on Meta is also a duplicate, because you're nowhere near the first person to run into this.

My challenge to you is this: research here on Meta, find a duplicate, and get this question closed as a duplicate.


  • Interesting quote, describing alternative facts before they were popularised. I can see the parallels: duplicate questions get closed with a link to the duplicate while alternative facts get rebuked by fact checkers pointing out their truthiness. – JJJ Aug 8 at 21:55
  • "So avoid answering duplicate questions" or an alternative: post the answer on the dupe target (if it can add new insights to existing answers)! Thus, all answers are centralized on a single question, which will help anonymous visitors too since they're automatically redirected to the dupe target. – Andrew T. Aug 9 at 3:42
  • 10
    We don’t always know that a question is a duplicate, especially if we’re new to the site. Low rep users can’t see close votes and don’t know that a question has been asked a hundred times before. The search tools aren’t exactly self-explanatory either. I think that instead of encouraging new users not to write answers (!?) we should instead encourage people to vote according to the content of a post instead of trying to punish behavior. If you want to encourage someone to do something differently, leaving a friendly comment to help them learn the ropes seems more productive. – ColleenV Aug 9 at 14:19
  • 5
    I've never downvoted a question because it's a duplicate. If it's a good question, I'll upvote it. If I know it's a duplicate, I'll also vote to close it as a duplicate. But I think each question should be considered. The same goes for answers. There's nothing wrong with a good answer. It shouldn't matter if the question is a duplicate or not. – Jason Bassford Aug 9 at 21:10
  • 1
    It should be noted that the argument about changing technology doesn't really apply to English. Incidentally, this strategy doesn't seem to work at all on Stack Overflow, for there are countless duplicates (so marked and unmarked) with many answers, too many to be fixed or updated. – Cerberus Aug 11 at 23:14
  • @ColleenV We do want to encourage new users to write answers. We also want new users to learn to search the site before writing a question or an answer. – MetaEd Aug 13 at 16:35
  • @Cerberus Elements of the language can actually change pretty rapidly. For example, the question about a gender-neutral term for a female "fisherman" may well have to be answered differently in another ten years. – MetaEd Aug 13 at 16:44
  • 4
    Of course it would be best for everyone to search before asking or answering. But searching has its challenges for folks new to ELU, and an answer on a well-asked duplicate question isn’t a terrible thing. The duplicate question is going to be kept around as a pointer to the master if it is useful, so why would we want a useful answer to have a negative score because the author's search fu was weak? Sure, the person who DVed isn’t here, but I don’t think we should overlook that DVing for any reason other than the quality/usefulness of the content is not the way SE is supposed to work. – ColleenV Aug 13 at 17:23
  • @ColleenV I agree with all of that. I'm not endorsing these downvotes -- just explaining why they probably happened. – MetaEd Aug 13 at 17:57

Alternative point:

Interrogating a rationale for a +4/-1 answer state is not worth the effort.

I sometimes get downvotes on my posts. As long as I am not net -3, I don't care; if I get to net -3, then I can claim a Peer Pressure badge.

People are going to downvote for any number of personal or accidental reasons. For example I once brushed the down arrow bobbling my tablet on the train and was locked from changing my vote. I felt bad, but, it happened. A user with rep has the right to downvote for any sum of reasoning in their interpretation of the Q or A, including simply being cranky in the moment.

  • 2
    Not to distract anything from the OP's answer but four of those votes came after they posted on meta. Coincidence? maybe. – Mari-Lou A yesterday

All that was needed was a directive to Double Negative on ODO. (In which sense the question itself was a GR.)

The hypothesizing was neither necessary nor correct.

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