I participate in a number of StackExchanges, and ELU stands out in a negative way compared to the rest: lack of upvotes.

Consider this question. At time of writing, six (6) users apparently found it interesting enough to spend some time answering, yet the question has garnered zero (0) upvotes, one unexplained random drive-by downvote, and four close votes for being off-topic (!?).

Update: ...and now it's closed despite including a clear rationale for why I need a synonym and research done. Sigh.

There's a previous discussion about this from 2014, but in light of the rep changes in late 2019 ("We're Rewarding the Question Askers"), I though this was worth raising again, because we sure as hell aren't rewarding askers on ELU. How can we fix this culture?

  • 8
    I don’t see anything that needs fixing. Every man’s vote is his own and no one else has the right to tell him how to use it. Vote how you like, let others do the same.
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Jan 30, 2020 at 2:46
  • 5
    @DanBron The research linked above makes it clear that to have a successful community, you need to have people asking questions and they need to feel rewarded for doing so. No upvotes = no rewards. Commented Jan 30, 2020 at 2:59
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    The question you linked doesn’t seem rewardable to me. I’m fact, we have an endemic problem with questions that don’t need to be asked in the first place.
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Jan 30, 2020 at 3:00
  • 6
    Upvotes might be rewarding, but surely actual answers are more so? People ask questions because they need answers, not because they need internet points. We have enough people asking single-word-request questions that encouragement seems unnecessary, in that arrea. Commented Jan 30, 2020 at 9:07
  • 2
    @MattE.Эллен Are the questions interchangeable? And if you don't want the questions on the site, why do you have that tag...? Commented Jan 30, 2020 at 10:21
  • 3
    Why would questions be interchangeable? I said encouraging them is unnecessary, not that the community doesn't want them. It's like trying to encourage waves to hit the shore. Commented Jan 30, 2020 at 10:29
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    I also fid it strange that those who go to the trouble of answering a question also often don't upvote the question. I mean I sometimes don't think a question is worthy of an upvote yet worthy of an answer, but that is not most of the time; if a question is worth the effort to answer, it is usually worth the minimal effort to upvote. This is a long way of not answering your question. Maybe just meta-questions like this are enough of an encouragement? And probably the least intrusive way (outside of laborious software changes) to give any such kind of behavioral encouragement?
    – Mitch
    Commented Jan 30, 2020 at 15:39
  • 12
    The tooltip for upvoting is "This question shows research effort; it is useful and clear". Frankly the number of questions on this site which actually merit an upvote is minimal.
    – Andrew Leach Mod
    Commented Jan 30, 2020 at 17:41
  • 3
    There should be a declaimer pop-up with each posted question: "This site is based on game theory. You are playing a game. The fundamental rule of the game is I'll scratch yours if you scratch mine."
    – Zan700
    Commented Jan 31, 2020 at 22:00
  • 2
    I too have noticed that the site is comparatively stingy with upvotes. I do not know that that is a problem, especially, but I have noticed it. Probably says something about personality types and fields of endeavor.
    – thb
    Commented Feb 3, 2020 at 21:02
  • 4
    Just my two cents: The people who frequent this topic are brutally pedantic and more concerned with being "right" than with helping anyone. No one's questions are as good as my answers, seems to be the thinking. Just look at the comments so far.
    – user8356
    Commented Feb 4, 2020 at 14:45
  • 11
    Not to put too fine a point on it, but dear lambshaanxy. You are rather uniquely qualified to answer your own question. You've been a member of ELU for 2000+ days, and in all that time you have cast a total of 110 upvotes. So please, do share: Why do you upvote so little? And how can we fix this?
    – RegDwigнt
    Commented Feb 5, 2020 at 12:58
  • 2
    @RegDwight Because this site is so off-putting that I only visit on occasion, and the holier-than-our-users attitude even you mods have displayed in this Q&A is a perfect illustration of why. Commented Feb 5, 2020 at 13:46
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    @lambshaanxy thank you. So that's your answer, then. Do you wish me to post it, or would you prefer doing that yourself.
    – RegDwigнt
    Commented Feb 5, 2020 at 20:27
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    @RegDwigнt Please remember the Be Nice policy. Your question does not in any way address his, and is just a thinly veiled attack. Not only is the contempt completely evident in your post, but you also ask a disingenuous questions, as you know that 110 upvotes is not actually a small amount at all. Kevin Ryan's post may also not be kind, but it is accurate. Please do not harass users.
    – trlkly
    Commented Feb 10, 2020 at 9:34

5 Answers 5


As another newbie to SE I've found this group unwelcoming to the point of hostile. @Sven Yarg's point about "closing legitimate questions on knee-jerk technicalities" is spot on. To that I'd add editing, downvoting and pedantic criticism of people who are still finding their feet. My very first answer here was down-voted not because it was wrong, but because I didn't quote sources. Yes, I can hear the cries of "you should have read the guidance more carefully first", but doesn't the guidance also say that down votes are supposed to be a last resort ? I've also had a question re-written completely, seemingly to give that person an excuse to write a six paragraph answer, including graphs and arrows, to a question I never asked. Most recently I've had a comment amended to suggest that I add sources - this time I apparently need to provide hard evidence that I've found the plural of "cow" to be "cows" (yes, really).

Re: the quality of questions, I get it. I understand, I've been on Yahoo Answers :-( But there's a balance to be struck and in my opinion ELU isn't getting it. Whether that makes this group unusual, I don't know but I doubt it. In the few SE groups I've visited so far, I do see a common theme - specifically a small number (maybe <10) of presumably intelligent and well-intentioned people, who see these groups as their personal fiefdoms. They watch everything coming in and feel obliged to comment on practically everything. If they can't answer a question, they think they can at least 'add value" by nit-picking and tearing it apart. Based on the up-voted answers above, I'm on the losing side here. The problem isn't with the group, it's "the questions need to be better". I don't agree. The truth is, the questions are what they are. You don't like one, or you don't know the answer ? Then leave it alone. Say something actually constructive or say nothing.

I'd also suggest that people take a look at their answer/question ratios. There's practically a God complex to some of them. Finally I'd recommend that downvotes shouldn't be anonymous. I can see how this could lead to more arguments, but A. downvotes are supposedly a last resort and B. you should be prepared to stand behind your position, positive or negative. Basically, I don't see myself staying here long because I don't like the exclusive tone of the group. I wonder how many others have come to the same conclusion.

  • 5
    Something I've thought could be friendlier is the closed as duplicate message. "Good news! Your question has already been asked and answered here: link-to-duplicate-question".
    – CJ Dennis
    Commented Feb 5, 2020 at 21:22
  • Imgur: 'You either die a hero in User Sub (1 rep, rage quit) or live long enough to see yourself become a reposter.' (you either ask dupes, answer them, or close them as such) ... or you can let nothing stop you in your pedantic search for knowledge. Are we a bunch of elitists fascists? yes. Are we right more often than wrong? also, yes. Take it or leave it (at all of Stack Exchange), which is what drive by DVs are telling you.
    – Mazura
    Commented Feb 6, 2020 at 1:13
  • 1
    There's something much worse than the 'god' complex you're talking about. It's that being a devil is against the rules, so everyone here is a yes-man. Anonymous DVs are the only ammunition left to fire at BS. You're not supposed to swear here or be rude, so it's kinda hard to tell people they're full of it. Instead you have to say [citation needed] and nobody gives af about that anyway. Unicorns! yea!
    – Mazura
    Commented Feb 6, 2020 at 1:19
  • You had a question re-written completely because the question you wrote wasn't the question you actually needed answering, as evidenced by your own comments. If you so strongly feel that what I did was wrong, please do start your own thread here on meta about it.
    – AndyT
    Commented Feb 6, 2020 at 11:26
  • The problem unfortunately appears to be insoluble. Dunbar's number is exceeded.
    – thb
    Commented Feb 6, 2020 at 11:54
  • 1
    @AndyT II don't remember where it is in Meta, but it's a Stack Exchange-wide concept that you're not supposed to completely rewrite Questions or Answers. Think about it--the result would be people getting votes for things they didn't write. If a post is so bad that it needs to be rewritten, our tools are the Downvote and the comments to help them fix it themselves.
    – trlkly
    Commented Feb 10, 2020 at 9:00
  • Ordinarily I would consider this post unnecessarily hostile. There are ways of discussing problems without attacking. And I don't agree with a lot of it. But I do agree that there is a hostility problem on this particular SE, as evidenced by the responses above. And I do sometimes think a sincere post from a frustrated user that punches up (not down) is sometimes necessary to tell those in charge about things that aren't working. It's not ideal, but if the mods engage in hostility, it's not useful to expect the users to not follow their example.
    – trlkly
    Commented Feb 10, 2020 at 9:47
  • 1
    @trlkly - You're completely right, and I can see that you've understandably got the wrong impression from the words used here. "Rewritten completely" was hyperbole; he was asked for clarification in the comments, he replied in the comments, I took his comments and edited them into the question. In the process the actual specific wording of the question was changed, because the original specific wording didn't actually match the question he appeared to be asking (based on his comments). He sarcastically objected to my edit, I told him he was free to edit but not to remove important information.
    – AndyT
    Commented Feb 10, 2020 at 10:11

It's entirely understandable that a question poster might wonder why people who have upvoting privileges at English Language & Usage and who bothered to compose full-fledged answers to the question didn't consider the question itself worthy of upvoting. In recent years, I've tried to limit myself to answering questions posted on the main EL&U site that I find interesting and worth researching. Using that baseline for answering, I almost always upvote the questions I answer.

But this leads to a split in my approach to questions. When I don't think a question is particularly interesting, but I have an idea of how to answer it briefly and without research effort and I don't want the question poster to go away empty handed, I post the answer as a comment. (Note that doing this is widely condemned at EL&U as an abuse of the comments box; nevertheless, I persist in doing it because I fundamentally disagree with the argument that answering a simple question in the form of a comment damages the site.)

Other site participants, of course, take different approaches to the questions they answer/comment on. The four people with upvoting privileges who answered your question may or may not have upvoted it: the question has now attracted four upvotes and two downvotes, and there's no telling where any of those votes came from. But it would be perfectly reasonable for people to answer a question they don't consider good enough to reward with an upvote. And indeed, the official position of the site is that such answers should take the form of answer box answers, not comments box answers.

Your suggestion that a chronically grudging attitude toward upvoting at EL&U discourages people from asking good questions here may be true, but in my view it pales in comparison to the negative effect of closing legitimate questions on knee-jerk technicalities. My sense is that most people who ask questions here do so because they want their questions answered by people who know what they're talking about. The whole reputation/reward angle is a sideshow that matters little to most question posters, I suspect.

As for why site participants are less inclined to upvote questions here than on other Stack Exchange sites—assuming that they are—I have no idea. One of the lowest-scoring questions I ever posted on this site (a question that I also answered shortly after posting) has been viewed more than 800 times, and both it and the answer have received only one upvote each. And yet that answer is also the only thing I've ever posted here that got cited in a news article in the New York Times.

If you have a question that you think is good, and you are genuinely interested in having it answered by (one hopes) well-informed people, you should feel justified in asking it at EL&U. If it gets closed, it may be that (1) your idea of a good question is a bad match for this particular site, or (2) your question, although promising, has a serious flaw that you need to fix, or (3) some trigger-happy close voters have inappropriately closed it. In the first case, you're probably asking on the wrong site. In the second case, you need to clarify something that is missing or unclear in the question as originally posted. In the third case, the site truly is shooting itself in the foot by rejecting a valid and potentially valuable contribution for no good reason. But in all of these cases, the prospect of being rewarded by EL&U's upvoting system is objectively unimportant. I hope that you won't let it determine your interest in and future contributions to this site.

  • 2
    Bang on the money, as always! Commented Feb 2, 2020 at 20:00
  • 3
    Brilliant answer, Sven! As to "the negative effect of closing legitimate questions on knee-jerk technicalities" .... I've seen that multiple times - often to newbies posting their very first question (who may never return) and often in a manner that would be humiliating and hurtful to the poster. I wish we had rule that new users had a grace period before their questions could be closed or voted down.
    – TechnoCat
    Commented Feb 2, 2020 at 22:43
  • 1
    that answer is also the only thing I've ever posted here that got cited in a news article in the New York Times. This made me curious enough to track down that particular answer.
    – Aleksander
    Commented Feb 7, 2020 at 14:14

Why do ELU users upvote so little, and how can we fix this?

The implication is that there is a problem with how users are voting. I would say (and have said) that there is a problem with too many low quality questions being asked on English.SE.

Fix the problem of poor quality questions being asked and you'll fix the "problem" of the upvote rate being low.

Considering your non-Meta question: it has attracted a flurry of low quality answers, many not backed up by references. The and tags are very low hanging fruit. Your question fits into at least one of these categories even though it is currently not tagged as such (correction: another user tagged it as both as I was writing this). Users find these questions easy to answer with little to no thought, and they can be a "fun guessing game"! Throw the spaghetti against the wall and see which answer sticks! Use the shotgun approach: the more words you can suggest quickly, the higher the chance that the OP will like one of them and award you the coveted green tick!

The aim of Stack Exchange has always been to build a library of answers:

Meta.SE tour:

Meta Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for meta-discussion of the Stack Exchange family of Q&A websites. It's built and run by you as part of the Stack Exchange network of Q&A sites. With your help, we're working together to build a library of detailed answers to every question about the software that powers the Stack Exchange network.

English.SE tour:

English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's built and run by you as part of the Stack Exchange network of Q&A sites. With your help, we're working together to build a library of detailed answers to every question about English language and usage.

What it doesn't say is that those questions and answers should meet a minimum quality standard. After all, isn't that what attracted you to Stack Exchange in the first place? That you could get good answers and not just speculation and opinions?

So let's focus on getting enough good quality questions asked. If we get that right, the rest will come.

  • 1
    let's focus on getting enough good quality questions asked”. That’s much easier said than done. To have good questions you need to have good askers...most senior ELU users are reluctant to ask questions....and if we have to rely on new users for good questions...
    – user 66974
    Commented Jan 31, 2020 at 19:39
  • 1
    @user067531 if it was easy, it would have been done already.
    – CJ Dennis
    Commented Feb 1, 2020 at 0:17
  • Ironically, in the Hot Meta Posts today, this question is paired with Too many questions that qualify for “Please include the research you’ve done”.
    – shoover
    Commented Feb 5, 2020 at 14:08

I can't talk about the wider implications, as I don't really notice votes at all on these sites. I only care about votes enough to get privileges, and even then I don't need most privileges--just upvoting, downvoting, commenting, and editing. Those are sufficient to participate in the Q&A portion of the site.

However, in the case of the particular question, a reason why people might not upvote is that they believe the premise is faulty. As far as I know, the term "tone deaf" is not generally seen as offensive to those with hearing problems, as the term doesn't describe a hearing problem. The idea that it is "ableist" because it contains the word "deaf" and is used negatively is a completely new idea that has not caught on in the wider world.

If you disagree with the premise, then the Question itself has no need of being asked. And I know I at least upvote questions based on whether I think they are useful. I do hold them to a minimum quality standard, but I see no need for quality to matter more than that--the point of a Q&A site is to have good answers to questions being asked, not whether the question has been asked in the best possible way.

Hence I did upvote your question here, as I believe this is a question that needs to be asked.


I vote when I see a question or answer that is very good or very bad. Probably my threshold is different from most on this site, because apparently I cast only about 350 votes a year, call it about one a day with a couple weeks vacation.

My ratio is ~5:2, up to down, and ~1:1 questions to answers. Note that I lean toward indulgence with up votes and away from censure with down votes. Your question or answer has to be very, very bad for me to vote you down.

Why am I mentioning this? Because you asked. But let me add that, apart from what SE makes visible to you, my behavior in this matter is really none of your business, nor are the reasons I vote the way I do. If you want to get more votes here, post better questions and answers. There is no SE-sanctioned remedy (assuming that is what you seek) that is going to make me vote any more or any less.

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