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I understand why this may be considered to overlap with What should our FAQ contain?, but I think I'm trying to address a specific issue related to that which doesn't really fit in the original (which in any case has astonishingly low levels of activity, considering how central it is to the site).

Clearly on a day-to-day basis the FAQ must be primarily prescriptive, since we often need to cite it as the authority on non-acceptability of Questions. But in a comment against A look at question quality, I suggested we're still at a stage where the FAQ has a descriptive role in determining whether certain types of Question are "off-topic" (or otherwise "unwanted").

My reason for saying this is it's difficult to get agreement on a definition of "unwanted" there. I think this crucial issue is more easily addressessed if we allow the FAQ to be at least partially descriptive, so it can "evolve" rather than need to be "designed". Members should be encouraged to be more proactive in nudging that evolution, by up/downvoting Questions, and being more prepared to vote to close those they don't wish to see more of.

I'm sure there's a downside (on rep & other credibility factors) if a vote to close doesn't end up being endorsed. But that seems a small price to pay for each individual, considering how much more efficiently this might help us to crystalise the kind of Questions we want to encourage/discourage.

TL;DR: Vote to close (or downvote) more Questions you're not keen on, and trust the mods to use this enhanced feedback to amend the FAQ (or raise issues on meta, as appropriate).

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I am going to take a risk and be honest here. What happened to my own credibility and rep after down-voting an answer to a question made me not want to make a habit of doing it...even as I continue to see answers that are totally off-topic and/or don't actually address the question. I can see why designers would set it up this way, to discourage serial down-voting and other negative activity, but maybe it IS time to address the possibility that it is producing unexpected results on the other side of the same coin that are having a negative consequence.

Since I don't like to complain without trying to come up with an idea for a fix; possibly come up with a new badge, unless there is one already, where down-voting or flagging something on the site takes nothing away from what you have earned through the respect of your peers and putting in time to research and answer questions. If a question or answer is obviously wrong or off-topic or someone is being abusive on the site, I don't think it should be seen as a "punishment" to bring it to light.

PS - Please accept my apology if this "answer" would have been better suited in the "add comment" section of the actual question.

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    I didn't specifically mention it, but I kind of assumed my primary audience was people with enough rep not to care about losing a bit. Don't take that the wrong way though (I'll upvote you just to show good faith!). I too suspect the designers know what they're doing. I don't take much notice of rep myself, but I was under the impression you actually gain if you vote to close and the question eventually does get closed. I think there's been discussion and possible tweaks regarding what happens if you downvote Questions. And downvoting Answers is only a small hit, I think. – FumbleFingers Jul 20 '11 at 3:23
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    Just FYI about rep and flagging—you lose 1 point for downvoting an answer (this is supposed to discourage you from just downvoting competed answers, but is small enough so that you're not afraid of downvoting the wrong answers); you don't gain/lose rep for closing (@FumbleFingers); you don't gain/lose rep for downvoting a question; flagging is anonymous (except to the mods) so you shouldn't worry about losing respect to peers. There are the Citizen Patrol, Critic, and Deputy badges. I hope this clarifies a few things, but please let me know if you have any more questions. – waiwai933 Jul 20 '11 at 3:44
  • @waiwai933: ty for info. I think even for Rachel the loss of a point here and there shouldn't be a big issue, and I'm more concerned to see less desirable Questions downvoted more often anyway (no cost there is good). In secret if people want, but I prefer to be upfront and say why when I downvote, unless someone else has already said what I think. – FumbleFingers Jul 20 '11 at 3:54
  • @waiwai933 thank you very much for the information, I (for one) see you as a super-user! – Rachel Jul 20 '11 at 5:01
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You raise a very good question. I think that the answer is: It should be clear.

This means that the parts which are prescriptive should be perceived as such and for the parts which are descriptive it should be noted that they are not defining or limiting.

Otherwise there is good and bad in both.

Rant: You might perceive prescriptive as something that would hinder evolution, but actually it might be helping the evolution (of the faq). For example if faq was perceived as descriptive there would be little incentive to change it at all (as different interpretations would be allowed). Similar arguments apply in the other direction. It is not easy to see which path would ultimately lead to less noise (on main + meta), but I do believe that the clearer the faq is the less noise we will have (though that tends to lean more towards prescriptive, but good prescriptive).

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