I don't want to appear whining nevertheless, I accept that for many members this must be tiresome to hear again and again, but I am beginning to understand why this community has been accused of acting unfriendly and unhelpful towards newcomers.

I can think of ten situations where an answer may be downvoted unfairly or rightly. I would like to know which one my answer falls into.

  1. That an answer may not be liked is acceptable, there are hundreds of answers in EL&U which I do not actively like but I do not downvote any of them.

  2. That an answer is incomplete is open to criticism but still not a good enough reason to downvote, the user should make use of the comment section and point out the error.

  3. That answer may be factually correct but is written clumsily is not a reason for down-voting. Simply do not vote for it and choose a better answer.

  4. That people who become peeved for whatever reason, and then retort their frustration by revenge down-voting, I hear happens, but before down-voting perhaps they should ask that person to defend themself (a new word, which I learnt on this site!). In any case, if it becomes a pattern the guilty party should be given a warning.

  5. That a person has misinterpreted the wording of an answer or the poster's intentions is forgiveable and probably related to no.3 however, this should be rectified if or when the misunderstanding has been cleared up.

  6. That an answer is incomprehensible to anyone who is not a linguist. I think this could justify a down-vote from a non-native speaker or anyone whose level of education is around average.

  7. That an answer is nasty, vulgar and/or damaging to any member's reputation this must be downvoted and flagged immediately.

  8. That an answer shows no research and is false this must be downvoted.

  9. Than an answer is deliberately and knowingly off-topic.

  10. The down-vote was cast by a troll. In as much as a gratuitous anonymous downvote.

August 1 2013 P.S I'm still getting inexplicable anonymous downvotes... sigh...

  • I would like to add that on the above link I almost understand why I received these two down votes. I am sure however, I received at least one down vote on a different answer, a moderator has assured me I was mistaken. So why does it show I have -2 reputation earned today? Help??
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jun 9, 2013 at 14:22
  • Like many other short verbs ending in -t, such as shut, put, and hit, the verb cast is invariant in its past tense and past participle inflections. So you intended to write “The downvote was cast by a troll.” That said, I don’t see how the word troll would apply there.
    – tchrist Mod
    Commented Jun 9, 2013 at 14:34
  • 1
    @tchrist pardon my grammar oops! Doesn't troll mean an instigator, someone who enjoys riling people?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jun 9, 2013 at 14:39
  • 1
    Your grammar is easily forgiven; I was just trying to help. English has a lot of “irregular” verbs that follow other historical patterns than the simple ones of just adding -ed to everything, and it quite understandably takes non-native speakers (or our children) quite some time to pick up on all these. The thing that confuses me about the troll bit is that I think of trolls as people who say things that drag you into useless argument, and simple voting isn’t argument per se. If they actually posted a provocative but pointless comment, then ok, but with just a vote, well, I dunno.
    – tchrist Mod
    Commented Jun 9, 2013 at 14:42
  • Well I meant to imply a gratuitous down vote, perhaps provoked by a previous disagreement, or in other words I just couldn't think of a good enough tenth reason!
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jun 9, 2013 at 14:45
  • 3
    I don’t really know why you have downvotes; it may be for what Professor Lawler says, that it is a bit of a simplification, the kind of thing you tell children not adults. But I cannot say for sure, as they are not my own downvotes. I will say that I appreciate your contributes and that I hope you continue here.
    – tchrist Mod
    Commented Jun 9, 2013 at 14:46
  • 4
    I don't think you are whining Mari-Lou. I'm aware of my problem with #3/#5 for I feel like I have a very helpful answer but my hands can't keep up w/my thoughts; in my rush I may not convey my idea clearly. I don't have a problem w/down vote. EXCEPT, when I don't receive a single comment. Is this not after all a community-driven Q & A site to help one another? IMO it is common courtesy to offer constructive criticism. Heck if nothing else berate & belittle me but give me a reason! I can look back & see weak areas I could tighten up but is my perception the same as the down voter? Am I wrong? Commented Jun 26, 2013 at 6:14
  • @CharlieBrown I agree wholeheartedly and it appears that the no comment signature is what irks users the most. TIP: Be aware; however, that when you write avoid making generalizations, back up your argument and proof-read, proof-read your answer. Especially after you have posted, and proof-read it again a few hours later. Be hypercritical and pick faults with your answer before some one else does!
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jun 26, 2013 at 6:35
  • @Mari-Lou A Thanks for the tip. It is a great one as I will post something then proof-read it and think I can't believe I wrote that! Where's my editor!? It's tough job hunting and then discovering this SE site. What a great concept and how did it take me this long to find it? I'm looking for a sales position and was excited to see a position with SE on the job boards! Wrong coast though...also curious how they pay their employees sorry off topic (its tough finding someone in a chat room) Commented Jun 26, 2013 at 6:54
  • @CharlieBrown See what I meant? I should have written: "Be wary; however, of making generalizations [...]" The importance of revising your writing can never be underestimated!
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jun 26, 2013 at 13:49
  • I disagree with what you say at 6) Commented Aug 4, 2013 at 0:52
  • @Theta30 Then that probably means you are not a linguist but you have no difficulty in understanding some of the more complex answers concerning the intricacies of the language. On the other hand, neither am I a linguist nor have I studied linguistics but with some answers I have spent a fair amount of time looking up words and scanning related wikipedia pages. I don't think I am the first.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Aug 4, 2013 at 4:53

8 Answers 8


I think John Lawler's comment may be at the heart of the downvotes. One thing I've learned on ELU is to be very careful about deeming something "incorrect" or "ungrammatical". What may be entirely inappropriate for a job application might be perfectly suitable for a blues song. Yet both are English.

Nonetheless, if that's really the reason for the downvotes, I believe they should have been explained. A comment might have been better a better response than a downvote – and it certainly would have been a better response than an unexplained downvote.

Moreover, you did an impressive job of framing this meta question. It didn't come off as whining to me, but as a carefully crafted way to encourage community introspection.

  • I too picked up the "incorrect" and "ungrammatical" comments are to best avoided, there are always exceptions to any rule in the English language. Nonetheless in my defence, I did say:"but it is considered informal and by many to be ungrammatical."
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jun 10, 2013 at 6:59
  • Oh, no need to defend yourself here; I had no problem with what you said. :^)
    – J.R.
    Commented Jun 10, 2013 at 9:19
  • @JR I like the way you put that and will upvote you for it - but in this meta forum it doesn't much matter does it? Commented Jun 11, 2013 at 12:22
  • 3
    @Charlie: As for whether an upvote matters, on meta, an upvote basically says, "I agree with the sentiment of this answer." It lets others know whether there's strong support for someone when they've chimed in, or if they are alone in their views. Downvotes indicate sharp disagreement with an expressed opinion. As for entering a comment too soon, you're allowed to edit your comments (click the edit link), but you only get five minutes to do so. You can also rewrite a comment and then delete your old one. If you can't find the links, you just need to earn a few more rep points first.
    – J.R.
    Commented Jun 11, 2013 at 14:11
  • I'm not sure what I may be accused of saying, because there doesn't appear to be any link to the particular answer being referred to. If somebody could provide it, I could comment. As for downvotes, they're irrelevant, and certainly not pleasant. So ignore them. Commented Aug 1, 2013 at 20:04
  • @John: You (constructively) mentioned that the answer was "misleading." I only meant to say that that might explain the downvote, even if you weren't the one who cast it. Sorry I drug you into this mess; I didn't mean to.
    – J.R.
    Commented Aug 1, 2013 at 22:55
  • As I said, I don't even know which post this refers to. And I haven't voted anything down for a long time. Why bother? Commented Aug 1, 2013 at 23:08
  • @John: Oh, it refers to this answer (there's a link in this meta question). As for "why bother?" – I don't know; some see it as a civic duty. That answer is at +5/-2 now, but none of those votes are mine.
    – J.R.
    Commented Aug 1, 2013 at 23:52
  • Oh, well, then, if I'm responsible for the downvotes, I apologize. Commented Aug 2, 2013 at 4:44
  • @John: I doubt you're responsible. I was only guessing that your comments might explain (but not necessarily have prompted) someone else's downvote. Still, it's only a theory, no one can really say for sure why somebody else downvotes.
    – J.R.
    Commented Aug 2, 2013 at 8:49
  • It hurts to get negative response no matter what. Since you're newer here, those downvotes carry much more psychological weight. It is unfortunate that you don't get feedback on each and every vote (down -or- up) but that's not what behavior in the entire SE system is like. It's hard to read intention from a single up/down, but often that's all you get.

  • Some people are more likely to downvote than others, not out of inherent evil but because there's a tool with a given purpose and people want to use it.

  • You left out many possible reasons, of varying nuance, having to do with just plain reasoning or factual disagreement. In your answer, there are are many posible points of arguable disagreement, your first statement, your explanation of each instance, your use of google among them.

  • 2 down votes is not a big deal. Really. Revenge and trollish downvoting is not common. If the total on that question were -2, then you'd want to think about the quality of your answer very seriously. At a net of 0, well, it's good that you're asking for feedback, and you've gotten some from tchrist and John Lawler.

  • ELU is not special. it is just as unfriendly and unhelpful to newcomers as the main programming sites.

Each of these points of mine have long histories in meta questions and answers and comment threads on the main site. If you go through some of the meta questions you'll find support for them.

  • Thank you for your detailed answer. I didn't believe that I was being personally attacked but I did do some reading on other people's complaints and from my experience in other online communities, I know that no.4 does happen. I was in actual fact enquiring about another question of mine when it was pointed out, kindly, that I was mistaken. So I had to change the original link.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jun 9, 2013 at 17:47

Sometimes downvotes are just that - a mystery. For whatever reason, that person didn't think your question had merit. Votes are anonymous by design, and each person can spend just as much effort thinking about them as he/she chooses.

In other words, most of the examples you've given aren't really examples of "unfair downvotes". Guidelines and advice can be given, but ultimately it's solely up to the voter's discretion.

That said, something like serial downvoting (where someone will downvote every single one of your questions/answers) and trolling (where someone will downvote a large number of posts in a short amount of time) and sockpuppeting (where someone creates a duplicate account for the sole purpose up upvoting their own posts) are examples of unfair voting, and this kind of thing is generally caught by a filter and reversed within 24 hours.

My best advice is: Don't let it stress you out, especially if the overall score on the post is still positive, and especially if they don't leave a comment (and even if they do, note that you can't assume it's the same person who left the downvote). Note also that it will take three down-votes to completely cancel out a single up-vote.

The converse: Should it be necessary to explain every single upvote too? No. All an upvote means is that, for whatever reason, that person thinks that this question was well put and deserves attention/responses.


Generally a down vote means the voter thinks the answer is not a good answer to the question. Often people will explain why they down voted in a comment without explicitly saying they down voted. Often they won't bother. Yes, what makes it a good answer or not can be subjective, but that's why we have votes rather than right/wrong flags.

I know a lot of people are sensitive to being down voted, like it is some kind of personal insult or something. I find it helpful to think of the SE sites as conferences or salons where attendees discuss topics and a down vote of my answer is just someone else saying "I disagree" or simply shaking their head. It's not unfriendly or unwelcoming to disagree, it's just a sign you've entered a debate where people have opinions.

If you want feedback on how to improve your answers, that's what the comments are for. The answer you link to has comments from 3 people explaining why they do not like your answer and only 2 down votes so I wouldn't call the down votes "inexplicable".

  • I agree with your conclusion but you cannot deny there are instances where a down vote appears to be unjustifiable. It has happened to me, with no explanation, and I am left wondering: " "What did I do wrong?" Then the answer may receive an upvote which helps damaged confidence to repair. Nobody likes the idea of looking like a fool, but down votes can give that impression.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jun 10, 2013 at 5:36
  • 2
    Sometimes the down vote is unjustifiable, bad things happen, but disagreeing with someone is not doing something wrong. Look at the votes on my question and feel better about yourself. :-)
    – Old Pro
    Commented Jun 10, 2013 at 6:36
  • If the down votes lead to a discussion then that is perfectly fine. I'm all for it. I have so far down voted only one person's answer BUT I explained why and then provided examples to back my argument. english.stackexchange.com/a/113214/44619 (I didn't know then that I had to precede my comment with -1 but regardless, I think it is clear I disagreed and why!) In fact I was even hoping for a response. :)
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jun 10, 2013 at 6:49

Kudos on the zillions of great answers and comments.

I want to take what I hope might be a slightly different tack here, for the purpose of making this point: Votes are SUPPOSED to be meaningful and relevant. It seems to me that there is a good reason for voting, one that is being obscured by all the hullabaloo over misguided and inappropriate voting. I believe votes were instituted for the specific and valuable reason to render the voter's opinion that the answer contributes something constructive to the discussion. That's it, nothing more. Notice what happens when you hover your cursor over a voting arrow. You get "This answer is (or is not) useful." Useful. You don't see, "I don't agree," "I don't like this answer," "I'm in a bad mood today," or gee whiz, any other reason at all to cast a vote. In fact, I would like to think I just might have enough integrity to see an answer with which I disagree, but which I nevertheless believe contributes something genuinely useful to the discussion, and that I would then UPVOTE it. (Yes, I have done this.) Could we try not to lose sight of how simple and useful votes could actually be?

And by the way, Mari-Lou, you're one of our best. Keep it up.

  • A very balanced, constructive and positive critique of the voting system. And thank you for the compliment, I know I'm not by a long shot, but nevertheless I appreciate your kindness.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Aug 2, 2013 at 22:30
  • More to the point is to ask 'Have you seen an answer which you like and agree with, but downvoted it because it is out of place?' Clearly we should do, but it often seems to get left out of discussions on downvotes. Commented Aug 3, 2013 at 11:48
  • @TimLymington That is a good point, Tim. A bit more challenging to sort out, I think; if I both like and agree with an answer, it seems likely I would find it a useful part of the discussion. Let's say I might enjoy an answer for reasons that have little to do with usefulness to the discussion, and if said answer otherwise does not have such usefulness (imho), then you're right, I should downvote it. Commented Aug 3, 2013 at 17:31

I landed on the English page when I recently found stackexchange. I think from the mods to the newbies, it is a positive environment that is out to really help others. I have not checked out many other SE sites but the one I did was philosophy. Now that site is quick on the down voting and very critical of not following the rules. For such deep thinkers, you think ego would enter their thoughts. It's not that I've even experienced this but I've seen some ostracized for a question or an answer. I like what was stated above about helping or constructive criticism through a comment rather than racking em with down votes. Thanks for keeping it real here. I get in a rush and my English may need an edit or two after I post it. Thankfully there is a level of understanding and I am not chastised for catching my mistake and editing it. If there was a category that could/should be critical of writing in proper tense, etc. it would be this one. I would say that there certainly is a place and a reason for down votes. If nothing else it keeps people in check; a sort of deterrent I suppose.

  • On the part about the deterrent - it deters in some ways, but one "trick" I notice many people using is to answer questions via the comments rather than an answer - this means that they can get a little up-vote, but not a down-vote. I guess we can all do the same for fear of the down-vote or fear of actually answering the question.
    – Sam
    Commented Jun 26, 2013 at 8:18
  • good point. I've actually answered questions before which were relatively new and had only one answer...and by the time I had posted mine, nearly the same answer had been posted. I felt like a heel just because it appeared I followed the answer although 3 min. would be tough. I just edited it making note of the situation as my answer was slightly differing and both had reasons to stay. Otherwise I would've deleted it. Do you win a prize for most points>:P I am sure it happens though. Commented Jun 26, 2013 at 8:30

When I first came to the site I got a lot of downvotes because I was using corpus data to answer questions. Maybe you're getting heat from anti-corpus types since you used google hits as part of your argument. Try using COCA data next time. They'll still downvote... honni soit qui mal y pense. Also they don't like you to answer questions which are unworthy in the first place. The question you answered got closed, so downvoting the answer will help to ratify the closure decision.

  • 1
    I may be misremembering, but I think both the downvotes to OP's answer had already been cast before the (irrelevant, imho) Google counts were edited in. My only vote on the page was to closevote as GR just before a mod closed it as OT (I'd accept on ELL, so OT is fine by me). I doubt anyone would downvote a "correct" answer just because they didn't like the question. They may have disagreed with OP's assertion that "people usually prefer" the "grammatical" version (without double negative), or because as Kristina commented, OP mistakenly conflated anything/nothing and any more/no more Commented Jun 17, 2013 at 1:16
  • @jlovegren I can confirm that I did indeed add the google statistics after receiving the down-votes. I was secretly hoping to get results which would have backed my claims. Not so! Nevertheless, I posted the statistics onto my answer, honesty being the best policy and all that.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jun 20, 2013 at 7:53
  • thanks for that clarification, @Mari-LouA and @ FumbleFingers. i hadn't been familiar with the history of this question.
    – user31341
    Commented Jun 22, 2013 at 17:55
  • @CharlieBrown it's not a search engine. It's just a very large sample of previously written or spoken English.
    – user31341
    Commented Jun 27, 2013 at 23:12
  • @jlovegren thanks. I obviously did not have time to look beyond the home page. That is good information. Not the up vote for google analytics FumbleFingers had discussed but the sharing of another good resource. Commented Jun 28, 2013 at 2:30

Ultimately, I think that if down-votes required a comment to be provided - this would deter gratuity and provide the OP with constructive criticism.

Edit: Just to embellish this rather brief answer based on my comments. If comments are not required for down-votes (an therefore help the community), I think that removal of down-votes would encourage answers to be voted on merit. Consider this scenario:

There are 2 answers to a question. 100 people respond by either up-voting, down-voting or both. Both answers receive 50 up-votes, meaning that they are equal in terms of being considered good answers. The first answer receives 10 down-votes from 10 of the people who up-voted the other answer, so one answer is ahead by 10 points.

What does this mean? It means that those who "bother" to down-vote have more power over the perceived best answer and 10 points have been taken away from people who cast their votes. Of course, everyone can down-vote the other answer too, but it means that everyone should down-vote every answer that they do not up-vote to make it all even!

Add to this that you need a certain reputation to down-vote, you lose a point each time you down-vote and therefore those with the highest reputation can be more blasé about down-voting those who have just started out.

In the end though - this scoring system underlies the SE sites, so what can be done in reality?

  • 3
    And then also nobody would bother downvoting...ever. For maximum irony, I did not downvote.
    – Mitch
    Commented Jun 20, 2013 at 3:20
  • I slightly disagree with @Mitch, I think people who are confident enough to explain their down-votes will do so in comments. Sometimes a down-vote is given for unbeknown reasons, not related to the quality of the answer itself, or maybe because a user picks the worst answer from the bunch and down-votes it? I still prefer to have the comments though, sometimes they are helpful in reconsidering a question in a different light.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jun 20, 2013 at 7:57
  • Nobody would bother... well that does not mean I am not right. That just shows that there is a problem you are willing to accept.
    – Sam
    Commented Jun 20, 2013 at 8:07
  • @Mari, Sam: search for 'downvote require comment' here and in meta.SE for copious discussion on the topic.
    – Mitch
    Commented Jun 20, 2013 at 21:04
  • @Mitch I upvoted your comment for the humor then realized after the fact I do not agree with the subject of the comment, 'that nobody would downvote'. Sometimes it may not appear so but people put time and effort into answers for no reason but to be helpful. They aren't getting paid (but maybe they are really into status on a Q&A board?) so I don't know why anyone would be afraid to tell the person why. It only helps the person who is down voted what they need to work on. I see both the Q & the A as a way to sharpen or maintain one's skills. thanks 4 the suggestion on meta.SE! Commented Jun 26, 2013 at 6:40
  • Why have down-voting at all? The best answer should receive the most votes regardless. It does not actually make sense to be able to up-vote one thing and down-vote another. This opens up the possibility of discrediting perfectly reasonable answers. We have flagging for where an answer is inappropriate. If you can only up-vote or vote - you simply condone an answer. By being able to also down-vote the other answers at the same time, you are taking away from other peoples' up-votes as well as elevating your favourite answer.
    – Sam
    Commented Jun 26, 2013 at 8:06
  • 1
    "this scoring system underlies the SE sites, so what can be done in reality?" - did you try looking at meta.SE? You'll get quite a bit of commentary and arguments both ways there. End result: no necessary comments for downvoting, and downvoting remains.
    – Mitch
    Commented Jun 26, 2013 at 17:52

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