Recently I saw a question that (I believe) was valid, but it had -2 rep. Has OP committed some Stack Exchange faux pas? Why was OP downvoted? (here: Comma before 'only to')

Aside from the single quotes used to quote "only to", I see no problem with this question. The Help Center wasn't particularly helpful; it doesn't make any reference to downvoting questions (only saying that, through voting, "good answers will rise to the top" and implying that bad answers are meant to be downvoted).

I apologize for my ignorance of what may seem like common knowledge; I'm pretty new here.



  • 5
    When someone downvotes a post, either a question or an answer, they ultimately want to send this message to fellow users: "This post is of poor quality." The primary purpose of score on a post (not here, but on the main site) is to indicate its usefulness. Notably, this "usefulness" is subject to interpretation, and says nothing about the intent behind some votes. Sadly, some people take votes too seriously, and complain about downvotes.
    – M.A.R.
    Commented Aug 13, 2016 at 19:05
  • 3
    Downvotes are essentially random, unless they're accompanied by explanatory comments, or accompanied by close votes in the case of questions. ELU is a game; somebody flipped a coin and came up with "downvote". That's all. For the game to make more sense, a downvote would require an explanation, but that's not the case, and is in opposition to the stackexchange model of "egalitarian to the point of embracing and encouraging stupidity". If an explanation was required, the explanation might not make any sense, but at least the quality of the vote could be assessed.
    – JEL
    Commented Aug 13, 2016 at 19:43
  • @JEL Surely there should be some standardized "downvoting rule" or at least a clear explanation of the downvoting mechanic in the Help Guide? I feel like this poorly-documented, amorphous mechanic is just asking for abuse
    – Tony
    Commented Aug 13, 2016 at 23:15
  • @DEAD Then what is the difference between a downvote and a flag? At least the flag is clearly explained in the user guide ("for flagging low-quality content, like 'thanks' and 'me too!'")
    – Tony
    Commented Aug 13, 2016 at 23:17
  • 2
    Hi, Tony. You may be interested in my answer (and others posted there as well) to a related question from a little over a year ago, The first anonymous downvote. The gist of my answer is that there is no unitary official explanation of downvoting at English Language & Usage, but rather three conflicting summaries of appropriate standards to use in downvoting. It is hardly surprising that people apply different standards when the site itself can't keep its story straight.
    – Sven Yargs
    Commented Aug 14, 2016 at 5:05
  • 3
    @JEL what you say makes sense in the beginning, but you'll get tired of explaining your downvotes soon enough. A downvote explanation of "asdfasdfasdf" or "I downvoted just because" is worse than no explanation. It would also provoke retaliation with downvotes, and discourage downvoting. My point being, that the benefits do not outweigh the disadvantages, but if you have something to add to the thousand related feature requests on Meta Stack Exchange, then please do.
    – M.A.R.
    Commented Aug 14, 2016 at 15:49
  • Tony, I don't know what sort of abuse you think could result from the absence of rules about, or consequences for, downvotes. @DEAD, I don't think I agree with any of what you addressed to me particularly (that is, excepting the points in your prior general comment): I've been participating (not playing) here for a year, and haven't tired of explaining my downvotes; in every case I downvote for specific articulable reasons, and it's no strain to articulate them; I don't care about retaliation, and am not discouraged; benefits and disadvantages are moot; I participate, but don't subscribe.
    – JEL
    Commented Aug 14, 2016 at 18:07
  • 2
    @JEL Your mistake is presuming that most people are like you. You should recognize that gamification and crowd-sourcing mechanisms need to be geared toward how most folks will behave, and not how they should behave. The system works better if you have lots of votes. Explanations invite debate, criticism, and retaliation, and many don't want to deal with that over something as silly as Internet points. The system is already skewed toward UVs. Adding obstacles to DVs would skew it even further.
    – ColleenV
    Commented Aug 15, 2016 at 0:51
  • @ColleenV, I responded to a question (more a topic for discussion) that posits downvotes make sense, are constrained by rules, and the rules are expressed coherently somewhere or somehow. My response was that downvotes do not make sense, that they're random. I didn't recommend that downvotes should make sense, etc.; I said they don't and won't in the current system. I do sympathize with the notion that downvotes should make sense, and be explained, but despite how my comments have been taken, I at no point recommended a change. The idea that the system should change is yours and DEAD's.
    – JEL
    Commented Aug 15, 2016 at 9:11
  • 1
    @JEL I'll try again. DVs aren't random. Almost everyone does things for a reason. It may not be a reason they can explain very well, nor one you think is reasonable, but doesn't matter at all if you look at the big picture. You can't trust the scores on posts below a certain number of views, but the more views something has, the more likely it is that the score reflects the community's consensus. A lack of explicit rules doesn't make something meaningless, and someone doing something for reasons other than you would do it doesn't necessarily mean it's wrong.
    – ColleenV
    Commented Aug 15, 2016 at 12:15
  • Well, @ColleenV, I seem to be unable to make the points in ways you won't interpret for your own ends, but I'll try being more plain: I understood your first comment, quite well. If you put your agenda aside for a moment, you may realize that from the point of view of the recipient, DVs without explanation are essentially random, as I said. You seem to be gradually reiterating what my initial comment said, with your own embellishments (and I may or may not agree with your embellishments), but you are presenting your reiteration as if its a disagreement.
    – JEL
    Commented Aug 15, 2016 at 20:32

1 Answer 1


The tool tip on the downvote button for questions says "This question does not show any research effort; it is unclear or not useful (click again to undo)".

Probably most questions are downvoted when they show a lack of research effort. That definitely applies to the question you linked to. In fact it is highly likely that it will be closed for lacking research.

  • 7
    It might be worth mentioning why questions without research are subject to downvotes. Without research, the Stack Exchange becomes a "Tier 1" support center. Don't know what a word means? Ask on ELU. Don't know where to use a comma? Ask on ELU. Need a synonym? Ask on ELU. Soon the site is filled with trivial answers that could easily be found by looking at dictionaries, style guides, or thesauri. On the other hand, questions that mention what research was done, and explain why the O.P. is still confused, are often amply rewarded.
    – J.R.
    Commented Aug 14, 2016 at 1:19
  • Helpful tooltip. Didn't see that earlier. Thanks; that explains a lot.
    – Tony
    Commented Aug 15, 2016 at 17:59

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