Downvotes are a good thing. They separate the good content from the bad, and make a user aware that something is wrong with their question (or answer). Downvoting is an integral part of the Stack Exchange model.

It seems that here on ELL, we're a bit shy with the downvotes (and perhaps a bit too happy to give upvotes that might not be appropriate). To remind everyone what is worth of upvoting and downvoting:

Upvote when:

This question shows research effort; it is useful and clear.

Downvote when:

This question does not show any research effort; it is unclear or not useful.

We, as a community, do not seem to be following these guidelines. Out of 1,111 questions currently posted, only 17 have a negative net-score. I can absolutely guarantee that there are more than 17 low-quality questions on this site that do not display research effort.

We need to be willing to use downvotes when we come across poorly-researched questions that lack context. We also need to stop and think for a minute before we cast upvotes (because we really do seem to have a trend of upvoting just about everything). The main deciding factor in vote-casting is research effort. Is there context? Did the user make an attempt to explain why they don't understand something and exactly what they're looking for? Please pay attention to this and vote accordingly.

If we cast upvotes on everything, votes become essentially useless. Especially as we're still in the defining stage of beta, we very much need to utilize our downvotes to separate the good from the bad. Cast close votes when a question is off-topic or fits one of the other close reasons; cast down votes when a question is on-topic but is a bad question.

In short, let's please try to use our downvotes more often. In a perfect world all the questions posted here would be good, and we'd never need to use them; but we all know that's not the case. If the question shows no effort, downvote it, because downvotes are a good thing.

Please note, I am not saying we shouldn't try to comment and get the questions to improve first. This should absolutely be our first course of action! I'm just saying that downvotes are a useful tool, and that we certainly shouldn't upvote questions which don't show research effort.

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    I don’t understand what you mean by ‘Did the user make an attempt to explain why they don't understand something and exactly what they're looking for’. Are simple reasons (e.g I don’t understand why my teacher said this sentence is wrong) not acceptable anymore? And what kinds of research are expected from novice English learner? Also, what’s wrong with someone up-voting whatever contents they like? Isn’t liking contents a sure way for the site to become popular? – EnglishLearner Apr 3 '13 at 16:37
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    I mean that this question offers no context, and as such is not as good as this question which offers context and insight into the matter at hand. Learners are expected to, at the very least, explain why they think something is wrong, or don't understand it. This is all case-by-case, so there can be exceptions, but the general rule stands. "[sentence here] Why is this wrong?" is not ok. (contd) – WendiKidd Apr 3 '13 at 17:23
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    If we understand why the OP doesn't understand, we can better answer their question, rather than trying to guess at their confusion and provide an answer based on that. This excellent meta post goes into further detail. No, upvoting everything does not make the site popular. Upvotes are to be used for good questions and downvotes for bad, so we can distinguish between the two. If bad questions are upvoted that will actually hurt the site, because it hurts the signal/noise ratio. @EnglishLearner – WendiKidd Apr 3 '13 at 17:24
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    I’m checking out your first link. I think the poster has provided the context of the quote (from one of the Harry Potter books). He/she is indicating that he/she is unsure of the meaning of the bolded part in the quote. The second post is, without a doubt, better worded with more insight and research. It appears to be written by an Expert English User. But I almost feel you are comparing apples to oranges when you are taking a question/post of your liking and comparing it to a question not of your own liking. I happen to like both of the posts. (contd) – EnglishLearner Apr 3 '13 at 18:25
  • Also, just because the first post is arbitrary closed; it doesn’t discredit all the helpful answers already given, some answers are even highly voted. To summarize, I think it’s a reasonable expectation to ask someone for the context of the question or what is it that they don’t understand. – EnglishLearner Apr 3 '13 at 18:26
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    I have no command of English to post an answer, nevertheless, just to give you, in few words, a possible account of the causes which have determined this pattern, I think that the most of ELL people has experienced with great dislike, almost like a disgrace, the EL&U voting process. So they do not want that the same thing happen here. Moreover, I think that: 1) downvotes are an extrema ratio; 2) in beta phase we need to create a comfortable space for new users. As per 1), before downvotes we should make our better to help users to improve their questions/answers. ... – user114 Apr 3 '13 at 20:23
  • ... As per 2), it is better vote to close because, at the end, the users have, at least, the reason why their contribution has not been apreciated. – user114 Apr 3 '13 at 20:23
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    @EnglishLearner It wasn't arbitrarily closed. It was closed because it didn't show any research effort, which is a requirement of SE questions (as Matt noted in comments on that post). If we end up with a bunch of low-quality questions then the site won't graduate, and then where will we be? So it's important to discuss these things, esp. in beta. I also do believe that in most cases it is perfectly reasonable to expect an explanation of what you don't understand, but we can agree to disagree on that point. :) – WendiKidd Apr 3 '13 at 22:37
  • @Carlo_R. I'll admit to ignorance regarding how votes are cast on EL&U. Certainly we don't want excessive down-voting, but if we upvote everything (even that which is LQ) then we're not making a good-faith effort to ensure the site has good content. If a question doesn't show research effort it should be downvoted; that's how SE works (and what the arrow says). We do want the site to be comfortable for users, but rarely downvoting and not being discriminating about our content isn't the way to do that. It just leads users to believe this content is acceptable. (continued) – WendiKidd Apr 3 '13 at 22:43
  • @Carlo_R If we do nothing about bad questions then we're not leading the site in the right direction, as a community. We definitely do want to help users improve their questions, yes! I strongly encourage leaving comments to explain, and if you're dealing with a new user to give them extra time to edit before closevoting, as I've advocated in the past. But go ahead and downvote; if the question is edited you can reverse the vote. Closevotes are also a good tool, I agree. But downvotes have their purpose. (continued) – WendiKidd Apr 3 '13 at 22:48
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    @Carlo_R. I'm afraid we're not being discriminating enough with our content, and if we become a repository of mostly-bad questions we won't graduate. We're not there yet, not by a long shot, but if we continue with the trend of almost never downvoting questions that deserve it, we could get there. I don't know, it's just something that came up among the mods. I totally agree that we have other actions to take as well, and that it is always better to help a user improve by leaving comments and suggesting edits. But I don't want to let a bunch of bad questions slip by. Am I making any sense? – WendiKidd Apr 3 '13 at 22:50
  • @WendiKidd since we are agreeing to disagree, let me point another fact about that topic that I still believe was arbitrary closed. That topic currently has +3 points. Previously, it was given -3 points by people who maybe try to discredit the question and maybe force it to close (my assumption was based on number of people who wanted it to close). The topic is now back in the positive. It makes no sense to me why topics with positive votes are closed. Another point that you may have overlook about that topic is that one of the answers in that topic has garner a high of +6 votes. – EnglishLearner Apr 4 '13 at 12:57
  • I hope in the future, people responsible for closing topics would respect the wishes of the community. If community likes something, then stop overriding their decision or force topics to close. Thanks for reading/responding. Hope we can make ELL a great site for all English learners. – EnglishLearner Apr 4 '13 at 12:58
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    @EnglishLearner I think you've overlooked something there; part of the reason the question had a + net score is that even when people see bad questions, they aren't downvoting. I've noticed myself doing this too. (Also people tend to not downvote when they closevote, which means 3 closevotes = 3 more downvotes = net score of 0). Questions aren't closed because people don't like them, but because they violate site policies. See my comment on that question: I didn't closevote, and encouraged the OP to improve it. I liked the content, but the bad question was closed by the community anyway. – WendiKidd Apr 4 '13 at 13:19
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    @EnglishLearner: There is not necessarily a correlation between upvotes and the quality of a question. I've voted to close questions that I've upvoted, and downvoted questions I've answered. If you follow the tips on the upvote/downvote buttons, upvotes & downvotes are tied to the quality of the question; close votes are cast when the question is not a good fit for the site. This is a very interesting question, but it wouldn't be a good question on ELL (and, if you read through the remarks, some feel it should be closed, despite a +20 net). – J.R. Apr 8 '13 at 10:07

Keep in mind that down-votes are an ancillary means to an end. Down-voting should lead to the primary activities on this site which should be improving this content and setting better guidance about how questions can contribute more productively to this this.

The same goes for answers. There's are a lot of less-than-insightful answers that can use some of that same treatment — most are rarely called out for improvement.

I'm not knocking calls for more informed and widespread voting (whether for up-voting or down-voting). Heavy vote participation is really important, especially on a new site — Vote Early, Vote Often. I'm just pointing out that calls to do so without further efforts to improve the content don't exactly set the right tone for this site.

  • Robert, agreed. J.R. made an excellent meta post about improving questions recently (meta.ell.stackexchange.com/questions/439/…) , which seems to have gotten some attention and will hopefully improve question quality. It was also discussed among the mods though that we need improve our use of voting to mark these questions as good or bad, because right now we're giving the appearance of liking everything, whether the content is good or not. So I thought it would be a good idea to remind the community to think when voting, and remember downvotes can help. – WendiKidd Apr 3 '13 at 17:11
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    I also agree that answers aren't given nearly as much attention as questions are, which is something we should also consider. Commenting on how to improve them when necessary would help improve the site greatly, because when you think about it, even if all our questions are excellent they are useless without good answers. (At any rate, +1 and thank you for responding!) – WendiKidd Apr 3 '13 at 17:15
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    @WendiKidd: RE: right now we're giving the appearance of liking everything, whether the content is good or not. I think sometimes there is a tendency to click on the upvote button when someone asks a question we've wondered about for a long time, whether that question happens to be well-written, or hastily put together. I wouldn't be surprised to if many of the upvotes on "iffy" questions stem from such reactions. (I'm neither condoning nor condemning the practice, I'm just offering a theory.) – J.R. Apr 4 '13 at 1:40
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    @J.R. Makes sense to me. Until this was brought to my attention I hadn't really thought about it; I'm sure I'm equally guilty of the practice. But once someone mentioned it to me I started realizing that the voting patterns (both my own and on the site as a whole) don't really reflect what the up and down arrows say. I've also seen quite a few questions that are about an interesting topic, just sorely in need of editing, and in those cases I've tried to comment in hopes it would improve. But yes, I think you're probably right about the motivations! – WendiKidd Apr 4 '13 at 2:49
  • I strongly disagree with vote early and often. I think mindless voting is like playing lottery or expecting 10000 monkeys to write Hamlet in a typewriter. – Nico Mar 21 '14 at 9:53

It's often more helpful to describe why a post needs improvement than to just downvote it.

There's few things more frustrating than getting a downvote, and not knowing what you did "wrong". And such downvotes don't help improve the website.

Sometimes it becomes a guessing game. Was it?

  1. You ought to RTFM.
  2. Your question is too stupid.
  3. We don't like questions about this topic (received 2 downvotes as well as 4 upvotes)

If someone has been given suggestions on how to improve their post, and hasn't, then a downvote would be justified.

Also, sometimes I upvote questions because I think they're useful or interesting, even if they don't show an awful amount of research.

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    I definitely agree that it's important to leave comments explaining what's wrong with the post. I've actually argued this before (in regard to closevotes, not downvotes) and been shot down by those who don't feel the need to explain them. I didn't mention this in the question because I didn't want the two requests to muddy the waters of the question, but based on responses it seems I should have. At any rate; I absolutely agree with you. If posts aren't improved, that's when they deserve downvotes. I try and monitor dubious questions before down or closevoting in hopes they'll improve. +1! – WendiKidd Apr 6 '13 at 23:34
  • @WendiKidd now you make me feel bad about downvoting your question. But at least I gave feedback! :P – Andrew Grimm Apr 6 '13 at 23:37
  • And you used a downvote! ;) I've edited the question a bit to make this clearer, at any rate! – WendiKidd Apr 7 '13 at 0:17

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