Question: Should we upvote when "This is neat. It clears my confusion!" or when "I am an expert at this. I knew this answer is right. And I upvote it as an endorsement"?

Wrong information sometimes can clear someone's confusion too, and the reader may not have the knowledge to tell wrong information.

migrated from ell.stackexchange.com Nov 6 '18 at 5:44

This question came from our site for speakers of other languages learning English.


If you hover over the upvote button on an answer, it gives this tooltip:

This answer is useful

So, upvotes on answers could be given for either of the reasons you give:

  • This answer is right on the money
  • This answer clarified my confusion

Other potential reasons for upvotes might include:

  • This answer is very well-researched
  • This answer is especially well-written and well-formulated
  • This answer uses great examples or an especially good analogy to teach a difficult concept
  • This answer pretty much says what I would have said, so I'll just upvote this answer instead of writing my own

If there many answers to one particular question, you might find yourself voting for one or two of the best answers, to help "float them to the top." Or, you might upvote all of them, if you think everyone looked at the question a little bit differently and all made very valid points.

There's really no set criteria, because "useful" can mean different things to different people.

  • 1
    Your answer was useful to me, J.R.. IMHO, the essence of the original question is perhaps pointing a certain flaw in reusing the StackOverflow model of Q&A for language learning. S.O. is perfect for programming, where you can run the code and validate the response – thus voting up or down. But language is a different kind of thing. I may "leave the room" thinking that the answer was neat and logic, starting to use it from now on and never coming back to check that, perhaps the answer taught me points that were grammatically wrong! – Ricardo Jun 11 at 21:53
  • And sometimes people do not tell you that your English is grammatically wrong, so it may take years to realize it! – Ricardo Jun 11 at 22:16
  • @Ricardo This is a problem with any information you find on the Internet. Indeed, even some highly up-voted answers on Stack Exchange are controversial. Some grammar books disagree with one another, and some questions aren’t answered in books. There is an older discussion about supporting answers with some sort of evidence here: ell.meta.stackexchange.com/q/1117/9161 – ColleenV Jun 13 at 17:44

Here are the things I look for in a good answer

  1. Is it correct? Does it provide the right answer to the question? Does it use the right grammar/vocabulary/syntax terms?
  2. Is it comprehensive? Does it take into account exceptions, alternate definitions, different dialects, possible slang, informal usages, etc?
  3. Is it complete? Does the explanation include (where appropriate) examples, images, links to corroborating sources, and anything else of substance that helps the learner retain the information?

In practical terms, this means a good answer ought to be longer than a single sentence, and usually longer than a paragraph. Short answers can be correct, of course, but they're unlikely to be comprehensive enough to get my vote.

In practical terms, the most important criteria is correctness. The others are nice to have, but I'm relatively forgiving if the overall answer is useful and accurate. I also make frequent exceptions for correct answers to questions that also have incorrect answers, especially when the incorrect answer is the accepted answer.


IMHO we should upvote an answer not only if it was neat, logic and clarified my confusion, but also if it provided means to check that it is also grammatically correct (e.g. reference to a trustworthy grammar book or site).

  • A fun fact for Portuguese speakers: try to determine the correct translation for the words "lime" and "lemon". Logically we would think it is "lima" and "limão" respectively. But depending on the source we find a variety of different answers... – Ricardo Jun 11 at 22:14
  • References are nice when they link to a site that provides more information than an ELL answer can explain. I also routinely use references to a dictionary when offering simply definitions, because I think this looks tidy. However I recommend against providing references just to validate an answer. For starters, questions are often about fairly specific English usage that may be difficult to corroborate. Second, this is what the upvote is for, so that other users on this site can validate the answer is correct. – Andrew Jun 17 at 21:01
  • But perhaps most importantly, how do you know the linked references is itself correct? I've seen many sites online that provide incomplete, misleading, and even sometimes downright harmful explanations of English grammar. By linking to an external resource, all you've really done is kicked the validation down the line, which requires someone on ELL to go to that link, check the reference, and agree that it's valid. Isn't it better to write answers that are complete in and of themselves? Moreover, a good answer may offer suggestions and terms to conduct your own research. – Andrew Jun 17 at 21:04
  • IMHO a trustworthy grammar reference should be encouraged for this specific community. To build one, it takes many hours of dedicated work and many linguistic specialists involved (who themselves have taken many hours of study and preparation). This work is then turned into books or even serious online references, and are properly updated to reflect the evolution of the language. The upvote doesn't say it is correct, it says the community thought it was useful. – Ricardo Jun 18 at 0:04
  • In programming (the original purpose of the SO family of communities), you can take an answer and validate the code by running it on the proper compiler (which could be seen as the trustworthy grammar reference or the "source of truth"). Thus, upvoting may be an acceptable way to reflect correctness. If we (as the ELL community) accept and upvote answers that seem correct, but maybe aren't congruent to a grammar reference, we may be ignoring the extensive work of linguistic specialists and perhaps may be creating a branch on the language definitions. – Ricardo Jun 18 at 0:12

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