The downvoting practice on ELL sucks. I suspect many new users get discouraged and disappointed by this practice. This practice is not in the least encouraging to put questions anymore. In my case one user wrote

For example there is a user on ELL who is valiantly trying to plough their way through "The Wrecker" by Robert Louis Stephenson . . .

That's exactly the feeling I've got on ELL. However I grew a thick skin and "valiantly ploughed my way through" this book. It's a pity that you must get this feeling because you come across a negative and even hostile attitude. This impression doesn't promote being interested in learning English. Hence this practice negatively affects the site and must be modified. Of course most of the users even of rather a high "reputation" aren't teachers and they don't have the experience and "sympathy" of a teacher - they aren't able to realize the difficulties a non-native speaker has in learning a foreign language. There are exceptions. Luckily, I have got fine answers by some users of high reputation (However, one user who has answered or commented on many questions at the beginning regrettably broke off all at once). By and large, users of lower reputation have little or no sympathy and understanding of the difficulties and problems non-native speakers have. Therefore the "reputation" of the "legitimation" for downvoting a question must be rated higher - higher than to date; this would be my suggestion. In short the "legitimation for downvoting" must get a higher "reputation" score.

Thank you very much to all who answered or commented on my questions regarding "The Wrecker". I much appreciate your help.

  • Related. Maybe most language SEs are similar (but I personally feel ELL is better in this respect than ELU) Why is the Japanese Language Stack Exchange site so negative?
    – sundowner
    Feb 9 at 6:44
  • 'The downvoting practice on ELL sucks' - that is just asking for downvotes! Feb 11 at 19:47
  • 3
    I think it is unfair to lump all of ELL in with a few people who downvoted your questions or were critical of them. Your lowest scored question had 3 people downvote it. You have over 700 reputation, so you've obviously gotten a good number of upvotes, and you admit that you've gotten good answers and support from some members of the community here. Maybe you shouldn't let a few people you perceive as hostile cause you to become hostile too. Your highest voted question had 6 people upvote it; twice as many as your typical number of downvoters.
    – ColleenV
    Feb 12 at 18:28
  • 1
    The worst thing I see are those who tell OPs they don't need this or that and to forget it. It so happens that as a natural language interpreter, I find many of these questions completely valid. Because? Dictionaries and head honchos have not answered every single little thing in English, and those little things (expecially in spoken English) are what makes the language so great and quite tricky. I have opened questions like these that have been closed and then answered them. My answer is very different from what people might have expected and often these tidbits are missed by respondents.
    – Lambie
    Feb 24 at 18:34

2 Answers 2


It's true, the Stack Exchange network of sites wasn't created with language learners in mind, and it really shows. It was created for programmers, who are more likely to give and expect blunt opinions and direct feedback, quite different from how ESL students and ESL teachers work.

About your specific situation, I noticed how other users were treating your questions --not just with downvotes, but with harsh comments and close votes-- and it disappointed me a lot. Most of the negativity was directed at your choice of learning material, which is nobody's business but your own, and it never affected the quality of your questions. The solution to these issues then, is for ELL users to better understand what downvoting is meant for, rather than making it more costly.

If you still think changing downvoting is the solution, I have to respectfully disagree. As a veteran ESL teacher myself, I don't like the idea of downvoting questions from language learners at all, but on this network, I think it's necessary. As cold as this sounds, this network has to cater to the "answerers", not to the "askers", because they're the ones who provide the value. Without a quick and easy way to give negative feedback to "askers", the overall quality of questions would suffer, and fewer "answerers" would continue coming back and answering them, which leads to fewer quality answers, and fewer questions, and so on into a death spiral. So the downvote system --if used correctly-- is the reason you've gotten any good answers at all.

Maybe you already understand this, and what you're asking for is just to balance things better so there's more of a disincentive to downvote. Unfortunately, the rep point values for various actions is set network-wide, rather than site-by-site, so tiny ELL.SE would have to lobby in Meta Stack Exchange for the privilege to set our rep values differently to the rest of the network. That's a steep mountain to climb.

So again, a site built specifically for language learners from the beginning would have a much different feel, and be a lot gentler. We know that the design of this network irritates a lot of "askers", but until someone builds something better, this is what we've got.

And it's better than Quora. ;)

By the way, your questions are among the ones I like the most because they're thoroughly written, they're unique, and you take constructive feedback so well. I hope you continue to valiantly plough your way through ELL.

And FWIW, I was one of the users who stopped answering your questions. I decided to lower my time commitment to ELL, so I stopped answering all questions, not only yours. I still pop in every day or so, but just for the mod work.


(A rather late answer): I think up- and down-voting is confusing, and confused, on most Stack Exchange sites other than Stack Overflow. Because on most of those sites it's not needed.

Stack Overflow sees a very high traffic of questions—my perception is along the lines of a new one every few seconds. ELL and other SEs that I've been in see a much lower traffic.

The really useful reason for up- and down-votes is to help "sort" a high volume of questions, so that answerers can direct their limited time to questions that are readily answerable, and not waste time on ones that aren't clear. They're not really meant as a punishment-and-reward system. (Even "reputation," which feels very much like such a Skinnerian stick-and-carrot system, is ideally not for that but rather for knowing which answers to "trust" most.)

But since humans are creatures very attuned to reward and punishment (especially socially mediated rewards and punishments), downvotes and closures are perceived that way, especially by newcomers.

Personally, I try never to use downvotes for anyone with reputation below the thousands. (Occasionally I'll actually use it punitively for such high-reputation users who create a question so out of tune with our requirements that they ought to have known better.) The frequency of questions here is so low that no one is actually sorting through and ignoring low-voted ones, so it serves no useful purpose. Instead, if the question is lacking I vote to close and leave a (friendly) comment encouraging editing, so that no eager users offer answers before the question is truly answerable.

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