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What purpose does downvoting questions serve?
What is a “closed” question?

First, I want to say that I have searched a lot on meta but didn't find the answer to my question (probably because the keywords are very commons).

I would like to know why voting down a question doesn't mean the same as voting to close it. Many questions that get downvoted get also closed.

The same goes the other way, what's the difference between an upvote and a non-existing keep the question open vote.

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marked as duplicate by tvanfosson, Andrew's a Unitato, Diago, Wesley Murch, John Jan 26 '12 at 21:34

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

3  
Have you actually read the FAQ, especially the part about why questions are closed? –  slhck Jan 25 '12 at 22:27
    
Yes it explains the reasons for closing a question. I find them appropriate, but I often see the downvoting used for those reasons. –  Matthieu Napoli Jan 25 '12 at 22:29
4  
It's the difference between that and this...oh, wait you can't see what I'm doing as I type can you. –  tvanfosson Jan 25 '12 at 23:43
    
@tvanfosson I didn't understand what you were refering to? –  Matthieu Napoli Jan 26 '12 at 10:40
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3 Answers

  1. Voting down a question in a Main site can mean that:

    • The question shows no research effort;
    • It's so poorly formatted that it's not understandable;
    • It's clearly off topic to the site.


    You can see some hints about this by hovering your mouse on the "down-vote" arrow.

  2. Voting down in Meta means that you disagree with the content, and it can mean also the things above, plus, it won't affect your reputation. Note that voting down/up in meta.stackoverflow.com does affect your reputation.

  3. Voting to close a question means that the question...

    • ... is off topic to the site, it's out of the scope. The close reason is Off Topic. This can include the migration to other existing SE sites where the question would fit (assuming it's not subjective);

    • ... has a duplicate. In other words, a question that covers the same ground has been asked before. The close reason is Exact Duplicate. This can attracts down-votes because it can mean that the OP didn't research a similar question before posting.

    • ...is rather unclear and it's hard to tell what's being asked; because of language, because the question is not well explained, etc... The close reason is Not a real question.

    • ...is asking for opinions, polls, and so it can cause discussions, etc. This question is always not fit to any site, because SE sites are about concrete and answerable questions. The close reason is Not constructive.

    • ...only treats about something related to a specific time or to the OP only. This question is closed as Too localized.

    • ...is asking about something very basic that can be researched in standard references, like dictionaries, books, sites dedicated to that topic, etc. The close reason is General Reference. This one is not present by default on every site, so you won't see it in all sites, but only in those who added it.

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We don't have a "General Reference" close reason though. –  slhck Jan 25 '12 at 22:41
    
Not every site has it, you're right, but I thought I'd include it for completeness. I'll add that it's not always present. :) –  Alenanno Jan 25 '12 at 22:41
1  
Actually, the "general reference" close reason was officially declined recently after a lengthy test period. –  Pops Jan 26 '12 at 14:44
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Downvoting

Downvoting and upvoting is used to indicate how "good" a question is, as defined by usefulness to the site it is posted on. Often, questions that indicate no effort spent, or that otherwise don't just make sense will be downvoted by the community. Here's the general guideline:

When should I vote down?

Use your downvotes whenever you encounter an egregiously sloppy, no-effort-expended post, or an answer that is clearly and perhaps dangerously incorrect.

Use your downvotes whenever you see a bad question that maybe lacks details, is incomprehensible, et cetera. If a question is really bad, and not a good fit for the site, there's probably a close reason for it.


Closing

As for closing, there are several reasons defined:

  • exact duplicate This question covers exactly the same ground as earlier questions on this topic; its answers may be merged with another identical question.

  • off topic Questions on Super User are expected to generally relate to computer software or computer hardware, within the scope defined in the faq.

  • not constructive This question is not a good fit to our Q&A format. We expect answers to generally involve facts, references, or specific expertise; this question will likely solicit opinion, debate, arguments, polling, or extended discussion.

  • not a real question It's difficult to tell what is being asked here. This question is ambiguous, vague, incomplete, overy broad, or rhetorical and cannot be reasonably answered in its current form.

  • too localized This question is unlikely to ever help any future visitors; it is only relevant to a small geographic area, a specific moment in time, or an extraordinarily narrow situation that is not generally applicable to the worldwide audience of the internet.

If a question falls under any of these categories, any user with more than 3000 reputation can vote to close it, and they are also expected to.

When there are five close votes cast, the question will be closed. These criteria generally cover questions that should not belong on the site. Therefore, they shouldn't attract answers, which is why they need to be closed. In fact, a moderator can step in and close a question right away, without needing to wait for 5 "normal" users to vote to close.

See more here:

When should I close a question?

Questions that are sufficiently off-topic, as outlined in the FAQ, should be closed by casting close votes. Questions that are sufficiently similar to older questions should be closed by casting close votes.


What's the difference?

In general, questions that get downvoted a lot also become closed quite fast, since – for example – there is a positive correlation between not showing any research effort and the "not a real question" close reason. Otherwise off-topic questions also often get downvotes, since they're not useful for the site at all.

In a way, there's a "question lifecycle" on Stack Exchange sites. After being posted, they can become downvoted, closed, and finally deleted.

  • If you downvote, you give the poster a chance to revise their question. Just make sure to drop a comment an tell them why you downvoted. You can then remove the downvote if the problem was solved.

  • If the question has more issues than just missing a bit of research, formatting, etc., and falls under any of the close reasons, it will sooner or later attract close votes. Therefore, extremely downvoted content will most probably be closed.

  • Closing is just the stage before deletion. Once a question is closed, it may be deleted by casting votes in a similar manner.

You see, there is a bit of a progression. The most immediate way to react on a post is by voting on it. Then, we have closing, which deals with the off-topic stuff we don't want to see or the kind of users we don't want to encourage to post more questions. Finally, there's deletion, which improves the signal-to-noise ratio even more.


Further reading:

share|improve this answer
    
I completely get all the reasons for closing a question. But why isn't the egregiously sloppy, no-effort-expended [question] a reason to close the question? And thus why the downvoting doesn't mean the same as "close the question"? It is harmful for the site, and unuseful. –  Matthieu Napoli Jan 25 '12 at 22:47
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Because 1) a question should at least be clear enough to be answerable and 2) a no-effort-expended question (see "bikeshed" problem) will attract the wrong answers, lead to endless content duplication, et cetera. –  slhck Jan 25 '12 at 22:51
    
Added a bit to my answer. Hope that it explains it better. –  slhck Jan 25 '12 at 22:58
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Voting to close requires 3000 reputation points.
Voting down requires 125 reputation points.

There are roughly 7956 users with the close privilege and roughly 87264 users with the downvote privilege.

That factor of ten difference is going mean a lot of users can cast down votes but not yet cast close votes. (Of course, users with 3000 reputation points are more likely to be active than users with 125 reputation points, but still -- a factor of ten is large.)

I use the negative vote scores on questions as an indication that I should look at a question and decide if it needs to be closed or if it can be improved enough to justify keeping it open, so I'm quite glad people continue to cast their down votes even if they cannot yet cast close votes.

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By chance, I came across this answer and it brings up a very interesting point -- our proper intentions might not be reflected in our down votes because of the site's infrastructure. I wonder if anyone else has looked into this? –  John Henry Sep 6 '13 at 1:11
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