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If I ask a question that is unclear and someone provides an answer that doesn't answer what I was asking, should I downvote it? On one hand, I feel like I would be unfairly penalising them, but on the other hand, I want the best answer to float to the top.

In particular, consider the following points:

  1. Should I only downvote when the question is rated above 0? They will still get 8 reputation from being upvoted and then downvoted.
  2. Is a comment enough and downvoting unnecessary?
  3. Downvotes can be removed if they edit their answer, but not if they delete it.
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You should ask him to downvote your question. –  Ladybug Killer Sep 11 '09 at 7:04
    
What question are you talking about? –  random Sep 11 '09 at 7:13
    
btw; if you link your accounts between the sites, you get free rep: blog.stackoverflow.com/2009/07/cross-site-account-associations –  Marc Gravell Sep 11 '09 at 7:20
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@random: I think this one: stackoverflow.com/questions/1409295/… –  ire_and_curses Sep 11 '09 at 8:24
    
@random: correct –  Casebash Sep 11 '09 at 9:40
    
@ire_and_curses: Thats the thread that made me start this topic –  Casebash Sep 11 '09 at 9:57
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5 Answers

up vote 1 down vote accepted

Unlike everyone else, I'm going to say yes*.

*But not immediately.

If you know your question is unclear, you must fix it. In fact, even if you don't think it's unclear, you should always try to make it clearer.

Someone who answered in a way that was unhelpful because the question was unclear still tried their best, but their answer was ultimately unhelpful to you, which is the purpose of a downvote. But in order to be fair (they tried their best after all) you should:

  1. Edit your question for clarity
  2. Comment on their answer, telling them it is unhelpful or wrong.
  3. Wait for them to edit their answer. (The length should be at least 24 hours)
  4. If they do not, then you can downvote them, because their answer is still objectively unhelpful or wrong.

This site is about Questions and Answers. If the answer that is posted to a question is wrong, then it should be downvoted so that other people who have the same question won't attempt to enact a solution that is potentially harmful.

If a question is unclear an answerer should ask for clarification, rather than just provide spray-and-pray answers.

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Really no (unless the replay is "lmgtfy", etc; in which case go for it...).

I would just apologise, clarify (edit) the question, and add a comment on that reply explaining the change. Hopefully the poster will either edit or delete their reply as appropriate.

Unclear questions are fairly common; sometimes respondents simply have to try to second-guess the question, so it isn't uncommon to see a reply that tries to guess the meaning - usually with a first line of "The question is a bit unclear, but if you mean {x} then {y}"

I want the best answer to float to the top.

Then upvote the helpful answers; don't penalise somebody for trying to help with unclear or misleading information. In fact, I stress the need to add a comment to the reply that the question was unclear when first asked, as otherwise other people may downvote the reply (unfairly, IMO) seeing it as not really an answer, without realising that the question has changed.

I typically reserve downvotes for answers that are actively wrong or incorrect - I'm pretty sure that these replies don't qualify.

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You should comment on your own question asking for someone to clean up the question so that it isn't hard to understand. People will understand if English is not your first language.

If you down vote their answer, you've now unfairly penalised them twice over.

First, for making them read your unclear and possibly ambiguous question.

And B, for downvoting their answer that was a best attempt at parsing your question in the first place.

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Remember, if they get upvoted and downvoted, they still get 8 reputation in total. So they still get something for their effort. –  Casebash Sep 11 '09 at 9:45
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Well, it could be a fun way to martyr yourself to get others pity rep.

  1. Ask an unclear, poorly worded question
  2. Receive an answer in good faith
  3. Downvote that answer
  4. Wait for others to see how unfair that is and give the answerer pity upvotes.
  5. These others will probably downvote your question while they are at it.

So, net loss for you, but some good pity rep potential for your answerers.

Besides that, though, No. Don't downvote them, apologize and clarify your question.

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I was thinking that downvoting below 0 would be a bit extreme! I was thinking more of downvoting it if it gets too many up votes as then people think it answers the question. –  Casebash Sep 11 '09 at 13:30
    
@Casebash: It doesn't matter whether your answerers have 0 upvotes or 100. It is your fault their answer doesn't work for you, not theirs, and it's not fair to punish them for your mistake. –  ベレアー アダム Sep 11 '09 at 13:42
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Err.... You shouldn't ask unclear questions in the first place. If you stick to that principle you don't have to brood over downvoting answers.

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