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This is a question which started off with a comment, then turned into an answer, and now it's a question in its own right (as suggested by Jeff). I'm not sure where it could go from here :)

It's obvious that different people cast downvotes for different reasons. (Upvotes are less controversial, generally.) Here are some possible reasons:

  1. Answer is wrong
  2. Answer is misleading (may be technically accurate, but will lead to readers making mistakes)
  3. Answer doesn't match the question (e.g. a C# answer to a question about Java)
  4. Answer doesn't really address the question, e.g. suggesting a completely different solution, even if the question specifies that there are good reasons why the current approach has to be followed
  5. Answer is okay, but not as good as another one which currently has fewer votes
  6. Answer appears to be plagiarised from existing answers.
  7. Answer is by someone I don't like.
  8. Answer is abusive (profanity, spam etc).
  9. No reason, I just felt like it.
  10. I'm a Happy Vertical People Transporter, and prefer down to up. Have you considered down?
  11. Ideological grounds: answer suggests a technology I don't like, or expresses a negative opinion of a technology I do like

Personally I go with 1, 2 and 8 - although I'll add comments suggesting changes in various other situations.

Have I missed anything? What do you do, and why? What are the net benefits (to you, the world in general, and the answerer) from your approach?

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20  
12. The fact I lose only one point while the other lose two points is charming... :) –  user173320 Jun 17 '12 at 18:49
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Related : meta.stackexchange.com/questions/130046/when-should-i-vote (there seems to be quite a bunch of nearly duplicates over all the nuances of the voting question…) –  Nikana Reklawyks Oct 27 '12 at 22:50
    
"I'm not sure where it could go from here" ... FAQ? –  Basic Jun 5 at 20:12

26 Answers 26

If I see a bad answer at 0 votes, I generally leave a comment to give the poster a chance to correct or delete it (since the first downvote has been known to trigger a flood of pile-on downvotes). If I check back later and find that it is still wrong and not deleted, I will then downvote.

If a bad answer has already been voted up into, say, the top two or three answers, I will both comment and downvote. I don't want bad answers to be above good answers.

As for what I mean by a bad answer, I would say #1 and (on rare occasions) #6; however, in practice these kind of answers rarely stay around long enough for me to downvote (thus the 27 downvotes in my profile).

For #2, #3, #4, and #5, I'll simply leave a comment. For #8, I'll flag the answer; that already knocks the answer down a notch and potentially leads to -100 reputation for the answerer, so I see no need to penalize both the answer and myself by downvoting also.

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8  
Good point about the "pile-on" downvotes. It does rely on being able to remember to check later, mind you. –  Jon Skeet Jul 4 '09 at 19:24
7  
Yes; it would be nice to have notifications of changes to answers I've commented on. –  mmyers Jul 4 '09 at 19:29
2  
If an answer is already negative I, too, will probably not downvote. Better to save the vote for a better purpose than use it where not needed. –  tvanfosson Jul 4 '09 at 19:29
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I'm sure having a negative vote tally is more likely to cause upvoting than downvoting. –  Tom Hawtin - tackline Jul 4 '09 at 20:23
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@Tom: Exactly. Even if an answer is terribly, horribly, dangerously wrong, i'll usually avoid down-voting if it's already < 0 - chances are, it'll be sympathy-voted back to >=0, and my vote will do more good later on... –  Shog9 Jul 4 '09 at 21:57
7  
I hate it when the question says We can not use a web framework and then someone answers with: Here is 5 lines of jQuery that solve your problem I downvote stupidity :) –  Earlz Apr 29 '10 at 3:07
    
@mmyers Re: Notifications, great idea. But... I'd like them for some answers, but not all - It would be too noisy. Perhaps comments in the last 2 weeks, or answers you toggle. Preferably not how the "Favourite" system works though... I personally find it hard to identify the change that caused the notification without scanning dates –  Basic Jun 5 at 20:16

I only downvote when the answer is technically wrong and sometimes when it's spam (most of the time I flag spam, rather than downvoting).

Specifically, I don't downvote misleading answers (those that recommend less than ideal solution) if they are technically correct. I handle that by upvoting or providing a better answer and mentioning that in a comment. I believe in any case, it's the responsibility of the reader to make sure the answer is suitable for his/her situation. So if an answer is correct but misleading, while not an ideal thing, it's still not worse than not answering at all. The poster had spent time to post a technically correct answer and shouldn't be punished for that.

I handle all other cases by a comment.

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11  
Agreed. I help improve technically misleading answers that are correct via comments. It irks me when somebody downvotes me due to a dogmatic reason, even if I provide plenty of warnings and caveats. For example, I posted a solution to doing some iteration in SQL via cursors, but I explained why cursors are to be avoided and why it would be beneficial to attempt a set-based solution (which I provided some pointers at), and I got down voted by the "Cursors Are Evil" crowd. Such acts just seem spiteful and unproductive to me. –  Eric Jul 4 '09 at 19:23
    
I'm more likely to comment in a misleading case than downvote, unless the answer is suggesting something really wrong. For instance, I may downvote an answer that suggests a data access pattern that is open to SQL injection without mentioning the hazard. An answer that suggests something that is merely inefficient might warrant only a comment, not a downvote. –  tvanfosson Jul 4 '09 at 19:27
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I would just mention the hazard myself in a comment. After all, it's an answer that works but you should not use it. It's a way to solve the problem mentioned in the question (e.g. submitting a parameterized query). Sometimes the answer is there just to demonstrate the idea, much like a pseudocode and the poster might not have bothered to specify it. If the question was directly about preventing security attacks and the answer suggested something like that, I would downvote. –  LeakyCode Jul 4 '09 at 19:41
    
@Mehrdad: hence you're downvoting answers that are ideal but technical incorrect(maybe a typo)? Sometimes i can't check if the syntax is 100% correct. For example when i don't have an IDE to hand or i'm not all that familiar with the language. But the answer/approach might be the best and it would be easy for others to correct me in details. Personally i would upvote such an answer and correct it or comment it so that the original author can correct it himself. –  Tim Schmelter Jul 1 '11 at 7:29
    
@Tim I wrote the answer a couple years ago. Which part exactly led you to that conclusion? Short answer to your question is that the set of ideal answers that are technically incorrect is empty. And yes, I do the same thing. :) –  LeakyCode Jul 1 '11 at 9:12

For me the main strength of Stackoverflow is the fact that correct answers "float" to the top, I only ever downvote if I think that the answer is impeding a correct answer floating above it.

FWIW I never downvote any answer to a question that I have also answered, it seems wrong somehow, even though its probably not...

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1  
Yes to the second point, in fact I'm shortly posting a question regarding that specific issue... –  Trey Jackson Jul 9 '09 at 17:46
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Download? You mean downvote? –  Mk12 Dec 25 '09 at 19:12
    
<blush>yes</blush> Fixed. –  Tim J Apr 29 '10 at 2:50
    

I only downvote when:

  • The answer is seriously wrong. This does not include minor syntax issues, typos and the like. The point of SO is to get you on the right path, not provide a comprehensive, fully-debugged program;
  • The advice is seriously flawed. This doesn't include differences in opinion. I've gotten downvotes like "-1 just cos I hate VB.NET" and that irks me somewhat. I don't tend to recommend Python for much if anything but that doesn't mean I downvote people who do;
  • The answer has nothing to do with the question like if someone asks about database table structure and someone replies how you should be using Ruby on Rails;

As for your abusive answer downvote, I don't downvote there. I just flag it. If it doesn't meet the standard for being flagged does it justify a downvote?

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I would like to add to the list:

   12. Is plain silly.

This is related to 3. and 4., but it is even worse.

For example, an answer has been upvoted to the top of the list because it is funny, but it does not address the question in any way.

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At different times, i've down-voted answers for any or all of #1, #2, #3, #5, and #9. I'll usually try to leave comments for the first three reasons, unless someone else already has; i'll rarely bother leaving comments for any of the other reasons.

I'll also down-vote a question if i think it's poorly asked, argumentative, asks for something dangerous, or is blatantly off-topic.

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FWIW, this answer has now been down-voted without a comment... presumably, someone agrees with me. ;-) –  Shog9 Jul 4 '09 at 21:59

One reason for which I won't downvote is 6: "Answer appears to be plagiarised from existing answers."

This is:

  • specifically encouraged in various forums (podcasts, blog entries)
  • likely to result in an answer that is better than all the rest, since it can take the good and leave the bad.

In fact, I'll often upvote it.

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4  
There is a difference between "plagiarised from" and "compiled from (with attribution)". The latter are useful (though I avoid questions that are likely to have multiple issues altogether). Copy-pasta is not useful. Even copy-pasta with additions should (must) be attributed. –  Jan Dvorak Apr 6 '13 at 2:30

I'll downvote for a misleading answer that I can't easily correct with a comment. I see no reason in pushing anything below -1. (There's also the issue that a sympathy upvote for a downvote will raise the answerer's reputation, which I'd rather not happen.) If there's a better answer, I'd rather upvote the better one. I won't downvote a good answer just because it isn't the best.

I also don't think it's cricket to downvote without a comment, except if the answer was obviously grossly bad.

So, put me down for 1 and 2, sometimes 3 and 4 and 8.

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  1. Seriously wrong answers

  2. disrespectful answers, right or wrong

  3. and always leave a comment explaining each downvote (question or answer)

<rant>I strongly suspect that the drive-by downvoters which are the source of most if not all irritating unwarranted uncommented downvotes will not have the courtesy to explain their actions here, since they don't bother to do it there either!</rant>

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I try to vote according to the rule: helpful or unhelpful. In practice this probably corresponds to your 1, 2 & 8, though 2 is probably harder to judge than 1 & 8. Typically, I will only upvote the first and/or best correct answers -- they are not always the same. More complete answers are to be preferred over correct, but incomplete answers. For example, an answer that contains a link to some document that describes the correct answer probably won't get an upvote from me if there is an answer that both references the link and quotes from it. I wouldn't give a downvote to the linked answer because it's helpful but not as helpful as it could be.

As a general rule I try not to downvote unless I feel the answer is actively unhelpful.

I also tend to not downvote questions -- only answers. I prefer to flag or vote to close questions rather than downvote.

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I just down-voted an answer for my very first time.

And the reason was: The "answer" was nothing more but a complaint, that the question of the OP was not yet answered. Additionally, the language he used was very colloquial in a manner that I feel very nerving. I think, this is a place where we can talk/write like adults. I don't mean perfect english (my English is learnt from school, I am German). But we don't need no

Somebody just fix this silly thing plz cuz i needa take my pics from the SanDisk Memory Card

here, I think.

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You could also flag that as "not an answer". –  Mechanical snail Sep 12 '12 at 23:38

Almost always (1). I could probably exhaust all my downvotes every day on answers that are simply and objectively wrong. If you don't believe me, try posting a simple question regarding C on SO - you will immediately get about four or five answers that show that the answerer has not a clue about C and are syntactically and semantically wrong.

I don't know if this is true of other languages, as the only ones I really follow are C++ (which seems somewhat less affected) and C. But the C bad answers are really bad.

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In Java and C# questions, the accuracy rate is pretty high. There are a few topics which will always provoke bad answers, but generally I'm quite impressed. –  Jon Skeet Jul 4 '09 at 20:36
    
Perhaps the differing accuracy is due to the JS "java schools" effect? –  nb69307 Jul 4 '09 at 21:49
    
Sometimes, answers are fine but comments put on questions are wrong and sounds like troll. People correct the commenter, but all folks believe the wrong stuff: stackoverflow.com/questions/1081356/… . @Neil i agree with you, in general C answers quality rate doesn't seem to be particularly high to me :) –  Johannes Schaub - litb Jul 5 '09 at 1:15
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The differing accuracy is due to Jon Skeet posting in Java and C# :D –  womp Jul 6 '09 at 18:13
    
what womp said - wheras I found the quality on this (stackoverflow.com/questions/1068647) question pretty disheartening and it's not atypical on html/css questions (read into that as you will) –  bananakata Jul 6 '09 at 20:14
    
@annakata This thread is about the quality of answers, not questions. –  nb69307 Jul 6 '09 at 20:31
    
Maybe someone could entice John Carmack to answer the C questions on SO, in-between his space flights –  Chris S Jul 27 '09 at 18:29
    
I would also agree the C answers aren't very high quality. –  MarkJ Sep 22 '09 at 8:52

I downvote for 1, 3 or 4. I'll downvote a misleading answer only if it's leading in an especially bad direction: towards obsolete technologies, for instance. I'll usually just comment things like leaving out "using" blocks in C#, unless I feel the poster should really have known better than to set such a bad example (you know who you are).

Anything else, and I'll either comment or just leave it alone.

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A downvote reason missing from your list is "Though the answer was correct and accepted, the answerer said something negative in comments about a technology for which I am a rabid advocate". I ran into that one recently.

On the plus side, the guy did leave me a helpful comment explaining his downvote. Which is nice; I wouldn't have known to assign him zero credibility in all future matters, otherwise.

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I think that's just a different form of reason 11. I'll edit to make it fit better. –  Jon Skeet Jul 8 '09 at 9:19

I will downvote for:

1) mostly

2) sometimes, depends on how seriously misleading and whether it can be easily corrected

3) rarely, if it really looks like the information won't translate at all

7) for one very special person

8) for spam, see here for a succinct statement of my (highly offensive) opinion on profanity

However, one of the most important considerations as to whether I will downvote anything is whether my rep presently ends in 5, in which case I will likely only downvote things I feel extremely strongly about, or presently ends in 0, in which case I will probably not downvote anything at all.

I never claimed not to be crazy.

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You're not crazy! I also don't downvote when my rep ends in 0. I also look for something to downvote if I'm exactly one point above a prime of a power of two. –  R. Martinho Fernandes Dec 7 '09 at 20:13

I down vote readily, if warranted.

Basically, I look at the answer and decide if it's helpful, or not, and that will guide my votes.

So, I'll downvote if the answer is wrong (#1), misleading (#2) or shows signs that the answer author hasn't read the question fully/properly (#3, #4).

Abuse I'll flag - and most of the other reasons listed are more reason for me to UP-vote someone else instead.

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Don't you mean "I'll down_vote_ readily"? –  Nathan Fellman Jul 8 '09 at 9:19
    
Serves me right for not proofreading properly, I guess. Yes, I meant "down vote" not "download". Corrected. –  Bevan Jul 11 '09 at 10:52
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You downvote if they haven't read the question properly? That would be more than half of all answers on SO! –  Yar Jul 19 '09 at 13:39

This is not an answer to the question, but it's definitely not a comment on the question itself:

I upvote downvoted answers when I feel that they've been wrongly downvoted. I do this especially when the downvote is clearly for reason #11.

I've done the same thing with downvoted questions, and on SO I find that there are many gems amongst the questions that are rated -1 and below.

At the same time, to answer the question: I downvote rarely, and I almost always downvote highly upvoted questions. I do this when the answer is terse, arrogant, and uninformative (though it may be technically correct). This is a subspecies of #5, I guess.

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I forgot to mention: I get downvoted, mostly, for suggesting a method for resolving something that isn't wrong but it isn't common. As expected, most downvoters are silent, and the rest (in general) cannot explain what they don't like. Interestingly, my one blatantly wrong answer (now deleted) didn't get downvoted. Nice people out there... –  Yar Jul 19 '09 at 13:39

13, sometimes I downvote 'clutter' - i.e. you sometimes have half a dozen one-line answers which are all saying the same thing but not adding anything to the discussion.

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Like this one :) –  Benjol Jul 23 '09 at 13:11
    
Do you mean 'to separate clutter from good answers'? –  smci Dec 2 '11 at 11:32
    
@smci, yup, send it to the bottom of the page, and helpfully nudge the OP in the direction of deleting their own answer. –  Benjol Dec 2 '11 at 11:55
    
Right, I meant to distinguish that from the case where ALL the answers are one-liners and there is no complete answer; in which case downvoting is not going to make the good answer stand out. –  smci Dec 2 '11 at 19:44

Here's another one for you, Jon: "Because my answer on the same question got downvoted". There's been a lot of that this morning on SO.

I would call it short-term vindictive downvoting, as opposed to your #7, which is long-term vindictive downvoting.

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It's mentioned above but I prefer the bubbling up approach. Answers that are wrong are generally poorly written, or too short (my answers fit these), so I assume the average programmer (given that they are mostly well educated and have an IQ above 120) will ignore the poorly written answers, and only upvote the good ones.

I'll upvote people who have made the effort to do a well written response but haven't given the exact answer I'm after, or if I've learnt something from the answer.

I'm probably far too "green" and not ruthless enough in my approach.

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I've downvoted for a variation on 11. Some answers are basically a loaded opinion in favor or against a particular technology (e.g. snide remarks about Windows) and nothing more.

I'm pretty loose with my down voting. SO is supposed to be about quality answers. Low quality answers get downvoted.

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I'll also downvote any answer to a blatant homework question, where the OP has shown zero effort towards actually doing the problem. Allowing these answers just further contributes to the OP's thought that "hey I'll just let the guys on Stack Overflow do this one for me".

Downvoting and explaining this (often to "young" answerers) often leads to self-deletion of the answer.

Examples:

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I downvote obvious wrong answers, especially for #3. However, I will be less likely to downvote if an answer's vote is too low, and I will more likely to downvote to make my reputation multiple of 5.

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If the answer works, but there's better ways to do something, I might downvote.

For example, if someone was suggesting doing the following Ruby code

def my_function(input_array)
  result = []
  input_array.each do |element|
    result << element * 2
  end
end

without telling them about the map function, then the OP might think that that's the best available way to do things, when it isn't.

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My reasons: 1, 4, 6, 8 and whenever someone tells that you should have looked up the answer on Google.

Wrong answers should be clearly marked as wrong. I will downvote the answer and explain why it's wrong. In these cases, I will also confirm or add the right answer!

Answers that don't address the question are just noise. They're distracting and can often make others think the Q has been answered already. Many people will still add answers if the number of answers is reasonably low but this noise just increases the number thus decreasing the chance that someone else will add the right answer...

Answers that are copies of other answers are also noise, although I can understand a duplicate answer if it's added almost immediately after the first one. (Within 5 to 10 minutes.) But if someone posts a duplicate long after someone else posted an answer, even if both answers are wrong, I will downvote them to mark them as noise.

Profanity has no place on these sites and will be downvoted even if the answer is correct. (And flagged for deletion.)

Finally, I get really pissed off when they just answer that you'd have to Google for the answer. If you still add the (correct) answer then that's okay but only sending someone to Google is not enough. These answers need to be downvoted into oblivion since these are bigger insults than all other reasons to get downvoted.

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Yeah, saying someone should Google sometimes makes sense as a COMMENT (it is shorthand for saying "you obviously didn't put any effort into finding the countless existing answers"). But as an answer, it makes no sense: it doesn't answer the question. –  ToolmakerSteve Jul 11 '13 at 4:06
    
"Profanity has no place on these sites ... Finally, I get really pissed off when" - what do you mean by profanity, again? –  Jan Dvorak Oct 19 '13 at 20:06

I could imagine a case where an answer could be downvoted in order to help the answerer to have an opportunity to get the Peer Pressure badge.

Note: I wouldn't do that.

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Are you begging for that badge? I can give help you to get the opportunity. ;) –  user unknown Jul 4 '12 at 21:20
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ROFL (had to laugh on seeing this, and its negative rep) –  ToolmakerSteve Jul 11 '13 at 4:07

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