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Guide for Upvoting and Downvoting
Why do you cast downvotes on answers?

It seems as though the definition on what should be downvoted changes daily.

I've always kind of thought of it as a question or answer that is improper or poorly explained. I don't downvote answers that are wrong as long as they are well articulated (the right answers are eventually voted up) and do not have > 0 votes.

Sometimes, I'll answer a question (albeit wrong), but very well explained and it is downvoted. I'll see it happen to others too. I know there is no cookie cutter definition, but what do you believe you should downvote for? Should there be a cookie cutter definition?

  • 2
    "Should there be a cookie cutter definition?" How could that definition be enforced, if it were implemented? Commented Nov 8, 2011 at 18:39
  • This is a community. We enforce nearly everything ourselves. It's not perfect, but it gets the job done.
    – switz
    Commented Nov 8, 2011 at 18:41
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    The community can't reliably, or realistically, enforce 'policy-compliant' down-voting. And my question stands, I think: how could it be enforced, if it were implemented? Commented Nov 8, 2011 at 18:43
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    @Switz - downvotes are anonymous and mostly untraceable, so there's not really a way to enforce a rule on downvotes.
    – JNK
    Commented Nov 8, 2011 at 18:44
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    If the answer is wrong, sure, I down-vote. No matter how well you explained it, it's still wrong.
    – Bart Kiers
    Commented Nov 8, 2011 at 19:11
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    -1 because it's free.
    – user7116
    Commented Nov 8, 2011 at 19:33
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    > PURE HATE.
    – bobobobo
    Commented Nov 8, 2011 at 19:56
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    possible duplicate of Guide for Upvoting and Downvoting (copy-pasted the wrong proposed duplicate: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/2451/…)
    – jscs
    Commented Nov 8, 2011 at 20:35

4 Answers 4


Users are free to use their votes however they wish, within reason (they cannot go on a downvoting rampage against a single user, for example).

That said, the general guideline is: "Is this post useful and clear?" It is the vote reason under the voting buttons, displayed as a tooltip if you hover over them.

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    except on meta, where you'll get downvoted if you don't have enough ponies and freehand circles. Commented Nov 8, 2011 at 18:41
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    -1: no freehand ponies.
    – Shog9
    Commented Nov 8, 2011 at 20:16
  • @Shog9, freehand ponies are subjective. They can be nice or... not that nice. Commented Nov 8, 2011 at 23:46

I have to ask... What is the value to the community of an articulate answer which is incorrect?

I generally see voting as a measure of how valuable the community finds the answer. This makes it a kind of a balance between how "good" and answer is as well as how popular an answer (and the question it answers) is.

Consider an extremely good answer to a tragically unpopular question, or a mediocre (albeit correct) answer to a very popular question. Do the votes accurately reflect the quality of the answer? Or do they reflect the value that the overall community has collectively placed on that answer as a measure both of quality and of how many people have found it helpful? It's all very subjective, really.

But of what value is an incorrect answer? This is where editing and/or deleting becomes important. The down-votes are just a way for the community to say that this answer isn't welcome here. If it's low quality, improve it. If it's incorrect, correct it. In many cases a quick correction will cause someone to remove a down vote.

But if the answer remains incorrect then I can't see how it would be welcome in the community. It sits in the dark, waiting for an unsuspecting Googler to happen by and then feeds them incorrect information from an otherwise trustworthy source. Anything can be edited, so something should never be left as incorrect.

If the answerer can't be bothered to correct it then down votes are the community's response. Sure, the community can also correct the answer, and in many cases that happens. (I even corrected something in one of Skeet's answers once some time ago. It was just a typo, but man it felt empowering.) But changing someone's answer is generally frowned upon if it changes the meaning of the answer. (It also doesn't update the answerer's own personal information, whereas a comment indicating their mistake will notify them so that they can correct it.)

Just because an answer is articulate and well presented doesn't mean it's valuable or welcome to the community. As an extreme example, imagine an answer which is nothing more than a copy/paste from a Shakespeare play. It's very well-written, very articulate, generally good in every way. Except it doesn't actually answer the question.

  • Are you suggesting that someone who explains how they go from point A to B to C in their logical reasoning isn't helpful even if they make a mistake along the way? Being articulate can be helpful even if you're wrong. Sometimes it can be even more helpful when you are wrong since you show the logical progression (and often the logical fallacy) made during the thought process. Not that I recommend being wrong, just saying wrong answers that are properly articulated can still be useful.
    – corsiKa
    Commented Nov 8, 2011 at 19:57
  • @glowcoder: Articulate and well-formed answers are great candidates for fixing those errors. I'm not saying the answer doesn't have merit, just that incorrect information is of non-positive value to the community. Don't think of down votes as a punishment (or up votes as a reward). It's just the community expressing the welcomeness of the content. If the answer is incorrect, correct it. That's all.
    – David
    Commented Nov 8, 2011 at 20:00
  • I agree with that. But if the logic used to get to that information is often of very high value to the community. Even if the end result is incorrect, the process used to get there often is correct. And it's that process that is most valuable.
    – corsiKa
    Commented Nov 8, 2011 at 20:07
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    I think you've wrapped yourself around the axle a bit here, @David. If the answer is wrong or doesn't answer the question, simply downvote it, or refrain from upvoting it. This isn't rocket science.
    – user102937
    Commented Nov 8, 2011 at 20:20

My personal rules for downvoting answers.

  • If it's wrong, leave a comment. Give the poster a chance to fix and / or remove it.
    • If they don't correct it or delete it, and there aren't other, clearly better answers already upvoted above it, downvote. If there are other, good answers upvoted above it, I don't downvote. glowcoder's comment to David's answer applies in this situation as well.
  • If the answer servers no useful purpose at all, and I don't think a comment discussion will improve the situation, but it doesn't qualify for a "not an answer" flag, downvote. I also often leave an explanatory comment in this situation, even though I don't expect it to help.

  • If a question is so bad clearly no attempt should be made to answer it (both no effort and completely unclear, not just one or the other or subjective) I sometimes downvote an answer to provide a disincentive to people answering questions like that, so they aren't encouraged. Most people seem to disagree that that this is a proper use for downvotes.

I've definitely noticed patterns in what answers get downvoted.

  • Very wrong answers. Ones that make elementary mistakes that lots of people can understand are wrong.

  • Dangerously wrong answers. "Let anyone type SQL into your form", "Always use eval to handle input in Python", etc.

  • Incomprehensible / worthless answers. This is included in my second category above, but is a narrower definition.


Sometimes its called "mod down". It can be used for many reasons.

  • The answer is simply wrong, misinformed, inaccurate, misleading, or anything of that sort.
  • You wish to say "I disagree" on a post expressing an opinion. There is nothing wrong with disagreeing or downvoting something you disagree with. Some questions are inherently subjective (asking for opinions) and the answers to that question may provide advice that you may not agree is good advice.
  • The answer isn't as good as other (usually newer) answers to the same question that received comparatively fewer votes
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    I disagree with #2 and #3; agreeing or disagreeing about something doesn't imply a value judgment of the answer; I don't think it's fair to devalute a good answer just because you disagree on the information it carries, especially if their value is high. As for #3, a better logic would be to upvote the newer/better answer rather than downvoting the older/worse answer; the correcteness and value of the latter should be independent from the value of the former. [continuing on next comment] Commented Nov 8, 2011 at 20:19
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    If someone posts a good answer, a working one that solves OP's problem, then a sublime answer coming later doesn't diminish the value of the previous answer, but adds new value; that's where you should upvote the latter and leave at the former its merits. If you're talking about "punishing" FGOTW , I might agree, but an answer should be worthy by itself, without the need of others for comparison Commented Nov 8, 2011 at 20:21
  • I disagree with "I Disagree" being a valid reason for downvoting, answers should be voted on based on facts not opinions. Commented Nov 8, 2011 at 21:40
  • While on Meta people frequently vote down because they disagree, I'm voting this down because if people vote down for those reasons, Stack Exchange will be harmed. It's a dangerously wrong answer (to quote my answer).
    – agf
    Commented Nov 8, 2011 at 22:29
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    @MichaelEakins what does it mean when you vote (up or down) on an opinion. It can't be "yes this true fact" or no "this is a false fact" because its by definition true that the answerer has that opinion. What else would you call it, other than agreement or disagreement? I know these types of questions aren't supposed to be asked anymore but they sometimes do anyway. Commented Nov 8, 2011 at 23:14

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