As you probably know, "Voting on meta is used as an expression of agreement or disagreement on contributions, rather than to point out a lack of quality or helpfulness".

However, this doesn't seem to apply to in cases where the OP is not leaning to any particular side.

Let's suppose we have this discussion "Should we explain downvotes?":

  • If you agree with having them explained; are we supposed to downvote?
  • If you disagree with having them explained; are we supposed to upvote?

But what if the user modifies the question to "Should we not explain downvotes?"?

It will swap negative/positive score if we voted based on dis/agreement.

How should we vote on neutral discussions then?

  • 19
    The potential irony here is killing me. Commented Sep 5, 2012 at 21:28
  • 1
    I would upvote "should we not explain downvotes"... I don't see how it's that confusing. If the title makes the question indecipherable then the body ought to make enough sense for the title to be corrected. If the body doesn't make sense either then close it. Commented Sep 5, 2012 at 21:46
  • 4
    Don't cancel reformat of hard drive? [[Yes]] [[No]] [[Cancel]] - try to avoid too much negation in your question to avoid the problem.
    – AndrewC
    Commented Sep 5, 2012 at 21:59

4 Answers 4


I don't like the "[dis]agreement" thing they push. That's only relevant to a small number of posts. Here on Meta, there are a multitude of factors that play into whether or not a post is good, not just agreement.

  • Research Effort is probably the most important factor that will get you a barrage of downvotes right off the bat. This most often occurs with duplicates where the answer could have easily been found elsewhere, but also for questions which complain about things without providing any examples or evidence to support their claims. If there's no research behind the discussion, then there's not really anything to discuss in the first place. Your example question "Should we not explain downvotes?" would probably still be downvoted because it's been explained so many times before.

  • Interest is another major factor, especially for neutral situations. You may not have a stance on agreement with the topic, but if you find it interesting, you might vote it up, and if not, you might vote it down. If "Should we explain downvotes?" were asked for the very first time, I would personally upvote the question. At that time, it's a valid question and I would be interested in what people had to say about it.

  • Phrasing is also a key component. The tone of your argument can make you or break you. Using positive (politely asking things and expressing your desire for knowledge) and negative (ranting and accusing) tones directly correlate to up and down votes, respectively.

  • Usefulness, believe it or not, is still a component that should be considered, even in a discussion. It's just slightly different. By useful, I mean something that contributes to the community. Oftentimes with feature requests, usefulness and agreement go hand-in-hand. You agree or disagree with something because you do or don't believe it will be useful to the community. In discussions, usefulness comes into play when the answer contributes to the overall understanding of the topic.

  • Agreement should be the final tie-breaker component that you consider for a post.

  • Indeed - it's not like the things which you would upvote for on the main sites - usefulness, research effort etc. all suddenly don't apply on Meta. People still (and should) vote on those basis.
    – Yi Jiang
    Commented Sep 5, 2012 at 23:53
  • 2
    I dislike using a single vote to represent both (dis)agreement with the content of my message, as well as my ability to express/convey/deliver that message clearly and articulately. I would have preferred to keep two separate metrics for posts, one for (dis)agreement, and the other for post quality. Though I know that Stack Exchange would probably never implement that kind of system, or at least it's very unlikely.
    – user163250
    Commented May 10, 2014 at 8:22

The tooltip for the down-vote button on a meta site still says "this question does not show any research effort; it is unclear or not useful."

If you asked "Should aliens be allowed to answer questions?" the question could be down-voted because it is not helpful. It would also be voted to be closed as not constructive.
If you asked "Should we explain down-votes?" somebody could down-vote you because the question has been raised many times, and re-hashing the same topic is not thought to be productive; somebody could disagree with the premises of the question, or the conclusions shown in the questions.
The same could apply to "Should we not explain down-votes?"

As for editing a question to change it from "Should we explain down-votes?" to "Should we not explain down-votes?" if the edit is not limited to changing the title of the question, but it changes the meaning of the question, then the edit should be reverted, if there are already answers.
If there aren't answers, you cannot pretend users go back to the same question, and revert their vote. It is more probable most of the users would not know any change in that question; they would probably notice the question has been changed if an answer has been added.

  • "...because the question has been raised many times" it was a hypothetical example where it hypothetically didn't have any duplicates at that hypothetically moment
    – ajax333221
    Commented Sep 5, 2012 at 21:53
  • Your question could be hypothetical, but down-voting a question because re-hashing again the same topic is not productive can be one of the reasons for down-voting.
    – avpaderno
    Commented Sep 5, 2012 at 21:56
  • nobody is talking about duplicates (at least not in my question), kiamlaluno started the dup talk
    – ajax333221
    Commented Sep 5, 2012 at 21:58
  • Who is talking of duplicates? There could be many different questions about explaining down-votes without having duplicate questions. Still, the topic of explaining down-votes would be re-hashed, if a new question about that topic would be asked.
    – avpaderno
    Commented Sep 5, 2012 at 23:36
  • @apaderno I thought for a second that the word aliens was not the actual (from space creatures) but actually a name for some, kind of people(I don't know what though) (which ... really complicated it for me with all the posts) but now I got it (i think). it is the space-creatures, right? Commented Jan 11, 2023 at 10:50
  • 1
    @WilliamMartens Actually, alien could also mean a foreigner, especially one who is not a naturalized citizen of the country where he or she is living. I think I used aliens to mean creatures from space, though, to make an example of question that is not much helpful. (Nobody can know if the answer has been given from a creature from space who is visiting Hearth and who found Internet and Stack Exchange sites.)
    – avpaderno
    Commented Jan 11, 2023 at 16:49
  • @apaderno yea; and i got a bit confused because the code of conduct says something about alienate'lang or something but Okay - i got it :D just wanted to check, and thanks for the reply! Commented Jan 11, 2023 at 19:59

I'm not entirely sure what you mean with a neutral position causing ambiguity. Even the two "neutral" examples you posted (aliens & explaining downvotes) would seem to be clear cases where votes can be used to express agreement or disagreement:

Should aliens be allowed to answer questions?

  • Upvote = For - Yes aliens should be able to answer questions
  • Downvote = Against - No it's a ridiculous idea


Should we explain downvotes?

  • Upvote = For - Yes, it's a good system and should be implemented
  • Downvote = Against - No, let's not do that

I just don't see where the confusion comes in.

You're quite correct that those two questions don't in themselves lean to either side, however votes can just as easily and straightforwardly be used to express an opinion on the issue as if they were phrased "We should prohibit aliens from answering questions" or "People should be forced to explain downvotes". The outcome is the same.

Finally, to address your reversal concern:

Here is another reason why this can lead to confusion, the user could modify the question to "Should we not explain downvotes?". Which will swap negative/positive score if we voted based on dis/agreement.

You're right that this could possibly swap the tallies, however I would anticipate that such an edit would be spotted fairly quickly, deemed malicious (or at least not in the democratic spirit!) and rolled back without further incident.


How should we vote on neutral discussions?


What makes a man turn neutral?

  • 1
    if someone is starting a discussion is usually because he isn't 100% confident about his opinion and wants to hear the ones of other people
    – ajax333221
    Commented Sep 5, 2012 at 21:50
  • 5
    All I know is my gut says maybe.
    – user149432
    Commented Sep 5, 2012 at 21:51
  • Terrific bumper sticker, Shog. Doesn't always apply well in practice. Discussion's a catch-all, for better, neutral, or weird. Commented Sep 5, 2012 at 21:56
  • 2
    @ajax: you're laying a lot of assumptions on a category of questions that is - by definition - extremely broad. Truth is, NPOV is hard - most folks either end up arguing for one particular point of view, or end up making what they're asking too vague to be useful. Case in point...
    – Shog9
    Commented Sep 5, 2012 at 21:58
  • Lust for gold? Power? Or were you just born with a heart full of neutrality?"
    – Ben D
    Commented Sep 20, 2012 at 22:56

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