I'm not going to ask anyone to be nicer to new users, though it's what I would prefer. However, can we make one last attempt to try to help new users save themselves from themselves, and the occasional gang-downvoting tendencies of rest of the community?

My suggestion is that a new user gets, somehow, spammed with something worded like the following when they receive their first downvote. You then don't rely absolutely on a more experienced user coming along and explaining exactly what is wrong with the question. This would not be show to any user other than the recipient as maybe a more experienced user might come along anyway.

Unfortunately you've just received your first downvote; it's time to double check your question to avoid this happening again. We'd highly suggest re-reading the FAQ; it's possible that your question is asking too much or isn't very clear. Have you included relevant code? There's a simple checklist you can follow to help improve your question and there are great blog posts, which guide you on how to ask the perfect question. Perhaps the most important question you might be asked is, what have you tried?. It's extremely important to show all relevant research and code; not only does it help you get a quick answer by removing possibilities that a number of people might otherwise believe are relevant but it's also polite.

I understand that just because a user is new it doesn't mean that they shouldn't be downvoted if they post a bad question. The downvoting of new users has been gone over, time and again, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and the answers are always identical. Namely that due to the huge number of questions per day on Stack Overflow that if a new users can't be bothered to read the FAQ or write a decent question then there isn't much that can be done.

Or, to quote:

To put in bluntly, if a downvote discourages them instead of encourage them to improve the post, then perhaps it is no great loss if they decide to walk away.

I'd like to do something to try to stop gang downvoting from happening before it does by helping a new user understand what might be happening before it's too late. The above is only a suggestion; I'm sure someone else can come up with something better!

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    I and hundreds (thousands?) of others like me managed to figure out how to use the site before I started contributing. I'm not sure why we should hold others to a lower standard. – John Dibling Dec 3 '12 at 19:06
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    Seems like they gang-downvoted someone who was asking a question not because they wanted to know the answer (and good thing too, because there wasn't enough detail in the question for that) but to learn something about the community, possibly what awareness there was of some library or technique. It's hardly surprising that didn't work out well. – Kate Gregory Dec 3 '12 at 19:07
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    I'm not suggesting that we hold anyone to a lower standard. I'm asking that we make a last attempt to raise them to a higher one @john. – ben is uǝq backwards Dec 3 '12 at 19:07
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    your question is very wordy and takes too long to get to the point. I believe your goal is noble, but you might rethink your rhetorical approach – Sam I am Dec 3 '12 at 19:08
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    Your question also titled after a specific user's specific question, where it should be more general. It's okay to use examples, but when the question becomes too closely coupled with the example, than you get issues. – Sam I am Dec 3 '12 at 19:09
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    @Ben In case you weren't aware, posting a question like this will bring a fair amount of additional traffic to the question. Given that it's a poor question that the community has clearly indicated is worth of downvoting, the end result of this post is more downvotes will end up on that question. Now, it's also likely to get some constructive comments giving a better indication of what's wrong with the post, but those will still likely come with more downvotes. – Servy Dec 3 '12 at 19:11
  • Good points all @SamIam; it's a bad habit of mine on meta. I've tried to slim it down. – ben is uǝq backwards Dec 3 '12 at 19:12
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    @JohnDibling hundreds... out of millions? and not to be rude, but may i point out that your first question ever on SO is a shopping/recommendation question? I, along with the majority of SO users, figured out how to use the site through experience. SO is unique, and expecting everyone to read the FAQ is as bad as expecting people to read EULAs – Jeff Dec 3 '12 at 19:17
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    @Jeff: My first question ever was posted in 2008, before we had established the norms and guidelines we have now. What was on-topic then may be off-topic now. In fact my 1st post was on-topic in 2008. Now it no longer is. Thanks for pointing this out, though. I have just voted to close my own post as being now off-topic. – John Dibling Dec 3 '12 at 19:22
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    Hey, speak for yourselves. Every question I've posted on SO has been of absolutely flawless quality. – McCannot Dec 3 '12 at 19:22
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    @Ben: Yes, I'm such a fan of deletion that I preemptively deleted all my questions before even posting them. It's an excellent strategy and I recommend it highly. – McCannot Dec 3 '12 at 19:30
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    @JoshCaswell: To be fair, I expect there are quite a few highly respected computer scientists and software developers whose communication habits would get them flamed quickly were they to post anonymously on a mailing list dedicated to their own work. :] – McCannot Dec 3 '12 at 19:39
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    You do realize that everyone sees this page when asking their first question? They even have to click a checkbox that says "I understand, and wish to continue." – Robert Harvey Dec 3 '12 at 20:08
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    I know @RobertHarvey. Not many people appear to do so though. – ben is uǝq backwards Dec 3 '12 at 20:10
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    would be interesting if starting with 4th or 5th downvote to first question of the user it would cost voter -1 rep (not that this would stop me from downvoting though:) – gnat Dec 3 '12 at 21:01

I agree with the general idea of showing some sort of message to the user when they receive more than x downvotes on a post. Getting downvoted or closed is understandably upsetting, especially when you don't realize that it is simply routine QC. Any measure that would reduce the number of angry, upset complaint questions here on Meta has my vote.

The only issue I have with this is that it need not be this wordy. If people were that inclined to read long passages of text they would have followed the tip to read the how to ask FAQ. Something shorter and more placative, perhaps?

Looks like you've received a few downvotes on this question. Don't worry! Here are a few things you can do:

  • Review the comments and see how other users feel your post can be improved.
  • Have a look at the FAQ, to find tips and pointers on how to write a great question.
  • If you're stuck, or can't find ways to improve the post, you can ask the folks over at Meta to help you out!

Above all, remember that downvotes and upvotes are just a mechanism for the community to decide what content it finds interesting. Asking great questions is an art, and you can get better at it through practice. Good luck!

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    Put "Read the FAQ" in a blinking marquee. – Robert Harvey Dec 3 '12 at 20:06
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    @RobertHarvey while we're at it, the whole FAQ should be blinking marquee to emphasize it's important :) – Earlz Dec 3 '12 at 20:12
  • Users must pass a quiz testing their knowledge of the FAQ before posting? – Servy Dec 3 '12 at 20:36
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    @Servy Naw they'll just cheat and read the FAQ pa WAIT A MINUTE – Asad Saeeduddin Dec 3 '12 at 20:39
  • Wordiness is a (bad) habit I have that I haven't yet managed to overcome. I like the idea of making it more placative though. – ben is uǝq backwards Dec 3 '12 at 20:48
  • @Ben Wouldn't necessarily say it's a bad habit, there's just a lot to be said for brevity when trying to convince someone – Asad Saeeduddin Dec 3 '12 at 21:15
  • @Asad: I take some issue with the statement "what content it finds interesting" because if that were the case, we'd have only questions about Programming from the backs of Unicorns while on a Boat. As a whole you can definitely make those sorts of observations. For an individual question it is not useful to point that out to an asker. Who gives a (redacted) if their question is interesting. They have a problem which needs solving and that is what SO is here for, because honestly: you do not have interesting problems. – user7116 Dec 3 '12 at 22:17
  • @sixlettervariables Highly upvoted questions are interesting (or at least that is the idea, since votes factor into the visibility of content) Interesting questions are frequently highly upvoted. There's a pretty obvious correlation here. When you write a crappy question, no one wants to see it (i.e. it doesn't generate interest). – Asad Saeeduddin Dec 3 '12 at 22:28

I don't think SO needs to develop new features to get new users to do their due diligence before posting a question. There is an easy to read FAQ, and tons of help / nag-points while asking a question. If the user hasn't read and internalized any of that, why would they respond positively to help provided via a different channel?

You have written some good information about downvotes, particularly for a new user. Perhaps you should make that a new question / answer here in MSO, so that any information-seeking users can benefit from good documentation.

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    To be fair, nobody reads the FAQ before making their first post. I sure didn't... – Mysticial Dec 3 '12 at 21:11
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    I did. And I lurked for a while to be sure that this place was worth my time. Isn't there still a little nag where, before posting a question, a new user must agree "I'll keep this in mind" to the FAQ? – KatieK Dec 3 '12 at 21:13
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    @KatieK Are you the type of person that actually reads terms & conditions/licences before pressing "I agree" too? For most people it's an ingrained reflex to just skip such content without reading. – Servy Dec 3 '12 at 21:15
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    Most of the time, I do a high speed skim on Terms and EULAs. – KatieK Dec 3 '12 at 21:29
  • If you're a lawyer (or a human-centipad) you definitely make it a habit to read TOS. ... Never again..... – d-_-b Dec 4 '12 at 6:07
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    @KatieK yes, you can see it yourself if you try to ask a question in Incognito or Anonymous mode in your browser (remember that SO requires registration to ask questions now, though) – Jeff Atwood Dec 4 '12 at 8:04

I find this perfectly acceptable. I think a good way to do it would be to bring up either an inbox or notification type thing with the title "You've been downvoted" and then when they click through, they see the text above. Another alternative that does basically the same thing(but is probably easier to implement) is making it so the Community user will make a comment on the question that got downvoted with the text above.

Also, I don't think this should be done on the first downvote. It should go on the relative score of a question to avoid confusion. So, maybe when a question reaches -2 or -3 then the community user comments on their question with informative text about what downvotes means, and hints at what to fix in their question

  • Hmmm, if you leave it to long then it's normally too late. I'd also rather not advertise downvotes to the wider world by commenting though I recognise that it might be the easiest way to implement. – ben is uǝq backwards Dec 3 '12 at 20:47

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