What is the intended use of down voting?

Reasons I can understand for down-voting:

  • If the answer is completely off-topic, not even answering the original question
  • The answer is offensive
  • Some other extreme circumstance.

I believe just because a passer-by does not like the answer, doesn't mean that the person giving the answer deserves to be down-voted. This discourages people from trying to answer questions. And we are here to help people asking questions after all, no?

There have been a number of times where I refrained from answering a question because I was not sure if some one would down-vote me for saying something they think is "stupid". Then later I notice that someone else has given the same answer I was going to give (which ended up getting up-voted anyway).

So my fear of getting down-voted kept me from attempting to answer someone's question.

Now, even if I didn't give an excellent answer it may have helped the person asking the question and point them in a direction that they can attempt to solve their problem.

I think people should be rewarded for giving a good answer, but some one who is merely trying to give an answer but is not quite so good, I don't think they should be down voted.

I thought down-voting should be reserved strictly for extreme circumstances.

What do you guys think of this whole voting scheme?

Maybe people who are doing the down voting should get penalized a lot more for using it? To keep people from down voting just because they don't like how you answered the question, and often these people are not even the original posters of the question.


7 Answers 7


In my opinion, a downvote should be used for an answer that is significantly wrong or irrelevant or misleading or offers really bad advice. In extreme cases, in extreme cases, I also think it's fine to use it for an answer that's just incredibly lazy, like posting a raw URL and that's it.

Rarely if ever should the OP downvote answers too in my opinion. I've had situations where the OP has downvoted all the answers because none sufficiently spoonfed him the answer or the question was vague and posters made an educated guess as to the OP's intent. To me this is actually rude and ungrateful. The point of answer, first and foremost, is to get you on the right track. My usual response to such situations is simply to delete my answer and forget the question exists. If someone is going to be rude, they're on their own.

There's probably only three situations that annoy me for downvotes:

  1. Tactical downvoting;
  2. Trivial errors; and
  3. Someone just doesn't like the answer, like a Ruby fanboy downvoting someone suggesting PHP as to what Web development language to use. The key criteria for voting should be "Does this answer the OP's question and meet their requirements?" not "Do I like the suggested answer?"

Now that all applies to answers. As for voting for questions, I usually see little reason to vote a question down (if it should be closed or flagged just do that) and a question has to be particularly interesting or insightful or significant to be upvoted.

  • Can you explain what you mean by Tactical Downvoting?
    – 7wp
    Commented Sep 1, 2009 at 22:40
  • Tactical downvoting is when someone answers a question and then downvotes other answers just to improve the relative ordering of their own answer.
    – cletus
    Commented Sep 1, 2009 at 23:13

In a lot of cases, it's because people disagree. Nothing to do with unhelpful, wrong, or offensive: they simply don't agree and downvote with no discussion and no comment. This kind of goes into "free speech"/"can of worms" terrority...

Or to make their own answer look better. I've not noticed this myself but it's been mentioned

Or because it doesn't answer the question. Example: there's currently a SQL Server bounty question on SO where most answers are marked down by the asker. Not because the answers are wrong, but because they don't fix his issue... so folk will be discouraged from answering.

  • Exactly, and this is the kidn of behavior that I worry down-voting causes. So I'm wondering if there is a better way to punish people who are renegades, and not punish people who are merely trying to help but are not quite so helpful. Those people should not be voted up, but they should not be punished either. Positive reinforcement is better than negative reinforcement.
    – 7wp
    Commented Sep 1, 2009 at 15:28

I vote down content that is wrong, and technologies that I don't like I add to my "ignore list" so I don't even see the annoying stuff...

Then you have a factor that every up vote is worth more that one down vote, meaning that it must be really of topic to move below zero.

Most of the time if the answer is bad but not wrong or offensive it usually don't get any attention at all, meaning no up or down votes.

And why is this a good thing? If you search for a old question, and use "sort vote" usually the best answers is on the top and so you get a the best reading first.

So give it a try, and think about how, why and what you type and I think you will get some up votes :)


Have you considered hovering your pointer over the down arrow and reading the tooltip?

  • Wrong is double plus unhelpful. So you down vote.
  • To skippy is unhelpful, you could downvote, but I usually don't. They might fix it later.
  • Snarky, or condescending is unhelpful. Downvote. Hey! Maybe you should do this one.
  • and so on...

A down vote isn't an insult (or at least not necessarily), it is a diagnosis. It says: "This isn't helping, make it better or take it away."

Also note that you have four possible responses:

  1. Up vote
  2. No vote
  3. Down vote
  4. Flag as Spam or Offensive

That last one is for the extreme cases. You probably find that you do a lot of not voting---say when you don't know if the answer is good or not. Which leaves up- and down-voting when you do know.

  • 1
    I use an iPhone, I cannot hover over the arrow to get that info :-(
    – 7wp
    Commented Sep 1, 2009 at 5:54
  • Ah. That's a problem. It says "This answer is not helpful (click again to undo)". Commented Sep 1, 2009 at 21:15

People will also down vote your answer if it would have been far better as a comment. It's a little way to going to clear up the clutter that sometimes happens when people answer a question, but are clearly commenting or trying to get further information. Hence, drop-bombed.

If you do stop at giving an answer you think is prime for the downvote brigade, but then see someone else post the same and rise up, they could have also been hit down the hole of downvotes before climbing out of that hole. You never know.

  • 1
    Or if you answer your own question with update, instead of updateting the original question! (Just as a example :)
    – Johan
    Commented Sep 1, 2009 at 5:11

I would recommend trying to provide the best answer you can, when you can provide something you think is appropriate, without worrying too much about down votes - but don't do it just before you have to stop paying attention to SO. Then see how your answer is received; if you get (too many) down votes, you can delete your answer. After you've given a few answers, you'll get the hang of it. Don't forget, down votes cost the downvoter as well as you; people don't (usually) do it willy-nilly.

  • But some appear to be doing it willy nilly. Shouldn't those people be penalized some way?
    – 7wp
    Commented Sep 1, 2009 at 6:01
  • Well, because this is community Wiki, the rules are slightly different (you don't get reputation for upvotes; you don't lose reputation for downvotes) and it might be that downvotes on CW are free to the downvoter. And yes, sometimes answers get downvoted regardless. That's why you stick around to check that you aren't losing too much. Commented Sep 2, 2009 at 2:02

I only downvote answers the question is better off without, either because they're wrong or they're irrelevant, and I don't bother downvoting past -1.

I wouldn't worry about being occasionally downvoted when answering questions. I've got four answers on SO sitting at -1 right now. If you answer, you risk downvotes. If you don't, you sure won't get upvotes.

(I'd delete those answers if I didn't think they added something. Maybe I'll get upvotes sometime in the future. I don't really care.)

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