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Very often, on various SE websites, I see new users posting questions that are off-topic. This is a common problem, and I think our communication lines to help these users are usually quite effective.

However, one thing I do not understand is the fact that these questions are always greeted with several downvotes. This question on music.SE is a good example: while the question is not truly great, the only real reason why people downvote it is the fact that it is not suitable for the Stackexchange network.

Now, as per the Should an off-topic question always be downvoted? discussion on meta.SE, I think the consensus is that we should not use downvotes this way. Users will get the wrong message from this, since downvotes actually have a different meaning than close-votes.

Hence my question: Is there a way to discourage people to downvote a question when a close-vote would have been sufficient? And if so, would it be useful to implement something like that, or would there be too heavy downsides to it?

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  • So, just to clarify - once a close vote has been initiated, downvotes would be disabled for that question? – user273376 Oct 20 '14 at 6:56
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    Not necessarily. Downvotes and close-votes are not mutually exclusive. There are just some cases where people downvote a question simply because it's off-topic, and I personally think that this is not a good thing. – Lee White Oct 20 '14 at 6:58
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    You cannot ever assume to know why people downvote. And how would you expect to prevent this anyway? – Martijn Pieters Oct 20 '14 at 7:03
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    Besides, if someone posts blatantly off-topic questions, then they have not done their research: they didn't research the site topics before posting. That is, in my view, a perfectly valid reason to downvote. – Martijn Pieters Oct 20 '14 at 7:04
  • A standard must be maintained, and I believe the majority of people who downvote wish to maintain that standard. To be honest, I would have downvoted that answer too - as it detracts from the more serious questions and answers on that site. – user273376 Oct 20 '14 at 7:33
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Just because you feel that a down vote just for off-topic-ness is not justified, doesn't mean that the voter feels it is not justified.

  • You are allowed to vote for whatever reason you feel like. We never dictated what motivations you should use to vote. We can encourage, but never dictate. Votes are anonymous.

  • Posting blatantly off-topic questions shows a lack of research; the poster did not research if their question is on-topic for the site. The down-vote tooltip gives one guideline for using the button: This question does not show any research effort.

So no, there is no way we can discourage people to down vote for specific reasons, because you cannot know what their motivations where to begin with, and down voting for not being on topic could well be justified anyway.

Also, you need to take into account that guidance in the UI should be short and sweet. There already is guidance in the tooltip, and it is very deliberately concise. We already have the help center and Meta to elaborate, but you cannot go and cram every reason to vote one way or another into the interface.

So, in my opinion, there is no way to automate this, guidance is already given and should remain concise, and people may well have reason to downvote blatantly off topic posts anyway.

To take your specific question: that asks for a list of instruments and is in essence a poll question. The Music.SE help center states (like all SE help centers) that such questions are off-topic:

To prevent your question from being flagged and possibly removed, avoid asking subjective questions where …

[...]

  • your answer is provided along with the question, and you expect more answers: “I use ______ for ______, what do you use?”
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  • So just because we can't know why individual people cast certain votes, we can't try to encourage correct usage of the voting systems? Your answer seems to be completely opposite to what was agreed on in the discussion I linked. – Lee White Oct 20 '14 at 7:13
  • @LeeWhite: You are misrepresenting the post linked. It asks if all off-topic questions should be downvoted. I'm showing here that the question you linked to is not well-researched. – Martijn Pieters Oct 20 '14 at 7:15
  • In that case, the question I linked is simply not a good example. That specific question is not why I posted here. – Lee White Oct 20 '14 at 7:18
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    I agree with Martijn. If someone asks a good formulated, researched question, which is obviously off-topic, then it should be downvoted. I can ask a quality question on cooking on SO, but that doesn't mean it doesn't deserve downvotes for lack of research on the site help. – Patrick Hofman Oct 20 '14 at 7:20
  • How is it useful to blur the line between these two voting systems? To me it is pretty clear: vote-to-close is used to rate whether SE's rules are being followed, upvotes and downvotes are used to rate the quality of the question itself. Saying that the website's help page is part of "research" is very, very far-fetched. – Lee White Oct 20 '14 at 7:25
  • @LeeWhite as far as I can tell, programmers have no use in knowing how to cook salmon until it's well done. Bam, not useful. Second reason to downvote. – John Dvorak Oct 20 '14 at 7:26
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    @LeeWhite: but that is the problem though, isn't it? To distinguish between an off-topic post that is blatently so and one that is well-researched but in the wrong place? I wouldn't downvote a post on Stack Overflow that would be entirely at home at Programmers, if well researched, for example. – Martijn Pieters Oct 20 '14 at 7:27
  • @MartijnPieters don't forget migration clears all votes. Feel free to downvote even more ;-) – John Dvorak Oct 20 '14 at 7:30
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    @LeeWhite: there are a lot of reasons people vote, and having meta discussions is excellent. But to provide guidance that people will actually read, in the UI, means it has to stay concise. I don't see how the current guidance can be improved upon without losing that all-important quality. – Martijn Pieters Oct 20 '14 at 7:31
  • Well, it seems like we no longer agree with the top-voted answer in the question I linked, which renders this discussion quite pointless. – Lee White Oct 20 '14 at 7:40
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    @LeeWhite: You are misreading that answer. The question asks if all off-topic posts should be downvoted. Yannis posits that some off-topic posts should not be downvoted. That doesn't mean that questions about salmon fishing posted to Programmers are not safe from downvotes. It means that a well-researched question about a Hadoop implementation issue should not not be downvoted, but should be migrated to Stack Overflow. Or a well-researched question about Agile software development that comes down to asking for opinions shouldn't be downvoted. – Martijn Pieters Oct 20 '14 at 7:42
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    @LeeWhite: You seem to think the answer states that all off-topic are immune from downvotes. That is absolutely not what Yannis is stating. – Martijn Pieters Oct 20 '14 at 7:44
  • What Yannis is saying, is that the two voting systems each have their own point, and we should not use one voting system for reasons that are meant to support the other. I do not think that I am the one who is misunderstanding it. – Lee White Oct 20 '14 at 7:45
  • Either way, it's clear that we're going in circles here anyway, so I'm just going to leave this discussion as is. I do have to admit that I'm quite surprised by how negatively this post was received, though. – Lee White Oct 20 '14 at 7:46
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    @LeeWhite: When I vote on a question, I vote on the quality of that question. Research is one quality metric, and a question can be both off-topic and of low quality. Blatant off-topicness is a research issue for me, so the two can be related. – Martijn Pieters Oct 20 '14 at 7:47

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