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In my experience on Stack Exchange, I have come across hundreds of great, however unprofessionally written questions that have many downvotes just because the member is new, and did not write the question in the 'proper format.'

However, there are usually no edits to fix these 'problems' either. Should I downvote and edit the question, just edit the question and nothing else, edit the question and upvote it to counter the downvotes, or just do nothing?

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    If you're planning on editing, don't downvote. Unless your edit is terrible. – Won't Jun 30 '16 at 20:45
  • Related: Getting to Know Stack Overflow's Voting Culture – JDB Jun 30 '16 at 21:28
  • That's what I thought @Won't but I've seen people do both – ALX Jun 30 '16 at 21:56
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    I vote, "unprofessionally written questions", because I find poorly written questions to be unhelpful. The fact the user is new to SE has nothing to do with the way I vote. So your conclusion seems to be incorrect. I also list every problem I personally see and most times the question never recieves any love from the author. Do I bother even pointing out that "however unprofessionally written questions" is a confusing set of words that isn't proper English? – Ramhound Jun 30 '16 at 23:14
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It's a popular misconception that downvotes are for punishing people.

That's not correct. A downvote's only purpose is indicating post quality. You're rating the post, not the person. Thus, the user's participation has no relevance.

However, since it's a new user, teaching finds more value. What could they do to improve the post? What would an improved post look like? You could indicate these by commenting or editing, and these are more important than rating their contributed content. Those actions require more stamina, and more effort, and that's a reason most people don't go for them. They're more prominent, but voting doesn't lose its meaning.

Specifically, do not upvote posts merely to counter the downvotes. See Should the weight of downvotes be increased? This is called "sympathy upvoting", and it's frowned upon. It's also one of the largest burdens on the shoulder of the current moderation. The amount of votes on a question or an answer should have no effect on the way you rate them.

  • Regarding "the user's participation has no relevance", this is great in theory, but doesn't really seem to work out in practice. – a-- Jul 3 '16 at 6:12
  • @Justin of course, only the few veteran users of each site have really understood how to vote. There is no way to control what people vote and why. – Marshmallow Jul 3 '16 at 7:25
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It really depends on the question.

There are some things that no amount of editing fixes, such as questions that should have been a call to AAA instead, or an "answer" written in Spanish that was actually a "me too" answer, or a machine translated gibberish question that somehow escaped moderation for years (yes, all of these things happened on SO).

I also think that it's somewhat useless trying to salvage old questions if there are no good answers. When there are no answers at all and the question has a score of 0, a simple down vote will usually allow questions to be automatically deleted. Down votes are part of moderation; they are not really a mechanism for punishing people.

Most questions, however, can become a lot better if they are edited. Of course, you may not have all the information needed to do this properly from the start, so you can use comments to ask for clarification. You should also explain to them a bit about the rules, and give them some tips to improve the next question they ask.

I recently read this comment and I think it stands as proof that editing new user's questions can help a lot. There are a number of review queues that involve editing like that (but you don't have the rep to access them yet).

Of course, you are not obligated to do anything. I wouldn't upvote, since up voting is meant for good posts, not when you want to cancel down voting.

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I have come across hundreds of great, however unprofessionally written questions that have many downvotes just because the member is new, and did not write the question in the 'proper format.

Unless you were the one casting those votes, you have no idea why those votes were cast. Only the person who cast those votes knows precisely why they voted on the post.

That said, votes are there to reflect the quality of the post. Posts aren't downvoted because the author is new, they're downvoted because the post is bad. New users are simply more likely to make bad posts, so you may well notice that posts from newer users are more likely to have a lower score.

As far as editing goes, at the end of the day, it's the question author's responsibility to write a good question, and to fix the problems that it has. You're more than welcome to help them out and edit the quesiton if you want, but you certainly aren't obligated to.

If you do choose to edit the post, then as far as how you should vote on it; you should vote on it based on whether or not the post is useful or not useful, just like any vote you ever cast. If you think the question isn't a useful question after editing it, you should downvote it; if you think it's useful, you should upvote it. That said, you should really avoid editing questions that are still going to be bad questions even after you finish editing them (simply because you're wasting your time).

You absolutely shouldn't vote on a post just because of how others have voted. You should vote on the post based on whether or not you think it's useful, regardless of whether other people felt it was useful or not.

  • Unless the people left comments saying why they did so. – ALX Jun 30 '16 at 21:57
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    @ALX Nope, even then, that can give you a better guess, but you still can't know. Also most people tend to assume that anyone leaving a comment pointing out a problem downvoted, and that they downvoted for that reason. Neither is necessarily the case. – Servy Jul 1 '16 at 12:52

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