If you add a comment explaining why you downvoted - and I mean a long-ish comment which goes into a bit of depth to explain the issue you have with the answer - your comment gets rejected, and a dialog box pops up saying:

Don't comment on your downvote. If you think this post can be improved, please offer specific guidance.

That's just wrong, since:

  • Downvotes without comments are antagonistic and somewhat hurtful (for posts written in good faith).
  • You might well be offering specific guidance in the downvote comments.
  • It's much better for the downvoter to leave a sub-optimal comment with some feedback then to be discouraged by this message and not provide any feedback.

Instead, the comment should be accepted (except perhaps for a very brief "-1 wrong"-style comments), and the message could say something like:

When commenting on a downvote, try to explain how this post can be improved, and offer specific guidance.

The comment should remain in edit mode to encourage it to be edited, but canceling the edit would leave the comment as-is (again, except for the case of problematic/very brief comments).


  • This question focuses on the specific scenario of a meaningful comment being rejected, and on the rejection message. This is distinct from how to encourage meaningful/positive criticism in general.
  • If it's the "-1" indication that is super-bothersome to people, then either this should be removed from the comment (with the rest of it left), or it should be made very clear that is the reason the comment can't be accepted i.e. "don't explicitly mention the downvote in downvote comments" rather than "don't comment on downvotes".
  • I've never gotten a disclaimer like that, but I definitely agree that comments explaining a downvote, are a good thing – aBochur Feb 26 '18 at 20:33
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    How are you commenting on your vote? Are you starting "-1" with an explanation of why? – ale Feb 26 '18 at 20:34
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    I think this disclaimer appears when you put -1 in your comment. so this disclaimer is advising you to do exatcly as you suggest, without just saying "-1". At least, that is the hope. – Kodos Johnson Feb 26 '18 at 20:35
  • @ale: Yes, that's right. – einpoklum Feb 26 '18 at 20:35
  • It looks like the Android app doesn't have this disclaimer, that's why I never heard of it – aBochur Feb 26 '18 at 20:37
  • meta.stackexchange.com/q/138189/21960 – ale Feb 26 '18 at 20:41
  • @KodosJohnson: 1. That's not what it says. 2. Advice is fine, but deleting the comment means the answer author is left with just a -1 and no comment. – einpoklum Feb 26 '18 at 20:44
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    You should just delete the -1 part, not the content of your comment. – Kodos Johnson Feb 26 '18 at 20:45
  • @ale: The accepted answer on that question suggests/claims that the explanatory comment would be better without the downvote indication. Regardless of whether that's true, that's a good argument for suggesting the downvote indication be removed, not for dropping the comment altogether. – einpoklum Feb 26 '18 at 20:46
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    I think you need to explain why exactly you're getting the message (i.e. because the comment you were trying to post starts with "-1"). Also, I think this discussion has already happened several times before on MSO (e.g. here), so you should take a look at those posts and edit as necessary. – Laurel Feb 26 '18 at 20:46
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    @Laurel: The point is I did explain why exactly I'm getting the message. It's the developers who have a hidden rule, which is not explained to the commenter, that says "downvote comments are accepted when not starting with -1". The commenter is not aware this is the case, s/he only perceives what I've written here. I'm not supposed to figure this out despite a misleading comment... – einpoklum Feb 26 '18 at 21:10
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    Possible duplicate of Is it OK to indicate that I downvoted in a comment? – Jake Symons Feb 26 '18 at 21:13
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    @JakeSymons: Not a dupe, since this focused on the message which comes up. – einpoklum Feb 26 '18 at 21:15
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    Downvotes without comment are absolutely not antagonistic and you shouldn’t really be commenting on your voting. Suggesting improvements is great, but that’s a completely separate thing – Cai Feb 26 '18 at 21:19
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    @einpoklum read the accepted answer: After the first downvote, we can't say we didn't remind them, and honestly that's as good as it gets. Forcing a comment will end in even worse results -- forcing comments on downvotes is never going to happen – Zoe Feb 26 '18 at 21:25

Comments are not for telling you downvoted. Voting is anonymous, so keep it that way. That opens the way for more constructive comments: you should explain what can be improved instead.

The only reason you get that message is because you start with "-1". That has proven to be an indicator for bad comments, so just leave that out. Instead, focus on improving. It is not relevant what you've voted.

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  • Replacing downvote with constructive comments with downvotes without constructive comments does not constitute "opening the way for more constructive comments". Also, "The only reason you get that message is because you start with "-1" " <- that's not what the pop-up message says. – einpoklum Feb 26 '18 at 21:17
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    As I said comments should not start that way. It is just wrong. The site prevented you from doing that, which is a good thing. That it missed out on the rest that might be useful it a pity, but it proved to do more good than wrong. So adjust the message if you want to, but keep the current logic. – Patrick Hofman Feb 26 '18 at 21:20
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    WIth due respect - This kind of condescending attitude is exactly what the dialog projects, and it demotivates well-meaning commenters. – einpoklum Feb 26 '18 at 21:26

I agree that there is room for some improvement to the wording, as perhaps the wording doesn't fully convey the intent of the feature.

The point wasn't to prevent explaining why you downvoted, the point was to prevent explaining how you voted.

Explaining why you downvoted is still the proper thing to do if you can do it constructively, explaining how you downvoted is not really constructive in general.

That said, I don't think the suggestion that you give is an improvement, even though there is room for improvement in the wording.

In response to the recent edit to your question, "the comment should be accepted", I disagree. The point is to prevent this from happening, and accepting the comment with a side note would amount to disabling the feature itself. While I think there is room for improvement (as with most things), I do agree that it is more beneficial to have this than not.

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    The intention might have been different, but the effect is to prevent me from explaining my downvote. Remember: It's not the thought that counts, just the observable effect... – einpoklum Feb 26 '18 at 20:36
  • The effect is to prevent you from including how you voted. If you do not include how you voted, then there is no prevention. – Travis J Feb 26 '18 at 20:36
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    "The point wasn't to prevent explaining why you downvoted" It sort of is. What it wants you to do is to explain how the post can be fixed, not why you do or don't like it. – Servy Feb 26 '18 at 20:39
  • "The effect is to prevent you from including how you voted" <- well, deleting the answer would also prevent me from indicating how I voted. So would deleting my user... if that's what's desired, it's possible to simple remove the "-1" and leave the rest, explaining why you believe a comment should never indicate how one voted. And this is regardless of my opinion of whether it's a good idea to prevent the indication or not. – einpoklum Feb 26 '18 at 20:40
  • @Servy: Well, the current overall effect, when projected onto that axis, is more detrimental than useful IMHO - as even if I've provided an explanation, it is rejected. – einpoklum Feb 26 '18 at 20:43
  • @Servy - In the text as written, that is part of the guidance, sure. But the original discussion at mSO was mostly that users were getting into spats about who downvoted who based on the inclusion of -1 in a comment as opposed to discussing the merits (or lack thereof) of the content itself. If a comment is going to be explaining a downvote, it should focus on something constructive instead of just saying "-1, this doesn't work" or similar. – Travis J Feb 26 '18 at 20:47
  • @TravisJ: Again, I understand and can sympathize with the motivation and the history, but the bottom line effect is that someone (who's not aware of this history) who's trying to give a meaningful explain of his/her downvote gets told "don't comment on downvotes". Two times out of three they'll just let it go and the explanation is lost. – einpoklum Feb 26 '18 at 20:51
  • @einpoklum - Those are rather heavy-handed examples though. This is a rather light weight system that for the most part is silent. – Travis J Feb 26 '18 at 20:51
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    Perhaps a link to the mSO post inside of the explanation would help to explain the motivation and history. – Travis J Feb 26 '18 at 20:53
  • @TravisJ The "-1" in the post is the only real good heuristic that the system can rely on to determine if a given comment is explaining why someone is downvoting, instead of how the post can/should be improved, but the point remains that we want them to explain how the post can be improved, not why they downvoted. We don't want people to "fix" this by removing the -1, we want them to fix it by focusing on what should be done to improve the post. – Servy Feb 26 '18 at 20:55
  • @Servy - I mostly agree with what you are saying, however there is a slight gray area there which needs to be included. Not all comments for why a post would be downvoted are explaining improvement, sometimes (and as noted in the mSO discussion) comments explaining downvotes are constructive but factual criticism (for example with regards to security or performance). – Travis J Feb 26 '18 at 21:02
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    TravisJ: Why not just say it outright? "Please rephrase this comment to only include the substantive part rather than mentioning your downvote." and then perhaps some link to the policy, or to the meta.SX question @ale linked to, or whatever. – einpoklum Feb 26 '18 at 21:22
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    @einpoklum You're trying to write a comment that just gets someone to remove the -1. That's not what we want. If that's all we cared about we'd just strip it off for you. The point is to get the user to re-write the comment such that the whole thing is phrased around how the post can be improved, not why you downvoted the answer. Removing the -1 should be a pretty small part of that. – Servy Feb 26 '18 at 23:37
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    @einpoklum No, describing how a post can be improved isn't the same as describing why you've downvoted. The error message specifically says, "If you think this post can be improved, please offer specific guidance." So no, it doesn't just tell you to drop your comment. – Servy Feb 27 '18 at 0:20
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    @einpoklum Sure, if you ignore the message, and add in your own message that isn't there, then yeah, it says that, but if you just read the message that is actually there, it's telling you to fix your comment, and how, and if you do that, you can post it. If you're unwilling/unable to correct your comment to follow the guidelines it suggests, then yeah, your only option is to not post it, that's by design. If you can't fix it as you're told to, then, and only then, are you forced to just not post it. Not because of what the message tells you, but because you aren't following directions. – Servy Feb 27 '18 at 0:27

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