The criteria for voting for questions is relatively clear, with the upvote and downvote buttons displaying:

  • This question shows research effort; it is useful and clear.
  • This question does not show any research effort; it is unclear or not useful.

But for answers, the buttons are much less helpful:

  • This answer is useful.
  • This answer is not useful.

This omission of criteria makes it very easy for someone to upvote or downvote an answer for subjective reasons.

Sometimes questions don't have a single "right" answer. People might upvote a badly written answer simply because they agree with its viewpoint, or downvote a well written and reasearched answer because they disagree with its conclusion.

Sometimes answers can contain opinions, independent of whether the answers are correct or not. For instance a computing question might contain a comment that it would have been so much easier if it were done on {Windows|Mac|Unix}. People might upvote a badly written answer simply because they like the comment, or downvote a well written answer because they dislike the comment.

The "useful" choice makes it very easy to vote subjectively rather than on the quality of the answer.

My understanding is that this isn't an appropriate use of votes. The "down-votes" tag description says that the votes are "the community's way of telling peers that their content can be improved".

I myself have voted for well answered answers that I personally disagree with. They are useful to me because they help me to see the other side of the issue and perhaps point out other references or ideas that I hadn't seen before; i.e. I learned something from them.

Is there anything that can be done to make it more obvious that the votes are not to be used to indicate whether one agrees with the answer. Or is my understanding of "useful" wrong?

Either way, the "useful" and "not useful" tool-tips don't match "the community's way of telling peers that their content can be improved", so something is wrong somewhere.

I'd suggest that the voting mechanism for answers say something more specific than "useful".

For instance, a simple improvement would be to make the answer buttons look like the question buttons:

  • This answer shows research effort; it is useful and clear.
  • This answer does not show any research effort; it is unclear or not useful.

It's not at all obvious why the current, seemingly trunctated, "is useful" and "is not useful" descriptions were chosen.

  • What would you suggest the guidelines should include? – fbueckert Jul 18 at 14:21
  • Please ask this at the Meta of that specific site. We can't give an answer that appiles SE network wide here. – πάντα ῥεῖ Jul 18 at 14:23
  • Objective, but that doesn't guarantee you won't pick up one downvote. – rene Jul 18 at 14:39
  • 1
    @πάνταῥεῖ, I was originally going to ask at the site meta, but realized that the real problem is with the conflicting definitions of the votes, which is common to all (non-meta) sites. The "useful" description doesn't make it obvious whether one should vote based on personal agreement or based on the quality of the answer. The fact that on meta sites, one is supposed to vote based on personal opinion implies that on non-meta sites one is not supposed to. If so, that criterion should be made more explicit. – Ray Butterworth Jul 18 at 14:42
  • Possible duplicate of Meaning of downvotes in Meta vs Main sites? – πάντα ῥεῖ Jul 18 at 14:50
  • What happens if the criteria is made explicit and a down vote is cast? – rene Jul 18 at 14:55
  • @πάνταῥεῖ, not a duplicate, but it is a similar issue. That item contains this official statement: "On posts tagged feature-request, voting indicates agreement or disagreement with the proposed change rather than just the quality or usefulness of the post itself.". And again, this relates to my complaint about the "useful" description that voters are presented with. This help-message should be much more explicit about what the vote actually means (which can be different on meta sites). The information is available elsewhere, but really belongs with the vote button. – Ray Butterworth Jul 18 at 14:56
  • I'm confused. This suggestion, which concerns a help message that appears on every SE site, is on hold because "This question's topic is only applicable to one specific site in the Stack Exchange Network.". Other than the example that I happened to reference, it has nothing to do with any specific site. If I were to simply remove that explicit example, my suggestion would remain unchanged. Is that what you are saying I should do in order to "fit the rules"? – Ray Butterworth Jul 18 at 15:44
  • @RayButterworth yeah, try that because both the close voters and the first reviewer in the re-open queue didn't conclude that your issue is to address this voting text across all sites. If anything, it might be a duplicate. – rene Jul 18 at 16:04
  • "This omission of criteria makes it very easy for someone to upvote or downvote an answer for subjective reasons." Except perhaps for the first time I voted on something over a year ago, I have not once paid any consideration to the text on the voting buttons when hovering over them in the microsecond before actually casting a vote. I find it extremely unlikely that any text (short of something like STOP!, assuming I even noticed that) would make me hesitate in any way. The actual text has no bearing on my voting at all. – Jason Bassford Supports Monica Jul 19 at 2:42
  • @JasonBassford, that reasoning also argues that the description for the question votes might as well be shortened to match the answer descriptions. My anal retentive side wants them to be consistent, so I would support making them both equally inadequate. But I would much prefer they be equally improved. – Ray Butterworth Jul 19 at 3:25
  • @RayButterworth I would not support removing the ability to downvote with answers one disagrees with, or upvoting ones I agree with. That’s the primary purpose of costing: a sorting system for those who come after, to know which answers they should pay attention to and to use, and which to ignore an discard. Ultimately, this is subjective, which is why we have humans in the loop in the first place. Vote for questions like you vote for candidates: upvote the one you want to win. – Dan Bron Jul 19 at 19:32

Honestly? It's one downvote.

And folks downvote as they see fit. It can be due to active harmfulness, incorrectness, or looking at the comments, disagreement with the specific interpretation potentially.

We do not flag a wrong answer. We do comment or downvote. So as per the tooltip on the downvote arrow on an answer - someone deemed it not useful. Considering the weight of a downvote against an upvote - if someone found it useful you're going to come up ahead.

Or Tim lost his keys. Again.

  • I'm not worried about getting downvotes or about losing reputation. (If I were, I wouldn't have asked this question, which, not unexpectedly, has already got 8 downvotes.) My concern is that the helpful message that accompanies the vote button could be a lot more helpful than it is. – Ray Butterworth Jul 18 at 15:22

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