Now that I've reached 3K on SO, I find myself with the awesome power and responsibility (sic) to vote to close. So I've been thinking about the four possible responses to a poor question:

  1. edit
  2. comment
  3. downvote
  4. vote to close

Oddly, I don't see a lot of use for downvoting.

If I can make something of a question by editing it, I do. If I can't, unless it's a giant stinker, I comment. If the comment doesn't yield an improvement, I ask, 'just how awful is this?' If the question's not answerable close. If it is, well, I suppose I could downvote, but somehow, I feel that the posters of such questions get all the punishment they deserve when they don't get useful answers.

"A Giant Stinker" should mean: qualifies under the stated criteria for a close.

Answers are another story. An answer that is actually incorrect to the best of my knowledge get a swift downvote.

In other words, it seems important to me to give rep feedback to answerers, so that people who post actually incorrect answers fail to accumulate rep and acquire a label of legitimacy. On the flip side, bad questions almost always come from people with so little rep that 'whacking them' with a downvote has no real effect.

There's an interesting question of 'downvoting people' versus 'downvoting things.' As per someone who posted an answer, it is questions and answers that get voted. However, I observe that it is people who gain and lose rep.

Of course, once people reach empyrean rep, downvotes are mere mosquito bites, and we just have to hope that they never turn to the dark side. Even the anticipated larger negative scores on downvotes aren't going to put much of a dent into 44K.

All this adds up to an artifact of the rep system. Downvoting a person with 1 rep sends a message but has no practical effect. Downvoting someone with 1K rep is just the same. The only people who really feel a downvote as a crimp in their ambitions are those who are initially climbing the rep hill.

Does this make sense?

  • I don't follow your logic. What message is sent when you downvote someone with 1 rep? Nothing at all changes for them.
    Commented Dec 18, 2009 at 13:18
  • That's the opposite of what I tried to write.
    – Rosinante
    Commented Dec 18, 2009 at 20:14

2 Answers 2


To an extent, some of these things make sense, and I go through a similar process. But I differ in that I have no problem downvoting a bad question. I have no qualms about downvoting even after editing -- just because I cleaned up the grammar/formatting/whatever doesn't make the question good. And it might not be bad enough to close.

There is one thing I want to take issue with, though:

All this adds up to an artifact of the rep system. Downvoting a person with 1 rep sends a message but has no practical effect. Downvoting someone with 1K rep is just the same.

You are never downvoting a person. You downvote a post. This is a subtle, but extremely important distinction. Downvotes are not about punishment, nor are they about the person, they're about the content. Same with closures and flags. All are tools, use them appropriately.

My personal feeling on our four tools -- and understand that I'm pretty trigger-happy with them -- is that each has a purpose, and should be used, but appropriately.


When possible, edit. If the grammar, spelling, formatting, what-have-you is jacked, fix it. Don't let someone make themselves out to look like a fool just because they're not as well-written as some of the rest of us. Help them.


If a question is bad, even after editing/fixing, downvote. I tend to not downvote questions I plan to vote-to-close, but that's a personal preference, and I don't judge those who would downvote as well as vote.


This is currently under discussion here on Meta. I believe in flagging spam when it's really spam, offensive when it's really offensive, and mod attention when a mod is really needed to do something. More often than not, our other tools save us from needing this. But it's a good tool to have, because when we need it, we need it.


Don't close a question just because you don't like it, or it sucks. Close for one of the valid reasons. Closing is not done enough, but should not be undertaken lightly. Look over the reasons -- if you feel the question qualifies, do it. Others may or may not follow.


I don't consider these much of a tool. They're OK, sometimes, for getting the poster to clarify things. But usually the other four tools will be most effective.


It's good for them to feel the hit as they climb the rep hill, so that they make the changes in their posting behavior then, before they reach those empyrean heights.

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