--- The General Question ---

Should I avoid posting (writing questions or answers) unless I am willing (and able) to put forth the exorbitant effort required to produce "exceptional content". **Will a reasonable effort post that still has meaningful, useful, & overall "good" content (though far from "perfect") be generally accepted?

I am generally afraid to make posts out of fear of losing significant reputation (& privileges) or being heavily flagged (& risking suspension or worse of the account itself) if my post is anything shy of exceptional. Is my fear valid & creating a sub-excellent post is a strong gamble that is quite likely to receive significant disapproval and/or flags? Or am I worrying about nothing and I'm just being overly pessimistic about the community's standards?

--- Detailed Description & Background Context ---

On Q&A sites like Stack Exchange, I find myself extraordinarily hesitant to post, whether it being asking a question, giving an answer, or even commenting. When I post something I feel the need to put in exorbitant effort trying to make it "absolutely perfect"; I fear that not doing so may generate more detrimental backlash in my direction than actually useful constructive discussion.

Fear is of Functional Damage (Not Emotional)

Like most people I feel some disappointment at any disapproval towards my posts; though this is simply the nature of constructive criticism & review when posting on sites with open review systems. I don't have any problems with this and heartily accept any advice or suggestions for improvement. My concerns are more technical and relate to both the reputation & privilege system, and the flagging & moderation processes. I fear the functional damage to my account these systems might cause that accompany any criticism: positive, negative, and most problematically intentionally malicious.

I'm not afraid of the emotional baggage of the criticism, but of the associated reputation losses & resulting revocation of privileges. Even worse any administrative actions that might be taken on my account from suspension to termination.

Sources of Concern

Thankfully making a comment doesn't directly risk reputation, but comments can still be flagged just like questions or answers. I am especially worried of my contributions being flagged by people that are either very hypercritical or downright malevolent/mischievous (i.e. they downvote & flag for the sake of causing misery/chaos). Even with intelligent checks in-place designed to prevent this exact occurrence, in my experience an automatic flag handler tends to bias against you & treats most unjust flags as valid. The manual peer/moderator flag review process usually works well, but sometimes you will suffer the wrath of the inevitable "bad moderator". A "bad moderator" could be one that is some combination of -among other things- inept, biased, hypercritical, overzealous, power-mad, spiteful, or simply in a bad mood at the time of review; any of these could lead to unfair judgements or disproportionate punishments. (NOTE#1: A "overly kind moderator" with opposite traits can still give unfair judgements in the other direction and may be too lenient with grievous violations; this is still problematic but in a different way.)

I recognize that any Stack Exchange site is clearly and intentionally designed to have a more critical nature and give far more importance to high-quality & useful contributions than on other similar sites. This Stack Overflow blog post about the site's optimization goals details the rational that guides the design of the reputation & sorting systems. The post clearly explains the necessity of increased criticism & filtering in both increasing average content quality and maximizing attention to very-high quality content. While Stack Overflow doesn't necessarily speak for all SE communities, it is the original so it embodies the spirit & style of the majority quite well.

Deciding Whether & What to Post

I have a nearly perfectionist quality standard for most work I do while also being obstructively deliberate with every detail; I am already so critical of my own work that creating it is needlessly slow. That being said; I understand that half-assed, useless, or otherwise undoubtedly low quality content should and will be downvoted, criticized, and likely flagged. But my fear is that, after spending upwards of several hours & excessive effort into carefully writing a thoroughly detailed question or highly precise analytical answer that I genuinely believe to be "good", I'll still receive primarily negative reactions to it for not being "good enough" and suffer the consequences. (*This* question itself took approaching 10 hours to create with most being to either researching the various components that create this overarching problem, or carefully writing the question (and relevant context) as clearly & specifically as possible.)

I don't want to gamble my account and privileges whenever I genuinely want to ask a meaningful question, or when I feel like writing a reasonably helpful answer to an unanswered question if it doesn't cause me much hassle, from nothing more than a desire to be helpful. As is, I feel I should only risk asking a question if I direly require the answer. I should also only risk answering for the purpose of gaining reputation to build a safety buffer or gain usable leeway, and only if I can confidently put forth the full effort needed to create an "exceptional" answer. I don't want to have this attitude, but the apparent construction of the system & my prior experiences creates a quite pessimistic outlook that suggests I should "play it safe" by avoiding writing ... anything.

Perhaps I am too distrusting of people and am anticipating behaviors that are less than realistic or far less common than I expect. Perhaps I am once again being massively over-deliberate in thinking about these decisions. I know this dilemma impacts me far more than most SE users, but I also know that I am not the only one that has this problem.


What level of quality standards are generally accepted for posts? Are my ideas of the typical quality expectations far off from reality?

Am I substantially overestimating the losses/penalties I'd receive for less-than-perfect work? As long as I put in decent effort to my posts, will negative responses (downvotes & flags) not occur frequently enough to risk any "functional damages" (I.e., gains from positive responses reliably outweigh negatives, so reputation points shouldn't drop)? Is posting far less "dangerous" than I'm expecting it to be?

NOTE #2: I am aware that reputation points losses are significantly weaker than reputation points gains (for example, upvotes being +10 and downvotes being -2), but considering the highly-critical nature I've witnessed across SE, I expect the quantity of negative responses to decidedly exceed positive responses for all but the highest quality posts. The greatest concern is the reputation points losses from flags & any other administrative punishments that might follow flags.

Any additional relevant advice or tips would also be greatly appreciated. Also, please let me know of any criticisms about this question post itself so that I may improve in the future.

  • 38
    "On discussion & forum sites like Stack Exchange" ... Stack Exchange is not for discussions (the meta sites kind of are, but that's different) and isn't a forum. SE provides Q&A sites, those are very different in nature.
    – Tom
    Jan 24, 2020 at 13:06
  • 17
    Well @Tom that is just nitpicking. We all know that similar feedback loops are in play here. I think OP's fear of running into site-issued ban's are rather slim. As seeing he is posting here shows that there is a will to do the right thing, and are eager to learn. Those skills would usually make sure a post isn't too terribly received. And when it is a person would likely be able to understand why, and do better next time. Only if you manage to post multiple poorly received questions you will run into a rate limitation of the site.
    – Luuklag
    Jan 24, 2020 at 13:11
  • 15
    I'd recommend erring on the side of concise and minimally formatted.
    – jonrsharpe
    Jan 24, 2020 at 13:12
  • 4
    The StackExchange network is done to valorize good content and to let the community moderate bad's one. It's a normal fear to post as we are not a forum, we are a Q&A. At some point you will learn when to post a short answer or not. I still have that feeeling when I post btw when it's a subject I know a bit less.
    – yagmoth555
    Jan 24, 2020 at 13:17
  • 3
    I don't think there is a general network-wide answer for this as each community sets its own standards on questions and answers. Ask in the meta of the community you are interested in. Also note, that while we are striving for excellent content, decent content is usually good enough and should gain a positive score (don't mind a few singular downvotes occurring all the time). Jan 24, 2020 at 13:22
  • 3
    I used to feel like you do. Then after spending a long time here I noticed how random ~90% of downvotes are, and stopped taking them personally. Mass downvotes are extremely rare and if a question gets enough attention to get many unfair downvotes, it usually gets more rep's worth of corrective upvotes. It's frustrating, but what matters is that there are people who get enough out of your question to answer it. Respond to constructive comments, but ignore the drive-bys who are probably just having a bad day. Jan 24, 2020 at 13:22
  • 6
    @abmays If you know the differences, then that's all fine, but many new users don't and they expect similar behaviour to sites like reddit or quora and eventually will be disappointed/frustrated. That's why I mentioned it.
    – Tom
    Jan 24, 2020 at 13:22
  • 2
    @Alexander Yes sorry I'd missed that part of your Q on first read and I had just editted my comment to address it when you replied. Jan 24, 2020 at 13:27
  • 6
    @abmays I was the same :-) Concise, clear writing is a skill, you'll get better at it with practice. A good rule of thumb is to remember that you're asking for free help from busy professionals / experts. Imagine you're in an office, you see a senior colleague is taking a break, and you intend to go ask them for help. You'd prepare a short summary of the problem, with enough details that they can help, but which gets straight to the point and doesn't take up too much of their time. Jan 24, 2020 at 14:50
  • 4
    Start by answering. Answers rarely ever receive downvotes.
    – Kevin B
    Jan 24, 2020 at 16:16
  • 16
    'Well Tom that is just nitpicking.' - @Luuklag it's not nitpicking there is are fundamental differences between Q&A and forum and it's those differences that trip folks up when asking here.
    – Script47
    Jan 24, 2020 at 16:43
  • 2
    See "How do I get answers fast?" and the Help: "How to ask ...".
    – Rob
    Jan 24, 2020 at 17:04
  • 2
    @edwinaoliver very few users actually cast downvotes.Tthey are very much in the minority and generally are saved for the worst of the worst of the worst. An answer being "wrong" isn't the only criteria for downvoting, so is clarity/quality/usefulness. It's not hard for an answer to be technically correct but also useless, unclear, or just of poor quality.
    – Kevin B
    Jan 24, 2020 at 20:20
  • 6
    @edwinaoliver i mean, you can believe whatever you want, but you'll never know why people cast votes (or even who said people are) unless they tell you. You are always too biased to decide whether or not your own post is worthy of receiving a downvote. You need to be open to the fact that the problem may in fact be the post, not the person casting a downvote.
    – Kevin B
    Jan 24, 2020 at 20:26
  • 4
    And that's why we have an entire system in place to catch said "bullies". Most cases of downvotes are not such cases.
    – Kevin B
    Jan 24, 2020 at 20:29

8 Answers 8


The answer to this typically depends on who would ask the question, and the overall quality of their posts.

So I had a look at your profile (actually the active account - BTW you can ask to merge them). I am not able to see the potentially deleted posts, but from what I saw - and from what I could guess about your intentions from your description above -, it seems to me that the only thing you have to do to overcome this fear is to simply

be more confident in yourself

Here is what led me to say this:

  • You seem to generally post after having made a lot of research. Posts that will cause most trouble are posts that are technically wrong. If you carefully check what you say, like you seem to do, there isn't such risk.
  • You seem to be careful about the rules. You posted this very question at the right place, know what flagging is, etc...
  • Although your post above is a bit long-winded, it's well articulated. That's a good sign.

All these qualities tell me your posts can fit this network pretty well. I have seen horrible posts (half-assed homework questions, answers just copy-pasting other answers, blocks of total nonsense text, ...) all over the network and those are the posts targeted by the closure/flagging system. I can tell you are very far away from those.

However, you may experience downvotes occasionally. We all have. Don't take those personally. It may hurt a bit, but it isn't significant. Take that as an experience, even when it doesn't seem justified. And when it is justified (become it may be, sometimes), take that as an opportunity to improve your post.

In any case, a few downvotes on a few posts won't trigger anything bad regarding your account. Believe me, I have seen much worse from some users, that didn't seem to have consequences for them.

Edit: It seems your very post here actually experienced quite some downvotes. Here is what I can guess about the causes:

  • Your post is very long, as I mentioned. It could be made much shorter for the same effect. One of the comments gave you that hint (as a joke). Here is where downvotes can effectively be used to improve a post.
  • Some people will look at the title and say "ugh, a snowflake being afraid of downvotes. Just grow thick skin; let me help you with that by downvoting". You can't do anything about that. Just let it slide.
  • 1
    Regarding account merger, I already tried that yesterday in BOTH directions (submitting form while logged into each) and in BOTH cases it gave the result "The account abmays will be removed, and all rep and votes will be transferred to account Alexander Mays". This is the OPPOSITE of what I want and flipping the order does nothing (perhaps they choose which to keep based on ID or creation date?). I might try again at another time and see if it was just a glitch, or if merging to the old account allows me to change all the settings to what my main used. My Life: A Technical Difficulty Story
    – abmays
    Jan 24, 2020 at 14:09
  • 3
    @abmays Or contact SE directly, they are here to help with those unsusual operations.
    – dim
    Jan 24, 2020 at 14:12
  • Regarding your answer itself, I'm not concerned about fair downvotes or flags by people that approximately follow rules & conduct. If I make a reasonably good effort post I should have no problems with rep or flags from "upstanding members". My primary concern is "bad day" & "forever bad" people that unfairly downvote (possibly en mass) or flag. Serial voting countermeasures usually negate mass downvoting. But the flags can be far more destructive as the automatic system has less safeties, and you risk the unjust flag being reviewed by a "bad mod" that could then unjustly punish you.
    – abmays
    Jan 24, 2020 at 14:19
  • 6
    Unfair downvoting/flagging happens. But not en masse. It can't. That's not how it works. Don't worry about that. That won't happen. Never. Ever. I guarantee. SE guarantees. The world guarantees. Be confident. Smile. I love you. We all love you.
    – dim
    Jan 24, 2020 at 14:23
  • 1) Regarding edit note#2- I knew some people would get that impression and I did not like the title, but I couldn't figure out one of reasonable length that explains the fear being about the functional effects. 2) Regarding your last comment- Your words seem to imply a lot of faith in the SE system, but your display name tells a different story. I don't know what I should do with this information. However I do smell sarcasm in the air which does not bode well.
    – abmays
    Jan 24, 2020 at 14:29
  • 3
    Re. the “bad mod” bit - I don’t think any mod here would deliberately abuse the mechanisms. And while there currently is a lot of debate (not going into the details here), people changing their user names in protest are a sign that they care, and that they are talking their responsibilities towards their sites very seriously.
    – Stephie
    Jan 24, 2020 at 14:42
  • 3
    @abmays The reason for that mismatch - and, I'd guess, some unfair downvotes - is that there's currently a lot of tension between SE's senior management and its more experienced users and staff. The former appear to want to throw away a lot of what makes SE special in a rush to inflate the usage stats before (we assume) selling the company, and they appear to be exploiting the experiences of cautious and conscientious users like yourself as an excuse to do so (there are hundreds of things we've suggested they could do to help users in your position which they've almost always ignored). Jan 24, 2020 at 14:43
  • 2
    @abmays There is actually no sarcasm. I just wanted to look caring, and say that you can, overall, be more confident in life. In a funny way. Not sure I achieved, but you now get the idea. Regarding the faith in SE: the system still guarantees that. But I lost faith about their ability to communicate with the community, which is different. I did not loose faith in their system, just in the people running the company.
    – dim
    Jan 24, 2020 at 14:43
  • 4
    +1 especially for the last part - I considered downvoting this question and only with effort refrained because I understand the social anxiety that's spurring it. Questions that come across as picky, hand-wringing dissertations are not generally well received by readers. You're not going to get mod penalties without good reason, just post.
    – mxyzplk
    Jan 24, 2020 at 14:44
  • @user56reinstatemonica8 I try to avoid business & politics as I tend to react very poorly to witnessing the corruption of morals they often involved, and will want to avoid any interaction with those responsible. I hope things turn out well but I cannot get involved in any way. On the other note, I did appreciate the laugh I nonetheless got from it (intentional or not). EDIT: This is the 3rd comment I've had to repost because it used the wrong account again.
    – abmays
    Jan 24, 2020 at 14:54

The community isn't your enemy

A lot of people anecdotally think Stack Overflow/Stack Exchange is just like this (source):

Cat Overflow?

That's more a meme (the first panel's question is Too Broad/ Needs more Focus on all sites), so let's talk about what this meme is aimed at: Curation. Let me use the same example I mentioned over there


Now, I'm not talking about users that are rude or get overheated. If someone does that on a regular basis it will get noticed and dealt with (people like to say neither happens in Stack Exchange, which is untrue). The quote above and the second quote in the meme (about "best practice") is what I'm focused on here.

Both are terse and you, the poster, might not consider them helpful, but they're both trying to tell you something potentially useful, albeit not necessarily in the best possible way. Try to listen to them first. You're asking for help and sometimes that help might not be a simple answer.

Too many people get pushback and just give up and quit. And I understand that frustration myself. I was unable to get help here, but you'll note that I stayed engaged with the community (and I appreciate their efforts on my behalf). I do have a success story as well. You'll note I had to revise my question and add a bounty, but that problem had vexed me for months.

There's no shame in closure

Well, maybe, if you post a typo and didn't bother to lint your code first. But duplicates? Sometimes duplicates are obvious (i.e. you have a standard error message with a standard cause), but sometimes they're not obvious at all.

Then there are various community standards. Stack Overflow has a minimal reproducible example. The meme doesn't have any examples of why the cat can't catch mice. Maybe the cat is sick, meaning the community can't help. We want questions to be helpful to other people with the same problem, yet we have people who want to post questions asking for trivial help that they should be able to sort out themselves.

Closure helps us point people to answers they can use and keep the site free from lower quality questions.

Of Mice and Downvotes

Downvote culture is overly cynical in many communities. People use downvotes as punishment, which is disheartening. Still, many questions do find themselves more popular over time. Don't let fear of downvotes deter you. If you have a question, ask it.

  • 4
    Not just anecdotally. I see that in action all the time. Maybe some stacks are more civilised than others. Jan 24, 2020 at 19:47
  • 2
    I don't know that it's civilized, per se. DIY has very little voting culture, while Politics has an extensive voting culture, and will readily vote their political views
    – Machavity
    Jan 24, 2020 at 20:29
  • Okay correct that to vote their prejudices to stop answers they dont like. Jan 24, 2020 at 20:31
  • 3
    it's almost as if that's how voting works... everywhere...
    – Kevin B
    Jan 24, 2020 at 20:37

I think you are really overthinking the whole process.

People on these sites aren't looking to downvote/close stuff out of spite. My experiences have been that if you put forward a good faith attempt, chances are people will extend you the same courtesy. Let's take a Stack Overflow question as an example, chances are if you've done some research, provide a clear issue/question, and all the relevant information, you won't be downvoted to oblivion.

Let me give some actual examples, I went to the and went to the Newest questions and found these:

They are clear examples of poor questions, either no effort shown or the question is all over the place.

Now some examples of good faith attempts:

Can they be improved further?

Sure, they could be formatted slightly better and we could do some spelling fixes, but in general they are good faith attempts (provide the relevant details and have a clear question) that haven't been downvoted/close voted.

  • Not my experience. Jan 24, 2020 at 19:45
  • 7
    @edwinaoliver care to elaborate? Got any examples?
    – Script47
    Jan 24, 2020 at 19:50
  • 1
    As a total noob that is my experience in several stacks. Two have my interest so I am merely avoiding others as why bother if that is what they are going to do. Just not worth the effort to be involved with those as I have a life and better things to do. Jan 24, 2020 at 19:55
  • 12
    @edwinaoliver OK, so, once again, do you have any examples showing outright malicious behavior? If so, did you flag for mods attention? Was it ignored? Was it dealt with? You're being vague when we need specifics.
    – Script47
    Jan 24, 2020 at 19:57
  • 4
    @PeterMortensen I always like your edits because I get to learn something new due to your summary messages.
    – Script47
    Jan 24, 2020 at 21:20

It’s a bit hard to generalize (SE sites can have a somewhat different “vibe” and some communities are a bit more “trigger happy” with downvotes while others upvote almost everything), but the odds are in fact stacked in your favor.

An upvote will gain you ten points, a downvote costs you two. (And the voter also “pays” one.) So even with, ummm... shall we say „middle ground“ quality posts that get both up-and downvoted, you probably come out with a net gain. Nice, right?

So what should you do to encourage upvotes or prevent downvotes? Maybe these general thoughts get you in the right direction:

  • Make it easy for the readers.

    • If I have to dig through a wall of text and unrelated ramblings, I am likely to stop reading somewhere and give up. At best, you get no answer and no upvote, at worst a downvote (“not useful”).
    • If I get presented the post in a straightforward and concise way, so that I can easily get the core information and all the necessary side thoughts - lovely, have an upvote (assuming that the answer is correct, of course).
  • Do your homework before asking.

    • Some askers just dump whatever problem they come across and expect to get answers (aka “solve my homework for me“ questions). This will often get them downvotes. Putting a bit of effort not only in the phrasing of the question, but also into the problem itself is a basic curtesy. And by describing what you did so far, you can narrow down the problem, help users to understand what you understood and what will get you further towards a solution.
    • Some sites are a bit hyper-critical when users post duplicate questions, which may be expressed via downvoting (I am not a fan of that). A quick search on the site may or may not prevent this. If you happen to post a duplicate, no big deal. The benefit for you is that there’s already an answer, so you don’t have to wait. And even if the question gets downvotes, it will be deleted if nobody answers it, which means the downvotes go away and you get the rep back.
  • Treat multiple downvotes as a valuable hint.
    When a post gets a lot of downvotes, something is amiss. The simplest explanation: You posted a something wrong and the other users spotted it. In this case, an edit or even a deletion is recommended. If you are lucky, you will find a comment that explains what motivated the downvote. If you can’t see what’s going on, ask. Either under the post, in the site’s chatroom (if you have enough reputation) or on the site’s Meta.

In short:

Post with confidence, don’t overthink things, assume a positive attitude and good intentions by the community and don’t be afraid.


Judging from your posts, you are not at risk of falling into the low-quality-no-research category. Far from it. Letting go of your perfectionism, writing about the core bits instead of a dissertation covering every possible angle and then some may be a good experience. And you can always edit your posts if you feel you absolutely have to add something later. Chances are, you never will, and that’s ok. (Speaking from experience here. I have a tendency of falling into the same trap. Trust me, it gets easier!). And flagging works differently - that’s for really serious issues.

  • I do agree it is made more difficult by the variety of SE communities. However I am primarily referring to ones with attitudes & behaviors roughly similar to Stack Overflow or Meta Stack Exchange. Ones with much more tolerance for lenient and open disc typically won't cause me the problems that the more clear & strict ones like Overflow cause. Regarding your addendum, I admit its a good idea to put less at first and add more if needed (especially to not lose TL;DR folk), but I also have severe ADHD and get lost easily; so I often TRY to do things in 1 go to avoid getting lost on returning.
    – abmays
    Jan 24, 2020 at 14:42
  • 6
    Ha. I have an ADHD user in one of the sites I am a mod for. We help by taking a weed whacker to the more rambling posts to leave the valuable and usually very good core bits. When they get “lost” and post a “half post”, it’s usually more than good enough. Trust me - people will ping you if they want clarifications.
    – Stephie
    Jan 24, 2020 at 14:45
  • 1
    "An upvote will gain you ten points, a downvote costs you two." Additionally, people on average upvote 7 times more often than they downvote. Jan 24, 2020 at 22:48
  • @Trilarion Really? Where did you get this information, as that would have been very helpful to know! Is that approximately true for most of the SE sites, or is it taken from just one specifically?
    – abmays
    Jan 28, 2020 at 19:00
  • 1
    @abmays This is for Stackoverflow and result of a data explorer query. I'm on mobile, later I can give you more details. Jan 28, 2020 at 19:16

There are two sides in here:

First of all, the expectations of experienced users in the community you are posting to. And there I am pretty sure: given your attitude, and the amount of time and energy you are willing to invest, you will not end up in downvote hell. Maybe, just maybe, your very first attempts might go slightly off, get this or that "detail" wrong.

But then: especially on places like Stack Overflow, the big majority of "newbie" posts has a quality somewhere between "abysmal" and "I think they ask about X, but not sure". In other words: content that is obviously coming from people who did not care. They drop the same mess on other people, and often expect that perfect answers come back within minutes.

Leading to the second point: you obviously do care. People will recognize that, and that is a trait that sets you apart from many newbie users. And most experienced users recognize that immediately.

So even when you get something "wrong", people still realize that you try to ask a sincere question, to the best of your abilities. Thus you will simply be told about this or that problem with your post, and get the chance to fix it, or maybe just learn something for the future questions.

Sure, in a place like MSE, you can even see downvotes on well written posts, but on "main" sites, that is really rare. In such places, you need to really come over as totally unprepared and impolite to end up in downvote hell. Yes, on a really bad day, the first comment might accuse you, and other readers just come in, see that misleading comment, and downvote your question. But that is really an exception. And more than once, I have seen this to turn around: a question getting to -3 or less ... then the OP listens to feedback, fixes the questions, and ends up with a positive score.

So, long story short: you should be covered. Seriously, the most important thing is that you care yourself about content, because that is what convinces your readers to help you. Next: simply be around. When you got something wrong: be there to address requests for clarifications, or to fix this or that aspect. When I leave a comment "please explain X" or "please fix Y" then I don't downvote immediately. But when I come back an hour later, and nothing happened, then downvote...

  • 3
    Catch 22. Just chase off the newbies is not really a great strategy for success. Jan 24, 2020 at 19:46
  • 6
    On stackoverflow.com there are dozens or hundreds of newbies each day. I focused my energy on the promising candidates. Rest assured: there are plenty left for you to give other strategies a go.
    – GhostCat
    Jan 24, 2020 at 19:50

Is my fear valid & creating a sub-excellent post is a strong gamble that is quite likely to receive significant disapproval and/or flags? Or am I worrying about nothing and I'm just being overly pessimistic about the community's standards?

I think you are being somewhat pessimistic about the community's standards here, though I agree with other answers that standards vary from community to community within SE.

Before I go on, I should mention that in real life I feel a bit like you do: I am sometimes very hesitant to speak out in a group of people unless I'm sure of myself and that my contributions will be helpful to the group. So I understand this anxiety well. On the other hand, SE gives you a chance to take your time and make sure you are confident in the questions and answers you post.

Nevertheless, to your specific questions: I do think it is a bit irrational to fear flags here. Sure, flag abuse can occur, but in my experience (over 6 years here), it's pretty darn rare. Flags are reserved for significant misbehavior -- if you treat other users with respect, don't post spam, etc., you're not going to get flagged. And if on some rare occurrence you do have a comment flagged or something because of someone misusing the flagging system, the moderators here will just dismiss it.

Flags aren't for posts that are subpar -- they are for posts that violate the rules (mostly about good community behavior). You clearly seem to be someone who has spent a lot of time thinking and researching even before writing this question, so it doesn't seem like you're someone who is going to violate the rules (either deliberately or even by accident). Don't fear flags.

As for downvotes, every user's personal threshold for why they downvote is going to be different. I rarely get downvotes. When I do, sometimes it's pretty obvious that I received it because I disagreed with what some other user clearly thought and expressed in another answer/comment. Maybe that user has a point, but often that user may just have a different opinion (or is sometimes actually mistaken). The system can't be perfect, and people will always have points of disagreement and differing opinions. And sometimes the downvotes are just inexplicable. But if you provide informative posts, those rare downvotes shouldn't affect your overall reputation.

Questions can also get downvotes in some communities for various reasons -- they are off-topic, they are rambling or vague or unanswerable, they ask a common question that gets asked multiple times per week so people are tired of seeing duplicates, or they seem to demonstrate that the asker hasn't even bothered to do a single internet search and click the top hit to find an obvious answer. If you take the time to do a little search on the community to check for similar questions and also make sure that your question can't be answered with the top few hits in an internet search, chances are you'll avoid most downvotes for your questions. But question voting is a bit unpredictable -- so if you're nervous about any downvotes, I'd take one of the other answer's advice here and avoid asking too many questions at first.

Answers are less likely to attract downvotes on many communities here unless they are actually wrong. The standard for getting an upvote may be that you provide something informative. For lots of upvotes, you may need to provide what you describe as an "excellent" response. But simply to avoid downvotes, you just want to avoid giving an answer that is wrong or misleading. (Sometimes, if you are providing an answer that goes against common wisdom, you may also need to provide good sources or a more detailed explanation -- otherwise, people who subscribe to the "common wisdom" may also downvote you. But that's probably a less common situation.)

All that said, obviously sometimes you'll get a random downvote or two that seems inexplicable. Maybe that happens more often in some communities, but most places I've been here, good answers that provide accurate information tend to get more upvotes than downvotes. Some communities have a less strong voting culture, so good answers may not get a lot of upvotes, but they also likely won't attract downvotes either. The threshold to aim for is (minimally) informative and accurate. "Excellent" posts are not generally needed here to avoid downvotes.

A few other answers here have commented on length of posts. It is true that some people tend to be impatient, but I don't think anyone is going to downvote a longer answer in most communities here that's actually informative. If you keep repeating yourself over and over, maybe you'll get a downvote. But if each paragraph is making a different point and providing good info, it shouldn't attract downvotes. On the other side, a very short answer that oversimplifies things can also occasionally get downvoted too. So there is a sort of "sweet spot" for question and answer length here. However, if you find yourself going on too long (but you have an informative answer that's actually relevant), put a summary at the top and identify it (with TL;DR or Summary or some other marker) so people who only want to read a few sentences can get the gist.

To sum up, it's easy to say, "Don't take downvotes personally!" but most people can't help it. It's natural to focus more on negative feedback. Just don't let it become paralyzing. Start contributing more. Just do it. As long as you're getting more upvotes overall, just keep going and take any comments/feedback to heart in trying to improve where you can.


This is a weird question to try and answer

I started with this "on line" (modems with kpbs rates) thing before the September That never Ended. From my perspective, the only answer to this question is "grow a thicker skin."

The problem with that answer is that it most often falls on deaf ears, as its context may no longer be current. So I'll offer another suggestion to you for Solving Your Problem, which is what SO and SE sites are all about.

What should I do if I am afraid to post for fear of downvote hell?

Be not afraid.

Downvotes on the internet only hurt if you let them.
Don't let them.

You should never let some stranger on the internet be allowed to occupy real estate inside your mind, inside your brain. That's your territory, that's your home field, that's your house.

Water off of a duck's back.
If someone leaves you feedback on how to upgrade/improve your input, good, take it and run.
If they drive by and down vote and that's all?
Consider the source.

Way back in pre - "the whole world is on line" days we had a term for people like that.
Anonymous Cowards

Don't let 'em get you down.
Do you want them to win?

@chrisneilsen suggests a slightly different approach that is worth adding as an option.

Voting is by design anonymous. When I receive an uncommented DV, I ask myself,

  1. Was I unclear?
  2. Was I wrong?
  3. Something else?

I then act on my conclusions (clarify, correct, delete, do nothing).
I assume good intentions and don't take it personally.

That last bit, don't take it personally, seems to be where you are having some difficulty; perhaps a slight change of perspective will help.

Your job? Make the best effort / input you can.
As you receive feedback, take a hint from an old song lyric:
take what you need and leave the rest.

You've got this!

  • 1
    An almost great answer. Re the "AC"'s - voting is by design anonymous. When I receive an uncommented DV, I ask myself, was I unclear? Was I wrong? Something else? I then act on my conclusions (clarify, correct, delete, do nothing). I assume good intentions and don't take it personally Jan 25, 2020 at 5:34
  • @chrisneilsen that's a great point, I'll drop that in as an alternate approach. Thanks. Jan 25, 2020 at 15:51
  • Or "on the line" as in the comedy "The Internship". Jan 25, 2020 at 20:02
  • I first noticed "Anonymous Coward" on Slashdot. Does it go further back? Sample. Jan 25, 2020 at 20:26
  • 1
    @E_net4thedisappointedFerris I am aware of that. I am offering a coping mechanism for someone who may not be able to simply "grow a thicker skin." This is about an internal monologue, not about calling people ACs in comments. Jan 25, 2020 at 21:05

Here's the problem:

This question itself took approaching 10 hours to create with most being to either researching the various components that create this overarching problem, or carefully writing the question (and relevant context) as clearly & specifically as possible.

Ten hours! That's way, way, way too long to make a single question. Of any kind. On any site on SE/SO. At worst write a draft and then re-read it and re-draft (quickly) after you've left it aside for e.g. an hour. Fifteen minutes per draft and then leave it for a while and come back with a clean perspective for another go. But don't aim for perfection - your idea of perfection won't necessarily match any other user's. Let them ask if they need more.

My guide: fifteen minutes - absolute tops unless you have some specific problem: e.g. formatting in MathJax and you're not familiar with it.

I think the problem here is simply worrying too much. A general rule on all SE sites is to treat new users with care. Criticism for new users who show any effort at all should be constructive - e.g. pointing out a flaw, or a problem with posting.

Note the danger of the "wall of text". Long questions or questions that require a lot of hard reading or side research may well put off a most users. That can get you a downvote. Your question here is pretty long, for example. I get the impression that you're adding more with every revision to refine your question (from your point of view) perhaps instead of pruning your question down to a more manageable length. Key points only.

Note that generally when people need clarification of a point in a question before trying to answer, they will post a comment asking for clarification. It is strongly recommended you address these type of comments by engaging with the poster and editing your question to address the issue where appropriate/practical. People do retract downvotes (not always) when you are constructive in this way. Ignoring them or being argumentative may get you nowhere.

Downvoting without explanation is generally frowned on for posts from newish users. Sometimes people will upvote a comment that matches their own problem with a question, so they may not make a comment themselves explaining.

I'd suggest writing a post to the relevant meta site (each subsite has a meta site of its own) asking for advise about what is causing a problem with a specific post if you do not understand. This general meta site cannot cover specifics of each site. Use this sparingly, as meta sites are not intended to handle people who just won't accept rejection (we get them sometimes).

But first and foremost - fewer well-focused lines may be better than trying to anticipate every possible problem.

  • 6
    I full well understand I spend far too long than even remotely reasonable. But I can tell your brain works quite differently from mine if you reliably work that fast. I cannot "rush" things as I instantly get lost and the stress of rushing turns my thoughts to static. I get lost extremely easily yet want to create content that is very carefully made, so I have to slow down further just to avoid mistakes. This is one of the core things I need to work on improving. This is the cruel combination of strong ADHD, anxiety, perfectionism, analytical mindset, & utterly nonexistent time management.
    – abmays
    Jan 24, 2020 at 15:53
  • 9
    Very strong disagreement. Ten hours of actually sitting there banging at the keyboard might be too much, but it's absolutely in the right order of magnitude for the whole process of composition, drafting, review, and revision before posting a question. (And doing that should help you avoid the Wall of Text problem.)
    – jscs
    Jan 24, 2020 at 17:41
  • 1
    @Jscs You seem to be including an overnight sleep in that ten hours of yours. That's not actually needed unless someone actually has to sleep, so it's not really a normal part of revision and drafting. Jan 24, 2020 at 17:51
  • 1
    Start to finish was ~12 hours, but ~2 were doing other things. There was zero sleep during those 12 hours. The majority was to researching and looking around relating to the question. Most of the rest was extremely deep processed composition of the question. I spent a great deal of time trying different ways of expressing an idea before settling on the final result, ensuring I am using vocabulary accurately, structuring the overall question, and other steps needed in attempt to produce the best work I could muster (albeit while rather sleep deprived).
    – abmays
    Jan 24, 2020 at 19:52
  • 2
    @abmays " This is the cruel combination of strong ADHD, anxiety, perfectionism, analytical mindset, & utterly nonexistent time management.". Those issues require counseling and possibly even medication. IMO anxiety is the root issue, but I'm not a professional. SE posts should never require this level of commitment and stress - it reminds me of my final exams and my most important interviews. That level of (self-induced ?) stress is not sustainable by any one and is extremely unhealthy. IMHO, focus your attention on those health issues and that will make you less stressed. Jan 25, 2020 at 21:07
  • 2
    @abmays Specifically on your SE posting issue my suggestion is that you limit yourself to a maximum of one hour per post (less if possible). Use a timer on desktop or phone time management system if that helps. Time up ? Just post it and move on. Criticism : if it's fair address it (again time limit yourself), if not ignore it. Think of the time limit as a release - you are free of the stress of posting at that point. Let the dice fall where it may after that - you can't control the entire world's reaction to your post. Grammar, etc. are not so critical online (look at my posts :-) ). Jan 25, 2020 at 21:12
  • @StephenG I take 40 mg adderall for ADHD, which is required for me to be able to focus on high-complexity work (I do physics, computer architecture, & programming) and in general keep distraction manageable. Without it I often am too easily "drawn to shiny objects" and constantly get lost; once I realize, i've already forget how I got there or where I was before. I need it to keep me reasonably focused on the task at hand. But it can backfire because when I do lose focus there is a chance I'll "stick" to the distraction and carry myself even further away and not know when to stop.
    – abmays
    Jan 28, 2020 at 0:51
  • @StephenG I too suffer terribly from self-induced stress. I'll usually end up worrying about things far more than is reasonable. And with the ADHD I have a terrifyingly poor reaction to stress with even minor stress causing an absurd loss in concentration. Any kind of time pressure, especially for anything "important" such as exams or project deadlines, causes stress that sends my focus straight into orbit; my thoughts turn into "static" & my effective only option is to abort. At this point, any rational thought is impossible and there is no chance of recovery until event passes.
    – abmays
    Jan 28, 2020 at 1:03
  • 1
    @abmays The trick here is to stop thinking of the limit as a pressure to be faster, but as a release of pressure, letting you move onto other important tasks. You've done plenty at this point and everything after that is diminishing returns. Change how you think about that period ending - release, not pressure. BTW, I have PTSD myself, so I understand this sounds a lot easier than it actually is to do. Jan 28, 2020 at 2:59
  • Fifteen minutes is way underestimated guideline for time preparation to ask a question. If you really have only researched for fifteen minutes, chances are close to 100% that you will be asking a duplicate, or simply a question that is unclear. I don't think it's particularly useful to give a time guideline anyway, the idea is to have researched thoroughly enough that you're sure other questions do not already exist, and that you're not going to solve it by making it reproducible (in the case of SO). Jan 29, 2020 at 22:11

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