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Encouraging people to explain down-votes

I recently received my first down-vote and am still reeling from that stinging feeling. Seems silly to care but for some reason I do. What is more frustrating than getting a down vote is that whomever gave it didn't have to identify themselves, nor did they have to give a reason. Does this make sense to anyone? It doesn't to me. If the purpose of a down-vote is to let people know your answer wasn't helpful, then perhaps it should be required that, at the very least, you have to give a brief explanation for why you think it was unhelpful.

As for that stinging feeling, well I'll get over it I'm sure but now I will be much more reluctant to respond to a question in the future. Is that what this site is really about?

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    This should at best be a community wiki in the Stack Overflow category. It's as good as locked otherwise. – Chuck Jan 18 '09 at 2:14
  • This is actually a discussion for uservoice, and it's been discussed to death there. You should take a look at the uservoice site... so far they have decided not to make anyone defend their votes. Most people leave a little comment tho. – Jason Coco Jan 18 '09 at 2:14
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    Now you have a couple more. – Ed S. Jan 18 '09 at 2:24
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    If you post good stuff it will get upvoted. If you can't handle a little anonymous criticism then the site honestly isn't for you. I look strongly at my downvotes and often either modify my question/answers or delete them entirely in view of my errors. – mmcdole Jan 18 '09 at 2:25
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    In other words, don't be so sensitive. I hope you handle code-reviews where people critically discuss your code better than you handle some arbitrary websites downvotes. – mmcdole Jan 18 '09 at 2:26
  • Downvotes are just a negative incentive suggesting that you might want to re-write your question/answer, or further extend your question/answer to justify it, which will encourage people to explain why you are wrong :) – Kent Fredric Jan 18 '09 at 2:32
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    you only lose 2 stinkin/measely reputation points! If you play your cards right you can star a bidding war, and get 10 downvotes and 14 up votes and end up with 140-20 = +120 reputation 8-) – GordonG Jan 18 '09 at 3:42
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    I have to agree: drive-by downvoting is unhelpful, unfriendly, and downright cowardly. The implicit comment of a downvote is (check the hovertext!) "This answer is not helpful". But downvotes often occur when someone simply doesn't like the answer, even though it is correct and helpful. – Steven A. Lowe Jan 18 '09 at 4:17
  • Your reaction to the down vote got me ROFL. Out of curiousity, I took a peek at what got you downvoted, and I didn't think your post was a dud at all. – barneytron Jan 18 '09 at 4:23
  • I think all of my answers have more or less the same value. It's absurd that most of my reputation comes from a trivial answer and that others have been voted up or down in a pseudorandom way. I must confess I get quite pissed off with downvotes. I delete my downvoted answers. Yes it's irrational :) – Daniel Daranas Jan 18 '09 at 21:39
  • It's clear from many of the comments that down-votes are personal attacks on the poster - we can't pretend that's not often the case. Some people here seem to become easily angry over posts they disagree with, and make the worst assumptions about other peoples' unstated motives. – le dorfier Jan 18 '09 at 23:16
  • The practice of casting a down vote, without leaving a comment as to why, lacks integrity. Respectful communication is the key to improving site content. – Jay Jun 27 '11 at 16:10
  • One other thought. There have been numerous comments suggesting the need to "get over" the emotional response to a down vote. One of the underlying assumptions is "everyone should be like me." In fact there are temperaments that receive correction easily without taking offense. If that is what you are like, it is a great thing... but you are in a significant minority. If you want to work constructively with others, expressing your reason for a down vote is essential, else how would they know what to correct? If you want to work with others, it requires respectful communication. – Jay Jun 27 '11 at 16:29
  • Can you please express uour opinion on this topic at the following link: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/219750/… – Revious Feb 5 '14 at 19:51

15 Answers 15


Don't take it personally; a down vote is not a reflection of you as a person or as a developer (unless all your answers get down votes).

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    -1 disagree: an answer with your name on it is a personal statement; a downvote on an answer that is technically correct can only be a personal attack or a reflection of 'downvoter denial' (i.e. they don't like the answer even though it is right) – Steven A. Lowe Jan 18 '09 at 4:20
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    Some people downvote because they don't think that the answer is correct, even though you do. That's their error, but there's nothing you can do about that. – Jonathan Leffler Jan 18 '09 at 5:37
  • There was a request on UserVoice to require a comment on down-vote; it was rejected. As a courtesy, I almost invariably leave a comment when I down-vote. I would (still) prefer it to be required. – Jonathan Leffler Jan 18 '09 at 5:38
  • 'Downvoter denial' is more a reflection of the down voter as a person and a developer, not the person being downvoted. I do agree that it's nice to have a reason for a downvote, especially if the answer is the accepted answer. – Patrick Cuff Jan 18 '09 at 14:03
  • How can you demonstrate that a given downvote wasn't intended as "a reflectin of you as a person or as a developer"? The comments often clearly state that as the intent. – le dorfier Jan 18 '09 at 23:20
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    As I see it, the entire point of SO is that it's not about people, it's not a community. That's why there's no PM or email options to contact others. It's about the questions and answers only. So when people downvote, they downvote a question or an answer, and nothing else. Not you as a person. – jalf Jan 18 '09 at 23:27
  • @jalf, is that what you think is the perfect ideal, or do you really think that's what happens here? – le dorfier Jan 18 '09 at 23:32
  • By the way, when you've answered enough questions, you won't even notice your downvotes, because only your 100 highest voted answers are listed on your profile... (And if there's a way to show all your downvoted answers, I don't wanna know about it! ;)) – jalf Jan 18 '09 at 23:32
  • le dorfier: It's how I choose to see it. I'm aware that not everyone sees it that way, and that's their problem. Of course getting your question voted down isn't much fun, but eh, it's hardly a big deal. Especially as only the total vote really matters, and hopefully that's still positive – jalf Jan 18 '09 at 23:34
  • @jalf, I agree that you have the right to choose to interpret reality any way you want, but I don't think that gives you the right to discredit somone who sees it differently. I think it's demeaning to say it's their "problem". – le dorfier Jan 19 '09 at 1:27
  • I think a uservoice should be raised to make it impossible to downvote on a subjective thread personally.. – bananakata Feb 4 '09 at 12:34

It depends on the reason for the downvote:

  • A downvote for an erroneous answer is perfectly OK but you should probably say so;
  • An incomplete but reasonable answer sometimes gets a downvote and I don't like that if the answer is given in good faith; and
  • Sometimes you get what I call "tactical downvoting" where other people vote your answer down to put their answer higher up int he order.

Personally I think you should be able to see who downvoted a question.

Edit: And just now I got 2 downvotes for pointing out a question is a duplicate and linking the duplicate question. How does that work?

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  • +1 for the only reasonable answer (so far) to this question – Steven A. Lowe Jan 18 '09 at 4:23
  • It unfortunately nicely demonstates the disfunctional situation referenced by the question. – le dorfier Jan 18 '09 at 23:25
  • Tactical downvoting seems to occur. I've strong feeling it have just occurred on stackoverflow.com/questions/5456483/… since two people (me included) got downvoted by presumably the last person who answered. Of course no comments... that is just unfair since the answers fits. The "mandatory comment" would be a good thing I guess, like the way we flag for example. – M'vy Mar 28 '11 at 13:19

I think there are 2 issues here. If someone has asked a question, or added an answer that’s obviously off topic, unwarranted or just insulting, then a downvote is probably all that’s needed. But if there downvoting because they feel your answer is incorrect or not relevant, then it really would be polite and helpful to leave a comment to explain their reasoning, to help us learn and realise what was wrong. I feel it also makes downvoting seem less painful if someone will explain their reasoning, rather than seeming like a personal attack (which it usually isn't!)

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  • a quick-menu of downvote comments (like for question closing) would address the common cases, e.g. "off topic", "unwarranted", "insulting", "incomplete", "dead wrong", etc., and would remove the cloak of anonymity which encouraged downvote fraud/abuse – Steven A. Lowe Jan 18 '09 at 4:22
  • If there are two issues, shouldn't there be two flags so we can indicate which intent we are expressing? Otherwise human nature will cause us to assume the worst. – le dorfier Jan 18 '09 at 23:29

I'd prefer it if people left a comment to say why; but apparently you can't force people to leave a comment.

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    I think forcing people to comment has a overall negative in the system. I don't want to have to justify myself every time I see an obviously poor quality post. – mmcdole Jan 18 '09 at 2:28
  • The site developers DO have the ability to force people to leave a comment on a down-vote. This would remove the anonymity (and discourage fraudulent downvoting) and improve the quality of the answers. If you see a lot of obviously poor quality posts, just copy and paste your commentary ;-) – Steven A. Lowe Jan 18 '09 at 4:18
  • @Steven A. Lowe, But with anonymous downvotes it prevents any retribution from other users, it allows people to more openly express themselves about a particular answer without being polite, and it I honestly don't want my name exposed for a downvote. It is like voting in RL, I like it kept secret – mmcdole Jan 18 '09 at 18:38
  • @Steven A. Lowe, I upvoted 2x more than I downvote.. but I still downvote many times when I see incorrect or unhelpful answers. I want this to be a quick action. If it requires me to say something that might provide enough incentive for me to not want to bother expressing myself on a q/a – mmcdole Jan 18 '09 at 18:39
  • The site developers have the ability to force A comment for downvotes, but, if it's mandated, there's no reason to expect it to be a GOOD or MEANINGFUL answer. – Dave Sherohman Feb 4 '09 at 12:22
  • Forcing someone to add a comment to explain a down vote is a bad idea. Mandatory fields often get filled with garbage which helps no-one. – Nick Crowther Dec 23 '09 at 10:55

I've also been downvoted a few times and I would have liked to have an explanation, so I can edit the post and remove whatever ambiguity that caused someone not to like what I said (or remove my post altogether if I was way wrong). I think the pros would outweigh the cons, since I think that most regulars here wouldn't mind writing a sentence or two when they downvote posts.

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Just get over it. And admit that you've been wrong in some ways to some people. And maybe it just doesn't even have to matter.

Take it as a chance to obtain the "Peer pressure" badge!

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  • I appreciate the tough love answer but unfortunately you skipped the entire point of my question. – Dscoduc Jan 18 '09 at 2:26
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    -1 for an insulting and unhelpful answer. If you don't like that then perhaps you should "Just get over it". ;-) – Steven A. Lowe Jan 18 '09 at 4:23
  • You didnt answer a legitimate question – Anonymous Jan 18 '09 at 23:37
  • I do not agree this policy. – Naveed Dec 23 '09 at 10:35
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    Now, this is a good a chance to dogfood your own policy! – icelava Jan 13 '10 at 7:00

Sometimes downvotes are just expressions of opinion. But when they are assertions of fact ("you are wrong") then an explanation would be helpful. Whether or not you are wrong, an explanation gives everyone the opportunity to interact and learn.

In one case I gave an answer regarding Views in SQL Server that I knew to be correct but quickly received 4 downvotes. One of the people casting a down vote took the time to explain why he thought I was wrong and a conversation developed that helped guide me in finding documentation to prove my point and to eventually receive the most points (he rescinded his down vote as well, I think). Without this interaction, my answer would never have been fleshed out in the detail that I eventually gave it. This was very useful for everyone interested in the answer.

The others simply clicked and left...not so helpful.

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Don't forget that a downvote may not necessarily be based on good judgement of the downvoter.

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If we aren't careful we will end allowing votes on whether downvotes (and up votes?) were correct. Maybe ten downvotes on a down vote and it gets recinded?
My opinion:
Politeness says if you downvote you should leave a comment, if people don't then it isn't the end of the world. I don't think SO should be changed becuase of this.

PS. I got downvoted a couple of times, with out any comment being left. I won't do it to someone else now!

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I have no problem if one of my answers is downvoted for a good reason. But whenever this happens, I would like to know what the reason was. A short comment would be very helpful and would allow me to learn and improve.

Therefore I think it should be a "best-practice" to always comment a downvote.

There are several suggestion on uservoice, that a small message should be displayed to the user who downvotes an answer (e.g. something like "Please consider leaving a comment, why you downvoted..."). But unfortunately, these suggestions were declined by the stackoverflow team.

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A reason would help. Things can be edited to make them more useful.

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I've had a downvote for a totally acceptable answer. Lo and behold, on seeing it downvoted, other users upvoted it which in the end gave me a lot more reputation than I would've got had it not been downvoted.

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I totally agree with you, I think everyone should have a pool of downvotes (which increases as long as you have earned more reputation) so people would give downvotes when really needed, and also downvotes should have an explanation (but be anonymous, otherwise people might revenge their downvote). This way, IMO, voting would be more objective.

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I feel there should be followed one of these two solutions:

1. If someone downvote any answer, the downvoter should also mention the reason for this. And there should also be voting on this "reason comment". If voting on "reason comment" is not matched with the criteria (for example: 5 upvotes are required to approve), downvoting should be undo. And a good reason is always welcome by me.

2. The names of DownVoters and UpVoters should be attached to the answer. It is followed on facebook when someone click 'like'. I think there should be two links with each answer.

for example:
<a href='likersListPopup.htm'>[10] People upVote this answer</a>
<a href='dislikersListPopup.htm'>[2] People downVote this answer</a>

If I want to attack someone personally, I can create many fake accounts to Downvote someone. So please atleast attach names.


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I believe that if you are going to downvote a question or an answer you should be forced to enter an anonymous comment as to why the down vote was cast. This way the questioner or answerer can get some feedback and learn from there mistakes. Unless the question is closed, I believe its not very constructive to have down votes without reasons given.

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