I'm annoyed by down voters that don't explain why they down voted a question or an answer. Although, at the same time, I understand that they want to remain anonymous. I think there is a middle ground, though, where the voter can remain anonymous, while the poster can get aggregated feedback on ways to improve the post.

Rather than having to imagine what it might be like, the current stackoverflow engine can emulate this rather effectively with the use of comments and the up-voting of those comments (essentially saying "I agree"). So I thought I would give it a try. The only difference is that in this testing post, you will always see the list of "canned responses" where as in the complete version, it will most likely be hidden in a popup (e.g. when you hover over the score of an answer/question). To try it out, simply up or down vote this question (or one of its answers), and press the up arrow next to the comment which best describes why are voting that way. For example, if you hate this idea, give this a down vote, and then press the up arrow near -1: I don't like this idea.

In addition to retaining anonymity, this will also save time for the voter so that they don't need to write out the comment. This wouldn't be required, obviously, and there could be a default option selected don't leave a reason. In addition, there could be a custom option which allows you type exactly why you are down-voting this way. Depending on the final implementation, this could either simply be converted to a comment automatically prefixed with -1: or +1:; or, to retain anonymity, it would be added to this same list that shows the canned responses and how many users have voted that way.

Here are some ideas for the canned responses:


  • +1: Well formatted and thought out question.
  • -1: It doesn't seem like enough time was spent trying to solve this issue on your own.
  • -1: I don't like this idea. (Could be especially useful on meta.stackoverflow.com feature-request.)
  • -1: No prior research/work. (Idea from here.)
  • -1: Poor question. Please see How to ask questions the smart way.
  • -1: Doesn't contain code. (This would be useful on stackoverflow.com. Idea from this post)


  • +1: Concise.
  • +1: Insightful.
  • +1: Worked for me.
  • -1: It's wrong.
  • -1: Confusing.
  • -1: Encouraging bad behavior (e.g. answering a question that shouldn't have been asked; see this post for more information).

I made this a community-wiki since there will probably be testing of up/down votes. Several of these canned responses have been taken from this answer. This same idea was also suggested here.

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    +1: Well formatted and thought out feature. – Senseful May 16 '10 at 0:11
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    +1: I'd like to see some variation of this feature. – Senseful May 16 '10 at 0:12
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    -1: I don't like this idea. – Senseful May 16 '10 at 0:12
  • -1: No prior research/work was done. – Senseful May 16 '10 at 0:12
  • -1: Poor question. Please see: catb.org/esr/faqs/smart-questions.html – Senseful May 16 '10 at 0:13
  • ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ – Senseful May 16 '10 at 0:13
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    I actually like this idea, at least in principal it's sound. – Josh K May 16 '10 at 1:35
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    So far, I'm loving it! Even though I'm getting a lot of down votes, they are all explained, so I don't have to wonder why I'm getting the down votes. Even just as an experiment it's interesting. – Senseful May 16 '10 at 3:00
  • I think there is some merit in this idea. Possibly even a viable solution. – IAbstract May 16 '10 at 19:03
  • @dbo: I don't see the problem being solved. – perbert May 17 '10 at 22:53
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    I wouldn't be naive enough to think it is a total solution, but has merit nonetheless. I think it is the best solution I have seen so far. It provides a canned comment while retaining 100% anonymity. If you still choose No Reason or just close the prompt, you will successfully cheat the system. What would be the point in that? Now, it would be really nice if such a feature included canned response merges - so that multiple instances of a canned response simply up-voted the single instance of said canned response. Whew...what a mouthful... – IAbstract May 17 '10 at 23:16
  • Good idea, but please, please don't include a link to Eric Raymond's long-winded anti-social tirade as one of the canned responses. There are better treatises on the subject, if you honestly need one at all. – Aarobot May 17 '10 at 23:30
  • @Aarobot: yeah, that was just provided as an example, I'm sure the community can decide on a better URL to link to. – Senseful May 17 '10 at 23:56
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    I cannot really see the advantage in retaining annoymity, though. If you downvoted something for a (in your opinion) proper reason, why would you want to hide your name when stating this reason. If you deem your downvote valid, then stand in for it! – Christian Rau Jul 22 '14 at 12:28

I like the idea, personally, although the "test version" is way too awkward to really be useful. Let's just propose the feature, and have these reasons replace the current "please leave a reason" popup for low-to-moderate rep users issuing downvotes, along with a "decline" option (they don't have to leave a comment). I'm not sure how it would work for upvotes though, we definitely don't want to annoy upvoters with popup dialogs.

What would be really great is if these reasons could be displayed to the poster, but optionally remain anonymous in terms of the voter. Sort of like how when I click the close link, I can see why other people have voted to close, this would allow the OP to see why people upvoted/downvoted.

I'd also prefer reasons that are a little more informative than the ones in the OP. I can't speak to SF or SU, but on SO and Meta I can think of some very common reasons for upvotes/downvotes (many of these probably apply to SO/SU as well):

Stack Overflow:


  • +1: Addresses an interesting or common problem.
  • +1: Explains the problem or requirement clearly.
  • +1: Well-written and engaging.
  • -1: Sloppy writing, difficult to read (consider editing to improve).
  • -1: Rude/abrasive language.
  • -1: Leaves out critical details (consider commenting first).
  • -1: Scope is unreasonably large.


  • +1: Provides correct information / working code.
  • +1: I learned something new from this.
  • +1: Objective, unbiased, and/or well-researched.
  • +1: Offers potentially helpful advice or background.
  • -1: Does not compile.
  • -1: Will not produce the expected result.
  • -1: Likely to fail or cause negative side-effects.
  • -1: Irrelevant or off-topic.
  • -1: Not specific enough to be useful.
  • -1: Makes unfounded subjective claims.
  • -1: Sloppy writing, difficult to read.



  • +1: I can reproduce this (bugs).
  • +1: This feature would be useful.
  • +1: This is an interesting topic.
  • -1: Not reproducible / not enough information.
  • -1: No freehand circles.
  • -1: This feature would be actively harmful.
  • -1: Purpose of discussion is unclear / not focused.


  • +1: Answers the question with an existing link/feature.
  • +1: Proposes a good solution/workaround.
  • +1: Persuasive / makes valid points.
  • -1: Unclear or unhelpful.
  • -1: Overuses tired memes.
  • -1: Body Odor is also status-bydesign but we still wear deodorant.
  • -1: For being/agreeing with Evan Carroll.
  • -1: Because I can.

Some people will probably point out that some of these overlap with close reasons. Yes, they do, but close votes are irrevocable and not everybody has sufficient rep. I also think there's sufficient gray area between, for example, rude vs. offensive, to make it a valid downvote reason. "Scope is unreasonably large" may be similar to "not a real question" but it's not quite the same. The question may be very specific in terms of the author's requirements but simply be asking for an absurd amount of work (for example somebody posting their full homework assignment).

Anyway, that's was just a quick brainstorm. Feel free to use or ignore the reasons. Personally, I think these account for 95% of my votes, and if I could click one or two buttons to add them then I would probably end up leaving more comments (especially if they were anonymous, but that's not a requirement).


I currently rarely participate in the down vote process. For me, the reason is simply the golden rule: I don't like receiving down votes, so I won't dish them out. I will, however, leave comments as to how a post could be improved when I think it is warranted.

I like the proposed approach to down voting, but I am not sure it would be enough to get me to participate in using it. There are at least a couple of suggestions I would offer that would probably convert me into a down voter:

  • Down votes should primarily be a reflection of the quality of the question or the answer, and not a reflection of the quality of the person asking or answering.
    This means that the down votes should mostly be about whether or not the question or answer itself is good or bad. It should effect reputation, but not on a purely linear scale (I have ideas on how to apply the reputation hit, but it would take too long to explain here). The sum total of down votes are still weighed against the score of the question or answer.

  • Down votes should be aged out if the specific issues being down voted on were addressed.
    There is currently no process to compel down voters to revisit questions and answers to re-evaluate their down votes. As such, leaving the down votes on the question or answer may not truly reflect the quality the post, which is a form of misinformation. It is difficult to say when to judge that an issue has been addressed, but perhaps some kind of review task could be created when the number of up votes exceeds the down votes on a particular reason. If enough reviewers deem the down vote reason is addressed, the down votes are aged out. (Along with my first point, aging out down votes would not cause a spike in reputation.)

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    "Down votes should primarily be a reflection of the quality of the question or the answer, and not a reflection of the quality of the person asking or answering." This is already true, and an accurate description of how the system works. – Cody Gray Jul 18 '13 at 7:10
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    @CodyGray: I describe what I meant by that statement in the full bullet. Allowing every down vote to negatively affect reputation linearly makes it about both, not primarily about the question in my sense of the statement. – jxh Jul 18 '13 at 7:22
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    Reputation still isn't a measure of the person, it's a subjective measurement of their overall contributions to the site. – Cody Gray Jul 18 '13 at 7:23
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    @CodyGray: Reputation is the most visible presence the person has on the site. So as far as other users of the site are concerned, reputation is a measure of the person. – jxh Jul 18 '13 at 7:24
  • Down votes should be aged out if the specific issues being down voted on were addressed. -- absolutely! ...but hared to achieve – Wolf Apr 29 at 9:08

This is a sample answer.

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    +1: Worked for me. – Senseful May 16 '10 at 0:16
  • -1: It's wrong. – Senseful May 16 '10 at 0:16
  • -1: It's confusing. – Senseful May 16 '10 at 0:17
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    ------------------------ – Senseful May 16 '10 at 0:17

A couple problems here:

  1. Violation of "don't make me think". Now instead of clicking a single button to express any of the myriad reasons I might want to downvote something, I have to parse more UI and think about which reason maps most closely.

  2. If people want to leave a reason, they will. That's what comments are for. If they don't, they won't.

  3. You're putting the burden on the reader when the burden should be on the writer. If people are downvoting your stuff, MAKE IT BETTER. It's your responsibility to figure out why those downvotes exist. In other words, the needs of the many (readers) outweigh the needs of the few (writer). Pushing this responsibility on ALL your readers/voters is just plain lazy.

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    What if it were optional? As it is, there's already a popup for downvotes when users have low rep; that could be changed to a short list of reasons with a "go away" panic button. I agree that this shouldn't be forced on all users, but most of the comments I leave are quite similar, and I think I would get good mileage out of an opt-in feature. Maybe have a small link or button appear in the comment area after voting, that allows the voter to call up the list on demand. – Aarobot May 18 '10 at 0:55
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    In regard to #1: let's say you start reading a post, then you see something that merits a down vote (e.g. "it's confusing"), now you down vote it and are done. Unfortunately you just lost valuable information. You are compressing "down vote because it's confusing" into a single down vote. – Senseful May 18 '10 at 3:41
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    In regard to #2: My guess is that 90% of users that would use a canned responses system wouldn't bother typing a reason in the comments if there was no canned responses system. Due mainly to laziness and anonymity reasons. – Senseful May 18 '10 at 3:42
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    #3 is absurd. How can you "make it better" when all the information you have available to you is "it's not good enough"? Should history teachers return research papers with merely a "D" and not explain why? Should GUIs simply respond to user input with "Nope. Try again" without explaining why? Should building inspectors deny a permit without mentioning the violations that caused the denial? Should a letter to the editor (or a reply to a blog post) simply say "Your article could be better" and nothing else? Should movie critics just rate a film as "2 stars" with no supporting details? – JPLemme Jun 28 '10 at 16:58
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    Should people use too much metaphors ? We'll never know (just kidding @JPLemme, I in fact globally agree with what you say) – Valentin Rocher Jan 4 '11 at 14:29
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    @Valentin. I might have gone over the top. But I did get a paper back in college once that contained nothing but a "B" in red ink. That was almost 20 years ago and it burns me up to this day. To steal from Monty Python, "Constructive criticism is an intellectual process. Silent downvoting is just the automatic gainsaying of any statement the other person makes." And intellectual processes require work. From the reader. Because he's the one making the constructive criticism. – JPLemme Jan 6 '11 at 4:48
  • @jplemme welcome to the world. this is how it works. The burden is on YOU to figure out why. Those who want to give feedback, will. Those who don't, cannot be forced to. – Jeff Atwood Jan 6 '11 at 4:56
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    @Jeff. I disagree with what you say. I would explain why, but I think you'll understand my point better if you try to figure it out yourself. The burden should be on the writer, after all... – JPLemme Jan 8 '11 at 6:59
  • @Jeff You need to consider what kind of community you want to foster here. As with #1, do you want to encourage serial downvoters who don't have to think about why they are downvoting? NO! We don't want that, give them that feedback and enforce them to reflect on the question and act more intelligently. – dbjohn Nov 21 '11 at 8:18
  • @JPLemme: I agree with your sentiments. If one doesn't have a good reason for the down vote, then they shouldn't down vote. If they feel the question is a lost cause, they should vote to close. – jxh Jul 18 '13 at 8:50

The thing I like most about the canned reason is these reasons encourage improving the post instead of engaging in chat about the reason for the vote that happens when comments are left. Comments seem to be often taken as a personal attack instead of as constructive criticism. I would add a prefer not to say option.

  • Those canned reasons would just make people say, "I disgree that X. Explain why you think X!" – Andrew Barber Dec 15 '11 at 14:35

I am opposed, since someone's bumped this.

I have a semi-serious counter-suggestion.

The first time someone gets a downvote, show them some version of the following:

Congratulations! You just got your first downvote. We know, you feel like someone kicked a puppy, and the puppy was you. However, you'll get over it very soon. This downvote only cost you two units of reputation. Now, maybe you think that you didn't deserve it. If so, chances are that someone is about to wander along and give you an upvote, and you'll be ahead. If your post did deserve it, all you have to do is try a bit harder the next time to give a meaningful question or a useful answer, and the upvotes will roll in and soothe the sting.

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