I recently downvoted two questions for a lack of fundamental research (with a comment explaining why). Is that a valid reason? To be specific:

  1. Someone had an ampersand embedded in an XML attribute without encoding. The parser gave a clear error message pointing exactly (row and column) at the ampersand. Googling for "xml ampersand" reveals a raft of autocomplete choices that lead the right way.

  2. Someone posted a wad of XML, wanted to parse it in Java with DOM, and wanted someone to provide an example. Googling for "xml dom parse java example" gets a lot of good hits.

What do you think?

In the long run, I hope that I'm doing the author a favor, by encouraging them to develop research skills they really need.

On the other hand, in the first instance, it turned out that the author had googled for "xml attribute ampersand" and wandered off into the weeds, because the issue isn't specific to attributes. An easy mistake to make. I can't remove the downvote, but that's a different topic.


4 Answers 4


Going only off of the title, remember that the tooltip on the downvote arrow says:

"This question does not show any research effort; it is unclear or not useful"

So yes, a lack of research effort can certainly be a valid reason to downvote.

As far as specific questions, the decision whether or not to downvote is up to you. This is at least one of the major reasons why downvotes are anonymous, and why we've consistently denied suggestions to force users to leave comments explaining "why" they've cast downvotes. Don't let anyone give you flak about voting down their question. (It seems to be all the rage to whine about that recently on Meta.)

I think that both of the questions you cited are fine candidates for receiving downvotes. More specifically:

  1. There are frequently cases where error messages are obtuse and difficult to understand. Advice from someone who has been there before and spent time tracking down the bug is often useful in those situations. Other times, when the error message tells you precisely what's wrong, then the question A) shows very little research effort on the part of the asker and B) is very unlikely to be useful to anyone else in the future. Both of those conditions justify a downvote.

  2. Large wads of code are not useful to anyone. They don't show any effort on the asker to solve the problem themselves, either with a search engine or with a debugger. They're also quite unlikely to be useful to anyone else in the future. Again, the same two criteria are met for a downvote. And if you have close vote privileges, this one also sounds like a potential candidate to close as "Not a Real Question".

Remember that we recently made downvotes on questions free in order to encourage users to downvote poor quality questions. If you're doing this, then you're doing exactly what we want you to do!


Hover your mouse over the downvote button.

This question does not show any research effort; it is unclear or not useful

Yes, a lack of research effort is a clear reason to downvote a question.

  • 5
    Hmmm... perhaps this question should be down-voted. ;-)
    – Ed Staub
    Jul 8, 2011 at 13:48
  • 3
    @EdStaub: If the information the OP is looking for is hidden in a mouse over, I think their lack of research can be excused (Except XKCD. Everyone knows you mouse over XKCD.) :) Jul 8, 2011 at 13:51
  • 1
    @Ed Staub: My understanding is that downvotes more often signal disagreement on meta, and that the tooltip is misleading here. Though you'd be the first person I've seen objecting that their question should be downvoted by non-meta standards, rather than upvoted for agreement.
    – McCannot
    Jul 8, 2011 at 14:13
  • @camccann: The comment was an attempt at self-deprecating humor - I wrote the question!
    – Ed Staub
    Jul 8, 2011 at 14:19
  • @Ed Staub: Yes, I know. :] I was taking it "seriously" in a tongue-in-cheek manner. I just found it a funny reversal of people complaining about downvotes on meta.
    – McCannot
    Jul 8, 2011 at 14:22

The tooltip that appears when you hover the mouse on the down-vote button reports the following text:

This question doesn't show any research effort; it is unclear or not useful (click again to undo)


If the OP reports that he googled, but didn't find anything relevant, then I would not down-vote the question, except (maybe) when the OP googled using a completely unrelated search string.
There is also a difference between a solution you find between the first results returned from Google, and a solution that is provided in a link that is not between the first results returned from Google; provided that the user used a relevant search string, it seems unreasonable to down-vote a question because a solution was provided in a page linked from the twentieth Google search result page.


It should be. Or not. Nowadays it surely is. But it has not always been like that.

I've seen many old questions with reputation in the order of hundreds or thousands of upvotes which are only a simple question. No research at all, and the OP is now one of the happy users with reputations bigger than 20k.

Example: How to redirect to another webpage in JavaScript/jQuery?

Example: How do I include a JavaScript file in another JavaScript file?

Example: What does the explicit keyword mean in C++?

Looks like double standards to me.

  • Not double, but changed; the early days of SO in particular were full of a lot of chaos that has since been regularized. It's just historical differences. Apr 28, 2017 at 16:05
  • Sure. Just like in Capitalism, where the chaos of yesterday created the wealthy of today. The point is: some questions are good enough without any research. Maybe not to those who got "rich" otherwise.
    – Rodrigo
    Apr 28, 2017 at 18:47

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