I'm new here, but it seems to me that there have been many more down votes on questions recently compared to when I first signed up.

I've seen down votes on questions just because they are a little unlcear, or because they might be a dupe, or because they seem "dumb".

It's really discouraging for a user to get down voted, especially if he or she is new.

Is there any way to encourage commenting rather than down voting?

  • 7
    Yes, ask better questions. The effort you get out of people responding correlates to the effort you put into asking the question.
    – MikeyB
    Commented Sep 30, 2011 at 2:11
  • 2
    can you provide specific examples? It's difficult to talk about this in the abstract. Commented Sep 30, 2011 at 3:32
  • @Jeff Atwood: Here's one example: IMO the asker wrote a fairly poorly worded but reasonable question: How do I configure Sendmail to relay email? He didn't word the question that way, but if he had known enough to, he probably could have found the answer without SF
    – xofer
    Commented Oct 2, 2011 at 2:16
  • @fuscata that question lacks almost all detail.. Commented Oct 2, 2011 at 14:22
  • I originally omitted examples to avoid arguing over specifics. My goal was to get a sense of how the established members of SF felt about down voting new members, and I feel that's been achieved. Thanks to all who responded.
    – xofer
    Commented Oct 2, 2011 at 17:01
  • Yes you are right fuscata. in two days I asked two questions about my server. I got -4 down voting for serverfault.com/questions/335930/… and -7 downvoting for serverfault.com/questions/335446/…. This is not the first time. it happens all the time on server faults. you are not encourage to ask subjective or conceptual question. they like us to ask question like what is the outcome of 2+2=? this is totally discouraging for those people who don't know what is the problem and where to lookat
    – user57221
    Commented Nov 30, 2011 at 12:54

6 Answers 6


Unfortunately, you're running against some headwinds here. Back in May they made question downvotes free to the downvoter.

Should downvotes on questions be "free"?


http://blog.stackoverflow.com/2011/06/se-podcast-06/ (6th bullet point)

I'm totally with you about downvotes being the harsh that ruins a new user's glee. Try to participate, get slapped, never come back again. 1, 2, 3. Admonitions to "Read the FAQ first!" only go so far.

It's a balance. Some people would rather deal with mocking snark in comments than see that big gray -1 next to their question. Others really would rather deal with some anonymous 'thumbs down' than have their judgment called into question. We've done it both ways here on ServerFault. We try to keep the snark down, but in the face of questions our active users consider to be ill-fitting or actively ignorant the snark-wagon comes a rolling along more often than I personally would like.

One comment I see a LOT from new users is something to the effect of:


Downvoters, tell me why you are downvoting! How can I fix what I don't know is broke?

And THAT criticism is perfectly valid. We do need more of that.

Unfortunately, if the question already has a comment on it asking for clarifying information or pointing out ambiguities in the question and the asker posts something like the above, it does tend to turn into open season on the newb. Especially if the comment itself is upvoted a time or three.

  • 1
    "Try to participate, get slapped, never come back again." That's what I'm talking about. Maybe a "This is a new user, be gentle" kind of message would help? Anyway, thanks for the very thoughtful answer. Back to answering & upvoting... :-)
    – xofer
    Commented Sep 30, 2011 at 2:32
  • @fuscata yet again, this is impossible to talk about when using the imaginary question we're discussing in my head. Specific examples please? Commented Sep 30, 2011 at 3:33
  • 4
    There is a "Please leave a comment" flashcard that shows up when you do a downvote. People really need to start leaving comments, because I see the same, a whole bunch of -1's without a single person explaining why Commented Sep 30, 2011 at 3:59
  • 1
    The trouble as I see it is that it's easy to downvote, but it takes actual effort (although it's minor) to leave a comment. I've hated drive-by downvoters who won't take two minutes to say something about why they do it. On the other hand if you require comments or some mechanism of explanation, you'll have less chance of people burying questions that should be buried. Commented Sep 30, 2011 at 12:14
  • @Mark Henderson: I did notice that since posting this question (obviously not doing a lot of down voting myself) and I agree that's very helpful. Thanks for pointing it out.
    – xofer
    Commented Oct 2, 2011 at 2:21

Votes are good for the community, be they up or down. Explanations are even better for the community. If you are getting downvoted, but no one is explaining why, that's not a good thing, certainly. Nothing much can be done about it though. Surely subtracting one reputation point discouraged downvotes, but IMO (and apparently the opinions of those who make the decisions) it was too much of a discouragement and productive criticism wasn't being performed.

Here's the way that it appears the culture here should be dealt with:

  1. Deal with downvotes. They happen, and usually happen for a logical reason.
  2. If there's no reason given, ask for one. Don't whine. That's good advice for life in general though.
  3. If there is a reason given, edit the question accordingly or logically disagree.
  4. If the question is closed against your arguments, vote to reopen it and bring the topic up in meta. Yes, some questions get reopened.

Discouraging downvoting is not a good thing. It was already discouraged through reputation loss and that was detrimental. The only "discouragement" that I can think of that could be beneficial (maybe) is not allowing downvotes without comment. Oh, and for the record, I downvoted this question. Not that it's a bad question. Not at all. It's just a way to show disagreement.

Admittedly, ServerFault isn't the best place for total newcomers to IT to ask questions. That's partly because Serverfault has already answered most of the basic questions that a newcomer would ask. Another part is that it's just a different format than most people are used to. It's not based on discussions not is it a forum. It's a Q/A site that requires a firm, solid question that can be given firm, solid, objective answers. That's a bit confusing to anyone, much more to those new to IT.

[As a side note, it is easy to whack the hornet's nest here and receive a hiveminded response of close votes, snarky comments and smartass answers. That can only be changed by individuals reassessing their behavior and choosing to change. Or as a certain saying goes "You can't legislate morality"]

  • "or logically disagree" is just a polite way of saying start an argument. Commented Sep 30, 2011 at 2:45
  • @JohnGardeniers We will... puts on sunglasses... disagree. =)
    – Wesley
    Commented Sep 30, 2011 at 2:51

Let's take this question as an example (for no particular reason other than its on the front page).

Here's the path to my downvote:

  1. My first inclination is to vote to close it as Not A Real Question, because after reading it through once or twice I can't tell what the person is actually asking.
  2. English is probably not the poster's first language, so that's probably a big part of why the question is so unclear - I certainly can't hold that against him.
  3. After reading the question again its vaguely interesting to me, but still not very clear what is being asked. Sysadmin1138 teases the real question out which is about the tradeoffs between dedicated and "cloud" hosting.
  4. Downvote and comment for more information.

If my experience is any indication that information will never be provided. It is very frustrating to go to the work to salvage a question and to have your efforts met with a response like, "Which one is better?" or "Can you just immediately solve my problem without any of the information to do so?". This is a frustrating and increasingly frequent experience here.

My general approach is not use downvotes to indicate my view of the quality of the question. Nine times of ten - I'll just flag it for closing. I downvote questions as incentive for the poster to salvage the question. This requires a comment it also requires more work on my part.

Downvoting the question because it's "bad" doesn't fix it. In my opinion, the best way to go about it is too 1) vote to close or migrate depending on quality, 2) edit or fix the question yourself if that's possible, 3) comment and downvote. As I said, nine times out of ten the question is never fixed by the poster - its easier to just close it.

Don't want downvotes? Don't make people try to ask your question for you.

  • Ok, good example. What does a down vote on that question do to help SF? IMO the asker could be a valuable member of the community, but a down vote right off the bat says, "You're not one of us, go away." Is that good for SF?
    – xofer
    Commented Oct 2, 2011 at 2:01
  • 4
    The downvote iss meant to say that his question as stated sucks. Nothing more nothing less. And it's too bad that it is interpreted personally because it's obviously not meant that way. But sometimes "You're not one of us, go away" is the correct response. How does it help the community? By encouraging the poster to fix his question and receive the un-downvote or by communally downvoting it into oblivion. SF has to break some eggs to make an omelet here, lest this turns into a fancy version of Yahoo answers.
    – user62491
    Commented Oct 2, 2011 at 2:16
  • +1 excellent point
    – xofer
    Commented Oct 2, 2011 at 2:19
  • Here's example of exactly what I'm talking about. Effort put into trying to salvage or answer a question of dubious quality is almost always wasted.
    – user62491
    Commented Oct 2, 2011 at 2:47
  • 1
    @kce That D-DWRT example is, IMHO, off topic. Consumer grade network gear with unsupported, 3rd-party, firwmare issues is the stuff of SuperUser, not ServerFault.
    – jscott
    Commented Oct 2, 2011 at 14:29
  • @jscott, I'd also add that there is nothing in that question that even hints at it being anything other than a personal network. Commented Oct 3, 2011 at 7:31
  • Why the close instead of the migrate? (I'm never going to get the hang of this).
    – user62491
    Commented Oct 3, 2011 at 17:19
  • @kce It takes 5 votes (sans Mod input) to close/migrate a question. The 3/5 majority of the vote determines the action type (close/migrate) and reason. The DD-WRT question should have been migrated, but at least 3/5 votes selected "OT" without a migration path. Possibly just an oversight, it happens some times.
    – jscott
    Commented Oct 3, 2011 at 22:46
  • 1
    @kce, sometimes questions are closed rather than migrated because those doing the voting don't believe the question is a good fit for the sites we can vote to migrate them to. I'm sure you will have noticed the kind of crap that gets migrated from SO to SF. We try to avoid inflicting the same on SU. Commented Oct 5, 2011 at 23:11

I think the change that made downvotes on Questions "free" happened before you signed up, so that's not it. (Before the change, it cost the downvoter a point of rep, now it doesn't.)

Unfortunately, it takes longer to type a comment than to vote, so I think there will always be some questions that aren't horrible but get downvoted w/out comment. It's good to raise the issue, to remind people to comment if possible.

  • A good point. Thanks for the answer.
    – xofer
    Commented Sep 30, 2011 at 2:33

I'm more reluctant to downvote questions by those new to SF than I am to do so to those who have been here a while, for the very reasons you mentioned. However, when I do downvote a question it's because I believe it well and truly deserves it. The cost, or now the lack of it, for downvotes has never been a factor for me.

As for explaining downvotes, I've never been asked to explain an upvote, so why should I explain downvotes? That doesn't mean I don't ever post an explanation but it's a pretty rare occurrence. Consider also that where reasons for downvoting are posted it often results in disputes, which are even more detrimental to the site.


Perhaps a down-vote could programmatically initiate a comment. This might nudge the down-voter to explain it.

Another thing that could be done is perhaps put a warning box anytime a downvote happens, asking that for the benefit of everybody to explain it.

  • Should the same be implemented for upvotes? Should we be required to explain just what we thought was so great about the question or answer? If not, why not? Why is there this need to explain voting in one direction but not the other? It's bad enough that we can't downvote comments. Commented Oct 5, 2011 at 10:37

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