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I have seen several examples this week of new users' questions getting down-voted without any explanation in the comments, as happened in this case. I find this upsetting, particularly when the question is asked in earnest. I get there is a strong commitment to optimize high quality content on this site + uphold StackExchange's specific standards for good questions or answers, but I think that the practice of down-voting questions or answers without any explanation is harsh, precludes learning and growing, and is particularly unhelpful and unwelcoming to people who are not yet familiar with the rules of the game and best practices.

If this is a learning community, and one of the goals is to improve the skillfulness of members in producing high quality content that is useful to everyone, it would help to encourage the practice of commenting first, and then down-voting if the feedback does not get addressed within a few days. Even in cases that most warrant immediate down-voting (spam, abuse, etc), encouraging voters to clarify the reason for their down-vote in a comment would really help clarify and strengthen community standards of what is acceptable and what is not.

In this really useful StackExchange overview of reasons to down-vote, someone wrote:

With answers, again, down vote immediately, comment, undownvote if fixed. With newbies I tend to be more lax, I comment first and down vote if they decide not to listen. But again, that's just me.

I wholeheartedly support the newbies' strategy, and I wish it was actually a general guideline for everyone, rather than left to individual styles. But while I'm 100% in favor of 'undownvoting' if feedback and comments get addressed, I still would like to recommend a comment first rather than a down-vote first approach: i.e. if the initial feedback is ignored, then down vote, and if that ends up eliciting a response, then "undownvote"

So my question is this:

Do you agree we should try to discourage "down-vote and run," by finding better ways to encourage and anchor "comment before you down-vote" or "comment whenever you down-vote" as best practices to support learning and growth through encouragement rather than punishment? If you don't, would you tell me why not? And if you do, what are your thoughts about how this could be done?

Note that I do understand that the primary purpose for down-voting is to help highest quality content rise to the top, and lowest quality sink to the bottom, but if we want to improve the quality of the overall community (i.e. focus on the forest and not just the trees), I think we need to create effective feedback loops and learning opportunities, particularly for newcomers.

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I fully agree, and would like to add: When reviewing questions, the procedure should roughly be:

  1. Is the content on-topic and the question specific and well described? Vote-up, and either try answering or move on!
  2. Is it off-topic, too broad, or unclear? Vote down, leave a comment, and vote to close!
  3. Is it of low quality? Vote down, leave a comment, and propose an edit!
  4. Is it of very low quality? Vote down, leave a comment, and flag it for moderator attention!
  5. Is it spam or offensive? Vote down and flag it for moderator attention!
  6. Is a post wrong or disputed? Do not vote, raise it on Meta and leave a comment!

So you see, I always down-vote first. This gives more weight to my comment and encourages even newbies to take the site mechanics more serious. But I agree, a down-vote should never come without a comment, unless it's obvious spam or vandalism.

The problem with commenting first and down-voting later, in my eyes: I never know if I get back to a question twice, even though I'm a moderator here. We have 6500 questions and growing at a rate of 30-50 posts per day. The good thing about down-voting and commenting is I usually get a reply to my comment and can get back to the post and potentially un-down-vote if the issue is resolved.

  • I appreciated hearing why you prefer the immediate down vote (with comment) approach, and it makes sense to me for people who have been around. But when dealing with brand new users (say anyone with less than 15 reputation points), I think it's good to remember what it's like to be new to a community, risk your first Q or A, and be met with a negative response (even if it is explained). Not everyone will try again. In the end, how we respond to these first posts will depend on how we value effectiveness vs. relatedness. And it's fine if we differ there, as long as we all comment! – Tesa Jun 8 '17 at 12:57

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