I have seen a lot of very similar questions here, so I apologize if this is a duplicate. There is a related question at Closing questions that show no effort - official policy? I see this very often in MSE:

1) Someone posts a question, probably phrased in the imperative, without any accompanying context, explanation, or attempts at solution. I think this is often called a "Problem Solving Question". The question is labelled (homework) or is almost certainly homework. The question may also be poorly or ambiguously worded, containing serious mistakes, perhaps with an inappropriate title.

2) Someone leaves a friendly comment suggesting that they explain what they've tried, avoid the imperative, clink on a link with instructions on how to post questions (I've never actually checked what is posted there. I don't know if the OP's ever do), etc. etc. Perhaps they or someone else gives a good hint on how to solve the problem. If the question contains a mistake, a commenter interprets what the OP probably means without suggesting that the OP correct the question.

3) Someone else (often several people) comes along and gives an answer with a complete solution to the OP's question, without waiting for the OP to improve his/her question. I can only guess such people really want the points.

4) The OP accepts a correct, complete answer (out of at least one, all of which all correct). Someone has done his/her homework for them!

Since this happens so often, the OP may be getting his/her homework questions answered (with complete solutions) without ever posting a good question. If the OP's question(s) are put on hold and not answered, it will force him/her to improve their question. So I'm thinking of anonymously downvoting all such questions whenever I see them. I have 2,403 MSE points, and I'm not sure if I can put a question on hold. The reason I want to downvote anonymously is that I don't think I should have to justify downvoting such obviously bad questions, and I don't want the stress of disputing with the OP and well-meaning but misguided fellow MSE participants.

Here are my actual questions: is such downvoting considered bad etiquette or contrary to any rules/guidelines? Would casting the downvotes cost me any points? I'm not obsessed with points, but I don't think this should cost me any. Can an MSE member with 2,403 points vote to put a question on hold?

I am not asking what official policy MSE ought to have (that issue was discussed in the question I linked to above), just what I can do.

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    $\begingroup$ There some (vague, unwritten) rules against "serial downvoting" but for the most part I think your rep and vote totals are yours to do with as your conscience sees fit. $\endgroup$
    – user7530
    Commented Nov 2, 2013 at 15:58
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    $\begingroup$ You need 3000 points to vote for a question to be put on hold. Downvoting is anonymous and doesn't cost any rep when applied to questions. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 2, 2013 at 16:11
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    $\begingroup$ I answer such questions from time to time, and when I do, it's for my own amusement. If some (junior) high school student has stumbled upon a problem that actually require some thought from a graduate mathematician like me (so few textbook problems do, sadly), then I answer it more for the challenge. It's not like I lose sleep over getting cheap points like that, but I do it because someone wants help and I find the problem is genuinely interesting, once I read past the mistakes and poor formatting. $\endgroup$
    – Arthur
    Commented Nov 8, 2013 at 11:21
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    $\begingroup$ My two cents to the discussion: if the question is interesting I don´t really care if it shows effort (or for that matter if the user made any effort), so I, personally wouldn´t downvote it as long as I find it interesting. Apart from not showing effort, the user could be named Adolf Hitler. I still wouldn´t give a hoot, if the question was worth it. $\endgroup$
    – Adam
    Commented Nov 10, 2013 at 19:46
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    $\begingroup$ A little early in the discussion to invoke Godwin's Law. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 12, 2013 at 8:46
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    $\begingroup$ I dislike reflexive downvoting in this manner, because as Vedran correctly points out in his answer, many of these questions come from newcomers that are unfamiliar with MSE policies. If this is the case I try to guide them toward becoming better users without punishing them with downvotes. However, if the user is a frequent (ab)user and/or has amassed quite a bit of reputation (i.e. should know better), then I feel less merciful and downvote accordingly. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 13, 2013 at 2:59

4 Answers 4


I'm thinking of anonymously downvoting all such questions whenever I see them.

Please do. I, for one, will appreciate your effort. Questions with negative score are easy to filter out.

Can an MSE member with 2,403 points vote to put a question on hold?

Voting to close requires 3000 points. Flagging to close requires merely 50, and its effect is almost the same. The question is put into review queue, and will be closed if 5 users agree with you. (The difference between flagging-to-close and voting-to-close is that as a voter, you count among the 5, so you only need 4 others to agree with you.)

Seeing multiple upvotes on an uninformed comment, I add a PSA here:

Users under 3K can raise close flags, which work differently from spam/offensive/mod attention flags.

flags explained

I have 2,403 MSE points

Why don't you get more, by the way? Answering a featured question once in a while can help; there is a bunch of those.

I don't think I should have to justify downvoting

I'm with you on this.

I don't want the stress of disputing with the OP and well-meaning but misguided fellow MSE participants.

Same here.

I downvote quite generously, and rarely comment. I usually don't comment simply because I have no desire to communicate with the user who posted the question. Voting in either direction adds machine-readable metadata to the post, which is of crucial importance on the site with this volume of data.

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    $\begingroup$ Flagging is for posts with "serious problems or [in need of] moderator attention", which - in my opinion - "no effort" questions are not. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 2, 2013 at 16:17
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    $\begingroup$ Not commenting constitutes not helping. Not commenting and downvoting constitutes being unhelpful. I mean, someone comes here looking for help and they get a negative score for, from their point of view, no reason. It is not that they are a bad person, they just do not know the etiquette of the site. A simple comment helping them to improve their post goes a long way and is worth the effort. $\endgroup$
    – user1729
    Commented Nov 2, 2013 at 16:54
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    $\begingroup$ -1 sticking to your routine. $\endgroup$
    – Max
    Commented Nov 2, 2013 at 17:26
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    $\begingroup$ @user1729 : I understand your point. Commenting is nice, but in my opinion, not commenting and downvoting is better than doing nothing. The OP gets feedback that their question is bad. If it ends up being put on hold, I'm pretty sure that a reason is always given. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 2, 2013 at 19:43
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    $\begingroup$ @user1729: Also (and arguably more importantly) downvoting helps "everybody" else. ("everybody" in square quotes, to pre-empt complaints by people who think all questions are equally valuable and resent even a single one being hidden from them) $\endgroup$
    – user14972
    Commented Nov 3, 2013 at 1:37
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    $\begingroup$ @user1729: For (2): everybody seeing all of the poor quality questions is an inferior situation to only a handful of people seeing each poor quality question. So the situation you describe is still a superior situation than doing nothing at all. For (1), your implicit premise that "good" equates to "maximizes the number of participants on MSE" is flat out wrong. (and besides, even if it were true, you're still neglecting to consider all of the people who leave or don't participate in MSE because of bad OPs). $\endgroup$
    – user14972
    Commented Nov 3, 2013 at 17:58
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    $\begingroup$ @Hurkyl I don't care about the site! I care about this poor guy who wants help with some maths he is struggling with but gets ignored at every turn because noone took the time to tell him about the sites etiquettes! $\endgroup$
    – user1729
    Commented Nov 3, 2013 at 18:08
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    $\begingroup$ @user1729: And there are quite a few people on MSE who are happy to take the time to help such people out. Enough that I don't think we're so desperate that we have to go around trying to lay a guilt trip on the people who are trying to do everybody else a favor, hoping that the few that will start trying to help OPs outweigh the loss of all the people who stop trying to do everybody else a favor. $\endgroup$
    – user14972
    Commented Nov 3, 2013 at 18:16
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    $\begingroup$ I downvote quite generously, and rarely comment. How discourteous. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 6, 2013 at 8:42
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    $\begingroup$ @Brian: I've always disliked it when "political correctness" trumps what is reasonable and right. Adding a comment is a nice thing to do to help someone out, not a neutral option that only monsters would avoid choosing. $\endgroup$
    – user14972
    Commented Nov 13, 2013 at 15:16
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    $\begingroup$ @Hurkyl: Funny how often people who complain about ‘political correctness’ think that it includes elementary courtesy. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 13, 2013 at 15:27
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    $\begingroup$ @Brian: If your idea of "elementary courtesy" implies artificially inflating the vote tally on a post whenever you aren't inclined (for whatever reason) to go out of your way to offer constructive criticism, then I don't want any part of it. $\endgroup$
    – user14972
    Commented Nov 14, 2013 at 2:29
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    $\begingroup$ @Brian: It's hard to help you understand if you do not explain what is confusing you. I will take a guess and reply as follows. If you bully someone who thinks a question/answer should be downvoted into not casting their vote (e.g. by claiming it's "discourteous" if they don't also comment, or it's "reprehensible" if done to a question/answer from a member with good reputation), you have artificially inflated the vote tally for that question/answer. $\endgroup$
    – user14972
    Commented Nov 14, 2013 at 15:17
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    $\begingroup$ @Hurkyl: It is discourteous, and pointing that out is not bullying. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 14, 2013 at 15:25
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    $\begingroup$ Summary: the 'aggressor' side of the interaction (close voters, downvoters, WHYT drive-by commenters, posters and applauders of personal invective on meta) are actually victims of bullying and political correctness, always in danger of a denial of the fundamental free speech right of silencers not to be silenced in their pursuit of silencing (others). These victims are citizen heroes doing everyone else favors, requested or not. The everyone-else owes these heroes gratitude for preventing the crime of answering mathematics questions (the ones not to the stylistic tastes of the heroes). $\endgroup$
    – zyx
    Commented Nov 24, 2013 at 19:13

First, the simple part: no, you cannot put a question on hold. A user can vote to close a question (it still needs 5 votes in total) once he has 3k or more rep. See the list of privileges here. Instant closing can only be done by the moderators.

I understand your frustration, and downvoting might vanquish or, more likely, slightly reduce this practice for one very simple reason: questions with negative points often get deleted by their author, which is very discouraging for answering, at least for me. It's not the points that bother me, but the idea of investing time and effort in answering, only to have that deleted soon.

However, most of such questions are by the newcomers, and I'm not sure that downvoting without explanation is fair. Sure, they could have read all the instructions and guidelines and whatnot, but it's not reasonable to expect so when one comes here for a single answer. For this very reason, I have opposed closing the "no effort" questions until we got a "no context" reason with a link that explains what is expected.

In the end, it is your name and the rep that you've earned. In a democracy, which these sites pretend to use for most of the moderation, you make such choices for yourself. I've told you my view, but this is in no way a rule, or even a majority opinion.

Nevertheless, I will allow myself to make a suggestion: answer more questions and get over the 3k threshold. They you'll be able to suggest closing by providing the first "close" vote. The other 4 usually follow reasonably quickly, and the "close" reason will have an explanation with (in cases of "homework" or "missing context" reasons) a link that elaborates what is expected.


See this question. It is a "no effort" question (although, if one "doesn't know where to start", I cannot blame him for not trying anything) with two answers: one complete, and one "only" a hint. I've upvoted Marc's answer (the one containing only a hint). It seems more positive approach to me than downvoting anything, and I believe it'd be efficient in what we want to achieve if many others would do the same whenever such answers are offered.

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    $\begingroup$ Two inaccuracies here: (1) users without a diamond cannot unilaterally close questions, no matter how high their reputation is. (2) downvotes on answers cost 1 point, downvotes on questions do not. It does not matter if it's the first downvote or not. $\endgroup$
    – user103402
    Commented Nov 2, 2013 at 18:49
  • $\begingroup$ I've fixed my answer. Thank you. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 2, 2013 at 19:13
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    $\begingroup$ Thanks for the link to the list of privileges. Regarding your 3d paragraph, if a question gets downvoted enough and then put on hold, isn't the OP told why? Finally, I'll try to get over the 3K threshhold. It's hard, with so many people answering any questions that are not extremely difficult. Also, OP's seem to prefer accepting complete, lengthy answers that contain entire solutions to problems. I prefer to at leave at least some details for the OP to fill in. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 2, 2013 at 19:36
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    $\begingroup$ @StefanSmith Downvoting and closing (putting on hold) are not related. If a question is closed, there is some info why. For "no context" reason, it is as follows: "This question is missing context or other details: Please improve the question by providing additional context, which ideally includes your thoughts on the problem and any attempts you have made to solve it. This information helps others identify where you have difficulties and helps them write answers appropriate to your experience level." $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 2, 2013 at 19:40
  • $\begingroup$ @VedranŠego : Thanks for the info. If I downvote a question, does it make it any more likely that it will be put on hold? $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 2, 2013 at 19:54
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    $\begingroup$ @StefanSmith Technically, no. It might give a certain nudge to those who vote, but I don't know how realistic that is. When I vote, I usually pay very little attention to the question's score, but that doesn't mean that others do the same. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 2, 2013 at 20:06
  • $\begingroup$ @VedranŠego : I also often upvote good hints rather than complete answers to elementary questions. Many of us (probably most) here are teachers. When a student asks us a question, do we always immediately give them the whole answer? Probably not, because it is usually not the best way for the student to learn. Then why should we provide strangers with complete answers to homework questions? $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 14, 2013 at 21:30
  • $\begingroup$ @StefanSmith I don't think most here are teachers, and - without doing any analysis - I have a feeling that complete answers still get more upvoted than only hints. Hence, my call above to start changing that (if the community wants it, of course). Admittedly, I myself often forget to upvote (I'm trying to change that). $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 15, 2013 at 0:22
  • $\begingroup$ @VedranSego : just from looking at the numbers, I'm pretty sure that complete solutions are generally upvoted more than good hints. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 15, 2013 at 14:52

Downvoting questions is likely more effective than voting to close them if you're trying to keep people from answering. It takes long enough to close a question that a simple one will very often have a complete answer by then. A heavily downvoted question, on the other hand, is very likely to be skipped over by a lot of people. That means fewer people will read it to try to answer it, and any answers it accumulates will have fewer opportunities to attract upvotes. That last point is a bit of a double-edged sword. It does occasionally happen that a bad-to-wretched question manages to get an answer that is truly spectacular and deserving of attention and upvotes—such an answer may lose out because its question has been downvoted.

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    $\begingroup$ Doesn't upvoting answers to bad-to-wretched questions, even brilliant answers, encourages more such questions? $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 3, 2013 at 3:04
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    $\begingroup$ @StefanSmith, brilliant answers are rare. Brilliant answers to terrible questions are much rarer. These sorts of anomalies do little to change the overall incentives. $\endgroup$
    – dfeuer
    Commented Nov 3, 2013 at 3:10
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    $\begingroup$ Do people really tend to skip heavily downvoted questions? That’s a genuine question on my part: in the unlikely event that I notice the downvotes at all, they’re likely to arouse my curiosity, especially if the front page preview doesn’t show a rant or something totally off-topic. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 6, 2013 at 14:25

Downvoting does nothing here. If the OP simply wants their homework done then they don't care if the post got a negative score so long as their homework is done!

A more subtle approach is as follows: realise that the OP doesn't want their lecturer to realise that someone did their homework for them. Once you realise this, then you begin to understand that downvoting actually plays into the OP's hands - you are basically hiding their cheating from public view! Therefore, upvoting is better!

(If you really want to "solve" the problem, you could answer the problem with a hint. In general, hints are appropriate for homework questions. Then, if anyone posts a full answer you can be annoying and comment saying "How does your complete answer, doing the OP's homework for them, add to this thread?", or something similarly embarrassing to them. Or you could go for something less confrontational. I think it depends on their rep. If they have more than 3k, go for something cutting. If they are a low-rep user, then be more thoughtful about it...)

  • $\begingroup$ -1 for both things. I think upvoting these questions is not good, for reasons explained in P. Smith's answer in linked thread. As to the parenthetical remark, I think it should be friendlier, e.g. On this site, the general consensus is that it's better to avoid complete solutions to homework questions. Please take this into consideration when answering questions tagged, or otherwise identified, as homework. Use the carrot, not the stick. $\endgroup$
    – Lord_Farin
    Commented Nov 2, 2013 at 19:06
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    $\begingroup$ @Lord_Farin You disagree that answering with a hint yourself is a good approach, or just the tone of my suggested comment? The tone is yours to pick. $\endgroup$
    – user1729
    Commented Nov 2, 2013 at 19:23
  • $\begingroup$ It's the tone I object to. Sorry for not addressing the part on hints in my comment (probably due to some unhealthy focus on the parts I disagree with -- again, apologies). That's definitely something I agree with, and I do it quite often myself. $\endgroup$
    – Lord_Farin
    Commented Nov 2, 2013 at 19:25
  • $\begingroup$ @Lord_Farin That's okay. My post wasn't meant as an entirely serious suggestion, and the parenthetical remark was merely an afterthought (but is, I think, the most realistic way of solving this issue). $\endgroup$
    – user1729
    Commented Nov 2, 2013 at 19:32
  • $\begingroup$ (Actually, @Lord_Farin, I realised that I disagree with my suggested tone when the user is a low-rep one, especially a new user. It annoys me when people answering for the first time get lots of downvotes. I think people should be encouraged, not not mentally crushed by a bunch internet people. So I have edited my answer to reflect this.) $\endgroup$
    – user1729
    Commented Nov 2, 2013 at 19:36

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