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I am unclear as to where exactly one is supposed to downvote reasonably.

I find that most people downvote newcomers' questions, since they lack context and formatting. But I personally feel they must be given a chance to edit their questions to suit the site's need. So, I avoid downvoting there.

People who have an appreciable reputation already know how to ask things here, so they don't generally make errors in their questions.

I understand answers which do not give valuable content relevant to the question or to the OP's understanding must be downvoted.

Leaving these cases, where must one downvote to show that the content is not useful to the site?

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    $\begingroup$ "or [relevant] to the OP's understanding must be downvoted." Actually, this is one area that is contentious. I believe that we are a repository of answers, so the OP's level of mathematics is irrelevant to collecting good answers to good questions. $\endgroup$ – apnorton Feb 14 '15 at 2:42
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    $\begingroup$ Re: "they must be given a chance to edit their questions". Downvotes do not prevent edits. $\endgroup$ – user147263 Feb 14 '15 at 3:02
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    $\begingroup$ Edits allow the user to remove their downvote(and add an upvote if need be) $\endgroup$ – user142198 Feb 14 '15 at 3:13
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    $\begingroup$ Sometimes people give completely incorrect answers or ask a series of very closely related questions without showing any effort on their part. I think these are where most people give downvotes. Sometimes people use downvotes as a way of pushing certain answers down and others up (as a result). I don't agree with this practice since it's a bit game-y but it's not really against Stack Exchange policy. $\endgroup$ – Cameron Williams Feb 14 '15 at 5:16
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    $\begingroup$ Indeed you should downvote newcomers, particularly because then they will be willing to make good questions/answers from the beginning. Downvoting yields edits, which is good $\endgroup$ – Mister Benjamin Dover Feb 14 '15 at 14:35
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    $\begingroup$ The Sheriff of the @Internet has spoken. $\endgroup$ – user142198 Feb 15 '15 at 9:42
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    $\begingroup$ Honestly, I am wary to buy the whole, "new users can't possibly understand how to write a good question" argument. The front page is full of questions; the vast majority of them meet community guidelines. A user who can't be bothered to look at a few questions and see how other people do things--an act that takes literally less than two minutes--is really not worth my worry. So a free downvote there bothers me not. Nevertheless, it's just as easy for me to leave a comment suggesting they improve... unless I fear that I will enter into and endless loop of codependency by commenting. $\endgroup$ – Emily Feb 16 '15 at 1:25
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    $\begingroup$ @Committingtoachallenge What you say is true, but how many people come back to change their vote, once the OP has edited his question? (If so) $\endgroup$ – Bman72 Feb 18 '15 at 18:48
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    $\begingroup$ There is no must. In my experience downvotes do not convey any information that I find useful, so I do not downvote: I leave comments instead. If the problem is fixed (and I find out about it), I remove the comment. If the problem remains, so does the comment, and a future reader can actually see what I considered to be a problem. (Yes, it’s possible for the comment to disappear; I’ll cheerfully take that chance in preference to leaving an anonymous and uninformative indication of disapproval.) $\endgroup$ – Brian M. Scott Feb 19 '15 at 3:10
  • $\begingroup$ @Ale I do personally check in on my down-votes and remove them if they warrant it. Where is this question leading me? $\endgroup$ – user142198 Feb 27 '15 at 4:19
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Everything's up to you, of course, but my rules of thumb are:

Downvote a question as a helpful hint to other users that it may not be worth their time to try to read and understand the question.

Downvote an answer as a way to indicate to the asker that there are enough problems with it that it shouldn't be trusted (and those serious problems are either blindingly obvious or have been pointed out by you or someone else in comments).

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  • $\begingroup$ If only these were enough. Unfortunately their interpretation is quite subjective. I've seen an upvote on a question (here) coming from some kind of senior real-time programmer which basically asked what exp function appearing in a program meant. Apparently the people who answered it (and probably upvoted it too) thought it was good question for this site. $\endgroup$ – Fizz Feb 15 '15 at 15:15
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    $\begingroup$ Interestingly enough,users who stumble upon downvoted questions tend to read them more than when they stumble upon other questions,or maybe that's just me. $\endgroup$ – rah4927 Feb 21 '15 at 9:38
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There is no rule that prohibits you for up/down voting any question.

I down vote questions which show no effort and likely won't help for anyone else visiting this site,questions which don't show effort but likely will help people I do not down vote like most of the Frequent questions.Same applies for questions that show effort but likely won't help anyone else.

Questions that are lacking format I usually don't down vote unless it's unreadable or unclear,I just comment with something like "In order to get best answers and not to get down voted consider using MathJax" or "What do you mean by xxxxx"?.Some people down vote questions like these so it's up to you.

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  • $\begingroup$ I think "likely won't help for anyone else visiting this site" is the biggest can of worms. Does it apply to people taking the same class and having the same homework? I have seen some patterns in upvoting certain intro-level questions which suggest a (natural) "buddy system" from classmates... $\endgroup$ – Fizz Feb 15 '15 at 14:15
  • $\begingroup$ To be more explicit (still without naming anyone), I've seen user X getting the exact same amount of upvotes on several (in fact almost all) of his/her rather terrible questions (lacking context, zero effort, etc.) My most plausible explanation for that is (1) sockpuppets or (2) classmates having the same homework. $\endgroup$ – Fizz Feb 15 '15 at 14:25
  • $\begingroup$ Well for me it depends what kind of homework it is,questions like solve $x^2+5x+6=0$ are present in most of the homeworks and textbooks that have quadratics as problems but that problem will help student the same way as the wiki link to quadratics will help hence I don't think such question will help people having the same homework.But questions which have some clever tricks like this even though this might not be homework but if it was I wouldn't down vote it. $\endgroup$ – kingW3 Feb 15 '15 at 14:52
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The internet sheriff (who, as a dutiful citizen, downvotes a lot) says that you may downvote posts that

a) show no effort;

b) are just a picture;

c) are too lengthy with only little content and which are partly off-topic, which makes them an insult to the reader who wishes to learn something new;

d) do not address the whole question (and which are not declared as partial answers);

e) are hints but not declared as such;

f) generally speaking anything which looks like it addresses the question, but in fact does not (there are some members here who do this systematically);

g) most duplicates and "on hold" questions;

h) anything which contains mathematical mistakes which are not declared as such.

i) homework questions which are not declared as such;

j) answers which give a solution which is way too complicated, where you can easily think that trolling is intended (e.g. some of the answers by S.G.). (Complicated is not the same thing as "too sophisticated".)

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    $\begingroup$ I downvoted following your point d) in view of e). $\endgroup$ – quid Feb 15 '15 at 14:08
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    $\begingroup$ @quid ok ok, you know I am not one of these guys that ask mom for help whenever they get a downvote. $\endgroup$ – Mister Benjamin Dover Feb 15 '15 at 17:04
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    $\begingroup$ I downvoted for g) as well. Downvoting all [on hold] questions seems unproductive, given that the question can be regarded as frozen until it is improved - and the downvotes just make it harder for the OP to ever get a positive score on the question, even if they make it better (and they don't serve as a signpost, because the question must be reopened before it can be answered, and reopening requires review). Duplicates are similar - unless the OP is posting a lot of dupes, we're not accomplishing much by downvoting dupes. $\endgroup$ – Milo Brandt Feb 15 '15 at 17:14
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    $\begingroup$ @Meelo fair enough, it changed it to "most" instead of "all". In any case if one goes to the "precalculus-algebra" or something similar, it is basically "all" because these are usually in addition homework questions. $\endgroup$ – Mister Benjamin Dover Feb 15 '15 at 17:21
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    $\begingroup$ Sure. If I'd assumed you would take it badly I would not have made that joke at your expense. // Still I undid the vote now that you "fixed the problem." $\endgroup$ – quid Feb 15 '15 at 17:59
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    $\begingroup$ @Internetsheriffabc123 I don't know if that's important. But I do ask my mom for help when I get a downvote. $\endgroup$ – Billy Rubina Feb 16 '15 at 23:11
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    $\begingroup$ @Meelo: Given that it can often be a bit difficult even for an old hand to find duplicates (never mind the best duplicate(s)!), downvoting duplicate questions is in general worse than just pointless: it’s penalizing the inexperienced merely for being inexperienced. $\endgroup$ – Brian M. Scott Feb 19 '15 at 3:19
  • $\begingroup$ @Internetsheriffabc123 It seems you are the top downvoter ever on MS.E. Congratulations! $\endgroup$ – user26857 Feb 19 '15 at 23:22
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    $\begingroup$ @user26857 not even close. they see me voting, they hating $\endgroup$ – Mister Benjamin Dover Feb 19 '15 at 23:28
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    $\begingroup$ Well, maybe I wasn't too explicit: you seem to have the highest downvote/upvote ratio ever. $\endgroup$ – user26857 Feb 19 '15 at 23:31
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    $\begingroup$ @user26857: Hard to beat $\infty$. Even The User Not Yet Formerly Known As Aardvark To Zymurgy And Points In Between has a finite ratio. $\endgroup$ – Brian M. Scott Feb 19 '15 at 23:50
  • $\begingroup$ @BrianM.Scott I can't argue with this. (The bad thing is that I've lost the link to the upvote/downvote ratio query, and this is why I make only suppositions.) $\endgroup$ – user26857 Feb 19 '15 at 23:56
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    $\begingroup$ @user26857: Here you go. $\endgroup$ – Brian M. Scott Feb 19 '15 at 23:58

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