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If their question lacked an attempt or any details, we could just tell them couldn't we? Why not vote down only those questions which either can't be understood or are off topic? Are people trying to scare away newbies or something?

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Votes and comments serve different roles.

  • I leave a comment when I want to tell something to the author.
  • I downvote when I want to signal (not just to the author) that the question is of low quality.

Sometimes it's both, sometimes just one of these.

Votes enable actions that comments don't. For example, one can filter questions based on their score, excluding all downvoted ones. Negative score also reduces the visibility of questions, and facilitates automatic deletion.

Why not vote down only those questions which either can't be understood or are off topic?

Those should be closed and deleted, not just downvoted. By the way, homework dumps are off-topic here.

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    $\begingroup$ As I've said before, with over 21,000 downvotes to only 14 upvotes I find your opinion on this matter to be highly suspect. I do understand your defense of this practice as basically stating "those are the odds", but I find it to be quite meager - particularly, when you've answered over 1600 questions. I find it hard to believe that less than 1% of the questions you've found interesting enough to answer were worth your upvote. I think I'll flag this comment for moderator attention because I don't intend to be out of line and, frankly, I'm curious as to their opinion on the matter. $\endgroup$ – Mark McClure May 4 '15 at 16:27
  • $\begingroup$ @Mark: -1 for claiming upvotes to be important for active members of communities to cast: Downvoting is how Stack Exchange maintains its quality, not otherwise! $\endgroup$ – Unihedron May 4 '15 at 16:39
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    $\begingroup$ @Unihedron I don't recall making that claim. $\endgroup$ – Mark McClure May 4 '15 at 16:54
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    $\begingroup$ @MarkMcClure the point is a different one. If one thinks the utilitarian value of a dv is bigger than that of an uv, and one uses all votes regardless, then one should cast only dv. $\endgroup$ – quid May 6 '15 at 0:43
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I think you should not downvote. Instead vote to close. With 4 people cooperating, the question will be marked "on hold" with a request that it improved.

That is the treatment a newcomer should get. NOT downvotes.

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    $\begingroup$ I don't see why newcomers should get a special treatment. Sure, leave a comment explaining the downvote if you think it can help. But special treatment leads to two problems: 1/ When are newcomers not newcomers anymore? Is it based on rep, number of Q&A, time on the site? 2/ If the feedback users get is inconsistent, they will only be confused. "But I asked this other question in the same way and I didn't get downvoted... Why?" (Plus what quid said) $\endgroup$ – Najib Idrissi May 2 '15 at 9:14

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