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After the bunch of downvotes in the last couple of days, I have a question. It is of course related to another one: When to vote a question down though from my opinion, the situation with answers is slightly different.

The main question is written in the title and I expect some opinions concerning it, but there are some more detailed questions.

  1. The idea presented in When to vote a question down was to read what appear when hover mouse on voting errors: The answer is not useful. Is it sufficient for one to downvote only based on his subjective opinion (since he already has enough reputation to downvote) or he/she should provide some comments: what doesn't he/she like, how it can confuse another reader and how can it be improved?

  2. If there are two answers appeared with a difference in a minute and they are almost the same, should their authors leave such answers or should they decide which answer will be left. Honestly speaking, there is no objective advantages of having very similar answers to the same question. For example here: How do I find this limit? although my answer was minute faster, his answer is slightly more extended and attracted more attention from other members. That's why I was going to delete mine - but then was confused by the discussion here: When is Deleting an Answer Reasonable? This rises two questions: if you're typing the answer and see that another answer appeared though it's not as 'good' as yours, should you post your answer? If you see that after 2-3 minutes after your answer (which was, say, the first) the better answer appeared, should you delete your answer?

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I would encourage people to explain any downvotes, almost to the extent of prohibiting them without explanation. Without that, it is completely unclear what the cause of the downvote is. In a few cases, I have received downvotes with explanations that caused me to improve the answer. Other times, I get an unexplained downvote and cannot tell what to improve.

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    $\begingroup$ While this makes sense in theory, in practice it often results in arguments about the various subjective reasons one may have for downvoting. This may be one reason why many downvotes lack associated comments. For example, I occasionally downvote answers that I think severely obfuscate the essence of the matter (esp. if I think the author is capable of much better). It's difficult if not impossible to explain that in a comment without some tension resulting. $\endgroup$ – Bill Dubuque Sep 29 '11 at 1:41
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    $\begingroup$ Ah, what a strategy. Downvote without explaining, so that the "victim" is the one solely in "tension", while the downvoter buzzes off with a smirk and without a care. Great... $\endgroup$ – J. M. is a poor mathematician Sep 29 '11 at 5:45
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    $\begingroup$ @Bill: "In theory, there's no difference between theory and practice. In practice, there is." :) $$$$p.s. I always kiss (vote) and tell... $\endgroup$ – The Chaz 2.0 Sep 29 '11 at 12:46
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    $\begingroup$ @J.M. Alas, you're fanning nonexistent flames. Please read more carefully. What I wrote above is "one" (of many) possible explanations for some downvotes without comments. Nowhere did I mention any general "strategy" (or "victims"). Also, I gave one (rare) example (one I've used only a few times). My point is to emphasize that there are many possible subjective reasons for downvotes - reasons that could easily lead to heated discussions if not revealed with great care. I hoped that this might lead to constructive discussion. But, alas, I see nothing constructive in your comment. $\endgroup$ – Bill Dubuque Sep 29 '11 at 14:13
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    $\begingroup$ I see nothing constructive in downvoting sans commenting either, @Bill. Par for the course. $\endgroup$ – J. M. is a poor mathematician Sep 29 '11 at 14:22
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    $\begingroup$ @J.M. Again, you fan nonexistent flames, for nowhere did I claim that such downvotes were constructive. Rather, my point was merely to point out some reasons that folks may do such, in the hope that some constructive discussion might ensue. But, alas, too much discussion here of late is very nonconstructive, twisting the words of others far beyond what was intended. The extreme limitations of the software platform do force folks to employ one-dimensional votes in many diverse ways. It is important to understand their tremendous variety. Snide remarks like that above don't help. $\endgroup$ – Bill Dubuque Sep 29 '11 at 14:32
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    $\begingroup$ ...and nowhere did I imply that you were supporting nonconstructive behavior @Bill. Ever heard of "hate the sin, love the sinner"? In any event, I'd rather get back to the main site, so this is my last comment on the matter. Have a nice day. $\endgroup$ – J. M. is a poor mathematician Sep 29 '11 at 14:35
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As for duplicate answers, I don't think you should delete something you've written just because it is materially the same as another answer. Unless it is word for word identical, I guess.

I often find that two subtly different explanations of the same thing help my understanding of that topic in a way that neither explanation could on its own.

If your contribution is better than the other, the community will show it by voting. If the other is better, then that will get more votes.

Of course, when the other answer already exists before you start writing, it might be better to help improve the other answer if it seems to need it, either through editing or commenting.

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    $\begingroup$ Regarding your 3rd paragraph: as you spend more time here you'll notice that often there is little correlation between votes and quality of posts, esp. when a "better" answer appears much later than a quick one posted by a FGITW. Also more elementary posts generally get higher votes than deeper ones simply because they are accessible to more readers. For example, if you browse the highest-voted posts of any prolific member you'll see that most of them are quite elementary, and many better posts received far fewer votes. A one dimensional vote is far too limited to represent diverse qualities. $\endgroup$ – Bill Dubuque Sep 28 '11 at 19:37
  • $\begingroup$ True. More of my experience has been on other SE sites, where that would probably be less of an issue. $\endgroup$ – Bill Michell Sep 28 '11 at 20:10
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    $\begingroup$ Bill describes precisely what I have observed about the posts of many high rep users. $\endgroup$ – The Chaz 2.0 Apr 22 '12 at 13:37
  • $\begingroup$ @The, which Bill? $\endgroup$ – Gerry Myerson Apr 22 '12 at 22:45
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    $\begingroup$ @Gerry: Good catch! I meant Mr. Telescopy :D $\endgroup$ – The Chaz 2.0 Apr 22 '12 at 22:54
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The question asks when to downvote an answer. Perhaps there might be guidelines as to when not to downvote.

If one has answered a question, I consider it unethical to downvote another answer to that question. If that other answer is wrong, then after waiting for a reasonable amount of time for a correction by others, one might comment about the error. (By wrong I mean that the other answer leads to a count of $111$, while the true count is $167$. I do not mean suboptimal.)

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    $\begingroup$ Sorry, I didn't get why downvoting of the answer for you depends on whether there is another answer or not. $\endgroup$ – Ilya Apr 22 '12 at 18:23
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    $\begingroup$ I was saying that I consider it unethical to downvote a "competing" answer. $\endgroup$ – André Nicolas Apr 22 '12 at 18:26
  • $\begingroup$ I don't agree. The fact that one contributes an answer to a thread implies that one has some knowledge of the subject, perhaps expert knowledge. These are exactly the members that one wants judging answers for correctness, quality, etc. Further, it is highly likely that many readers - due to time constraints - only read threads that they are likely to answer. Thus they would be unable to downvote if they followed such a policy. This is true for me - almost all of my votes are in threads that I answered because those are the only threads that I have read. $\endgroup$ – Bill Dubuque Apr 22 '12 at 18:42
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    $\begingroup$ Yes, I am perfectly aware that they are. $\endgroup$ – André Nicolas Apr 22 '12 at 18:51
  • $\begingroup$ @Andre So, apparently, you don't care that we would lose a great deal of knowledgeable judements if we followed such a proposal? $\endgroup$ – Bill Dubuque Apr 22 '12 at 19:19
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    $\begingroup$ Thanks, Andre. It is an interesting criteria (not to downvote a competing answer) but don't think I will follow it. I judge an answer only based on its quality and if there are two answers for one question, I won't downvote any of them because the other one is better (even if it is much better), but I will downvote one of this answers if it is not correct and its author does not show an intention to improve it. $\endgroup$ – Ilya Apr 22 '12 at 19:23
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When something is not useful, voting it down is the important thing. The comment might be useful to educate the author, so they don't repeat their mistake, but it is a bonus, not really a requirement.

I guess the only answers that should be voted down are the ones that are demonstrably "wrong" or which miss the point of the site. For example, in a homework question, an answer that gives the answer in a single word might be down voted for not showing any of the workings...

Down voting serves to discourage behaviour and to de-emphasise stuff that the community feels is not useful in the context of the site. I think this can be applied equally to answers as well as questions.

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