I am a new user on Math.StackExchange. So far, I've asked 3 questions, and submitted one answer. Of the questions I asked, two were down-voted, and one was subsequently deleted. All these actions were taken without any comment indicating what is specifically wrong with the post. Is this common on Math.SE and is it a recommended practice? I find it unhelpful.

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    $\begingroup$ Probably it is worth having a look at the previous posts about this topic. You can find several of them, for example, by checking out the questions tagged comment+down-votes. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 1 at 0:40
  • $\begingroup$ here is a specific example of a question I asked that was down-voted: math.stackexchange.com/questions/4940060/… $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 1 at 0:45
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    $\begingroup$ I would like to know how much of the site you were exposed to, prior to the asking of your question. For example, have you seen this page? You've posted an illustration of an "anisohedral polyomino", but there's no explanation of what that is (context missing). You've also not explained how or who came up with the example you posted, along with how they may have come up with that (context missing). You have self-answered your question, fair, but you don't seem enough to make your question appealing. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 1 at 3:35
  • $\begingroup$ (correcting last sentence of my previous comment) "you don't seem to have done enough" to make your question appealing. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 1 at 6:33
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    $\begingroup$ Users shouldn't downvote without commenting. But we are allowed to, and many of us do. Sorry, but the burden is on the poster to seek out the site standards and to abide by them. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 1 at 8:15
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    $\begingroup$ Since you answered your own questions, I'm not sure how to interpret your comment that you "find it unhelpful" that you didn't receive any comments. I doesn't look like you needed any help in the first place. You're allowed to answer your own questions, but usually when that happens in a useful way, the question person self-answering comes back later after having figured out something on their own. In my experience it's unusual (though not completely unknown) that someone self-answers immediately while making a well received contribution. $\endgroup$
    – Brick
    Commented Jul 1 at 14:03
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    $\begingroup$ Related: math.stackexchange.com/help/why-vote $\endgroup$
    – Brick
    Commented Jul 1 at 14:13
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    $\begingroup$ @GerryMyerson I can't agree with the stricture that users shouldn't downvote without comment. In many cases, you are asking the downvoter to spend more time thinking about the question than the asker themself has done. It is the job of the asker to learn what is, and what is not, appropriate for this site. Downvoters are under no obligation to justify every downvote, and there are reasons why they may not want to (e.g. retaliatory downvoting, lacking time, etc). $\endgroup$
    – Xander Henderson Mod
    Commented Jul 8 at 13:56

3 Answers 3


From my experience, receiving downvotes often occurs when the user disregards the website's guidelines for asking questions. For example, students frequently misuse the website for their homework assignments. Questions with no effort are another example of abysmal practice. In addition, some questions indicate a lack of the user's background in the field they ask, although the user may be knowledgeable in other math fields. Although downvoting without comments is not recommended, the downvoting process is healthy as it alerts the poster and the website's users that there is something wrong with the question.

When I first opened my account long ago, I intended to take it personally as I didn't know the community well. However, the downvoting process helped me a lot in correcting myself.


For the first part of your question whether the practice is "common", I'm not sure there are formal statistics, but I would highly expect that it is common not only on this site but throughout the SE network. There are many reasons for this. A few:

  • Almost the entire site is run by volunteers and sometimes volunteers don't want to take the time to comment, especially if they saw something egregiously wrong.
  • Commenting and then later (if "still necessary") voting, requires two visits to a question. A lot of people don't want to make two steps on this, especially, again, if there's something really wrong with the fit or content of the question. Voting is a necessary element for the health of the site, so some will prioritize that. https://math.stackexchange.com/help/why-vote
  • Commenting and voting tends to reduce the anonymity of the vote. That can lead to revenge voting patterns that some people don't want to deal with.

Surely there are others, but those seem like a common sample.

As far as whether it's encouraged: There's no system rule or mechanism that forces a comment as you've seen. When a user gives a down vote, the system gives a temporary banner suggesting a comment if the contribution might be improved by such comment. That's up to the user voting - If they don't think the comment will help, the system-provided suggestion is fine with the voter not commenting. (Of course, they can ignore the suggest in any case, which take you back to the first part of the question.)


I feel that it depends on whether there is a pre-existing comment (left by some other MathSE reviewer) which captures why you are downvoting.

When such a pre-existing comment exists, I see nothing discourteous in (also) downvoting, for the same reason.

However, when such a pre-existing comment does not exist, then I feel that it is discourteous to downvote, without explaining why. Also, I suspect that this common practice by MathSE reviewers is an emotional reaction to MathSE being inundated with low quality questions.

It is fairly easy for a MathSE reviewer to maintain a text file that includes commonly used responses. Then, the reviewer need only keep the text file open when reviewing MathSE questions, and then cut/paste the appropriate paragraph from their text file, as needed. Further, I see nothing discourteous about downvoting simultaneous with leaving the comment. This way, the MathSE reviewer only needs to visit the question once.

For example, I maintain such a text file that has many paragraphs. The paragraph that I most commonly use is:

For what it's worth, virtually every MathSE posted question that I have seen, that followed this article on MathSE protocol has been upvoted rather than downvoted. I am not necessarily advocating this protocol. Instead, I am merely stating a fact: if you scrupulously follow the linked article, skipping/omitting nothing, you virtually guarantee a positive response.

Other MathSE reviewers may justify the reviewers' path of least resistance by stating that when the question is closed, then the original poster receives an explanatory link. My personal view is that there is a distinct difference between providing an explanatory link before the question is closed, versus after the question is closed.


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