My question https://rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/86316/is-there-a-list-of-cleric-and-wizard-spells-that-deal-lightning-or-thunder-damag?noredirect=1&lq=1 was downvoted, with a comment explaining that the −1 was for low effort.

Is it ok to downvote a question for low effort if the only way the question is low effort is when using pirated material?

More to the point, if the correct answer would require someone to read (let's say) five books with more than a thousand pages in total, isn't it a valid question to ask, even if a pirate can steal and digitally search materials to produce the answer within a short time?

Downvoting for low effort would seem to say that I should have pirated the material to solve my problem, and I don't think that's a base assumption that rpg.se should make.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Who said? Where in chat? Could you provide a link so others can figure out what's going on? (You can get a link to a chat message by clicking on the down-arrow-menu on the left side of a message when you hover over it, and choosing “permalink”.) \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 7, 2016 at 19:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ But then I do exactly what made mxy force-delete my last question. It's not relevant, everything that matters is in this question. I will rephrase it a bit. \$\endgroup\$
    – Mala
    Commented Aug 7, 2016 at 19:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ *sigh* I'm not going to play this game with you. Closed as unclear; you're welcome to clarify it, or not. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 7, 2016 at 19:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ The question doesn't make sense, which is why context is needed. We don't solve hypothetical, vague, or rumoured problems on meta; we discuss actual things that are actually happening, and we provide all context necessary so that everyone can understand and participate equally, in the open. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 7, 2016 at 19:39
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm unfamiliar with 5e publishing, but a quick search of our own site revealed links to at least two fully legal digital sources for some or all of the PHB's spells (albeit behind registration or pay walls so I couldn't check their completeness), and someone in chat found website with all the spells which looks dubious to my own eye but claims to be in compliance with the WotC Fan Site guidelines. Absolutist claims that piracy is necessary to search 5e spells digitally seem weak in the face of this. \$\endgroup\$
    – BESW
    Commented Aug 7, 2016 at 20:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ @DanHenderson Mxyzplk took no issue with posting context/links here. The order was to stop harassing another user by posting inappropriate main-site questions about one of their comments, and if Mala wanted to ask an honest question about spell searching, they could do it without referring to the other user or the comment. That order to quit using main-site questions to harass that one user isn't at all relevant to providing context for this meta question to make it make sense. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 8, 2016 at 7:00
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    \$\begingroup\$ Having yesterday done the digging around necessary to understand this situation, I've edited the question to include the necessary context. Based on that real context, I've also edited the question to be about the real situation (it's just about one downvote reason, not about close votes or flags). I've also taken the liberty of changing most of the assertions in the question into questions—that makes the question sound more curious and less combative, making it more inviting to answer in a spirit of learning. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 8, 2016 at 14:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ Yes, Mala is confused between my directive to not post main site questions hassling another user about their comments and SSD's directive to post clear links/references in this meta question complaining about that. Those are two completely separate things. We've explained it a dozen times but it hasn't taken. \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Commented Aug 9, 2016 at 4:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Mala Nope, for the reasons already explained. We just dealt with this over pages of moderation messages. We're not going to watch you try to continue that argument here. Comments doing that will be removed. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 9, 2016 at 8:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ Mala, being privately unwilling to accept any result other than the one you want is fine, in private, but you do need to stop repeating yourself after being told clearly and repeatedly that your demand is rejected. Repeating yourself ad nauseam is not going to change anything. Comments removed, as promised, and Officially: Knock it off. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 9, 2016 at 20:30

3 Answers 3


Downvotes happen

A question or answer can be downvoted for any reason. In a perfect world, it should not be, but taking the risk of asking or answering means that sometimes voters dislike a question or answer for whatever reason and that reason doesn't matter. The reason can't actually matter: even if the voter gives a tasteless or counterintuitive reason for the downvote, if the voter wants that question downvoted, downvoted it will stay (patterns of system-gaming, user deletion, and so on notwithstanding). Bribes, friendly persuasion, or links to a Meta post might get the voter to reconsider, but the voter never must reconsider. In fact, often, trying to force the voter to see the error in his downvote only reinforces that younot the question—deserve the downvote. (I've seen a few questions and answers that now seem innocuous but when posted yielded comment wars (now deleted) that had folks pretty obviously downvoting the user rather than the question or the answer, for instance.)

Seemingly well-researched and clear questions and, likewise, seemingly useful answers get downvoted for worse reasons than—and I totally agree that this is a bad reason—You should just use illegally obtained sources. (Worse reasons, in my opinion, include, for example, the voter believing a question's answer so obvious that the question shouldn't've even been asked in the first place despite the asker's sincerity or the voter disagreeing with an answer's conclusion no matter how otherwise expertly presented and informative the answer is, respectively—both of which reflect of my own experiences.)

Asking and answering questions eventually yields downvotes, and most of the time the voter's anonymous and the reason's opaque. In this case, though, you were fortunate to encounter a voter who explained the reason for the downvote, and—while this is certainly no consolation—that's more feedback (even if it is terrible feedback) than most folks receive when their question or answer is downvoted.

Note: I've no horse in this race, not interesting me, but I do answer many et al. make-a-list-for-me questions, some of which receive downvotes for no apparent reason.


So, we have some material which is not legally available in electronic format and it is thus impossible to ctrl+f search it unless a lot of scanning and turning the images into text is done. That is surely a lot of work, but I don't feel it is tied to the effort as we mean it when casting downvotes.

Basically, the problem is not "how long it takes" but "how hard is it to grasp". Writing a list is more often than not just a matter of time spent parsing books, with no real judgement involved. Anybody can do it. So, despite manual searching being a bothersome task, I feel like "effort not shown" is a valid downvote reason.

Usually, effort is shown where the querent has problems understanding how a thing works despite reading the whole thing. An exception that makes a question good despite the low effort is when the material is scattered and hard to put together (the "I don't even know where to start looking" problem).

In the end, I don't think this is really important. Unlike close reasons, users are not asked to state why they downvote, and if someone downvotes because they think there's no effort, well, they think there's no effort. Are they basing this assumption because they take piracy for granted? Their problem. Should they comment about their reasons, I would personally ask them how do they think it's short. It's usually enough to have other readers notice the problem and be aware that they might not want to believe the first commenter about the perceived effort.

  • \$\begingroup\$ If the body of material is too big, it's a big effort. Just because someone knows all this by heart and knows the lets say 10 places to look, that's expertise that's non-trivial to get. There's a reason a site like this is so useful; experts might solve something in minutes that takes many hours for novices... \$\endgroup\$
    – Mala
    Commented Aug 7, 2016 at 17:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ Also, I get your point, but this doesn't really answer the question. Reading a thousand pages (as per assumption in the question) is not a low or not enough effort.... \$\endgroup\$
    – Mala
    Commented Aug 7, 2016 at 17:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ if someone downvotes because they think there's no effort, well, they think there's no effort. That point probably needs emphasis. The voting system is a core tool of all SE/SO sites, and has certain features that may or may not please some of us as users. One such feature is the anonymity feature, which does not require a comment from a down vote. Leaving comments to ask for clarity or improvement in a question or answer is encouraged, but not required. None of us gets to dictate how others vote here. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 9, 2016 at 4:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast But as Seven rewrote in the question, "Downvoting for low effort would seem to say that I should have pirated the material to solve my problem, and I don't think that's a base assumption that rpg.se should make.". Do you really disagree with that statement? \$\endgroup\$
    – Mala
    Commented Aug 9, 2016 at 18:20
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    \$\begingroup\$ Mala, I offer you no opinion on that statement. What I offer you is the point that none of us gets to dictate how others vote. We had an extended discussion with @nvoigt last year on meta regarding voting, particularly how voting on this stack seems to be different from other stacks. So, I'll bold it in an effort to make it crystal clear: None of us gets to dictate how others vote here. That includes SSD, me, you, BESW, everyone. How voting manifests as a behavior can occasionally be frustrating, but it's a feature, not a bug, of the SE/SO sites. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 9, 2016 at 18:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Mala you make it look like you want to give Korvin no choice but to agree, otherwise he "must" be pro-piracy. I suggest you try to avoid rethorical questioning. (I, for one, disagree with the sentence you quoted because I don't think that the "would seem to say" is necessarily true.) \$\endgroup\$
    – Zachiel
    Commented Aug 9, 2016 at 18:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast Indeed, it's unfortunate that these un-SE-like voting patterns are so prevalent here. I do disagree that it's a feature - it's really a bug in my eyes. Oh well. Anyway, I am far from wanting to dictate anything, far less being able to do so, so that bolded part is moot no matter what. \$\endgroup\$
    – Mala
    Commented Aug 9, 2016 at 18:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Zachiel Sorry to give that impression, but that's really the core of the question - is it low effort if the 'low' requires bad behaviour. Anyway, it's Seven's words, not mine (he quite extensively rewrote my original question). \$\endgroup\$
    – Mala
    Commented Aug 9, 2016 at 18:54
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @Mala I do disagree that it's a feature - it's really a bug in my eyes. RPG.SE is made up of people, not bugs. ;-) \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 9, 2016 at 18:59

Yes, it's fair to downvote a post — period, full stop. Anyone can downvote for whatever reason they like.

Why are “wrong” votes allowed though?

It's a necessary feature of the site's functioning. To make the site work, we need accurate scores beside posts. To get accurate scores for posts, we need as much data as possible. To get that, the site's design and software encourages as much voting as possible of all kinds, because more votes means more accurate scores.

A consequence is that “wrong” votes (both up and down) must be allowed, because any barrier to voting would drastically decrease voting.

Fortunately, by encouraging many votes, the effect of “wrong” votes is automatically fixed: the more votes you have, the more “wrong” votes disappear into the statistical noise. What matters is what most of the votes say, not what one vote says.

So votes being at the full discretion of the voter is a necessary, non-negotiable feature of the site since, without it, the site would be really bad at the job it exists to do. It's a bug, not a feature. You get to vote however you like — so does everyone else. Enjoy the privilege, and accept that it means everyone else will too.

But still, why is the question “low effort”?

Although the basic fact is that the votes don't need to be justified at all, we can still look at why this question could be judged “low effort”.

Here is your objection, rephrased: But if it would take a lot of effort to answer a question, how can it be low effort to ask it?

Notice the difference: high effort to answer; low effort to ask. The fact that these apply to different things — the answering and asking — is the key to understanding why a question can require high effort to answer but still count as unacceptably low effort to ask.

In this case, “why is this low effort” is easily answered. The trouble with this question is that it already contains its solution, and the solution takes effort to use. The real problem you have is one that this site is not made to solve: that you just don't want to expend the effort to use the solution you already have.

That's low effort. “I know how to get the answer to my own question, but I don't want to do the work. Here is the work that needs doing; please do it for me so that I don't have to waste my own time,” is going to get downvoted for low effort.

Answering the question might be high effort, but that's not what the downvote means — the downvote is on the question. It means that the asker has not made enough effort to solve their own problem, or is asking the question to try to avoid making any effort to solve their own problem.

Asking other people to do work that you can do yourself (but don't want to) is making low effort.

More generally stated: how much effort it takes to answer a question doesn't matter; what matters is whether the question appears to exist to help the asker avoid doing work. When it does, it will naturally attract a few or many downvotes for low effort.

This is statistical though, not absolute

But keep in mind that voting is purposely statistical — what one voter thinks is low effort is not important, it's what the hypothetical “average” voter thinks that the site's voting mechanics are designed to harvest. So if some voters think a question is low effort, it will get some downvotes, and if many voters think it is low effort, it will get many downvotes. If there are many voters who disagree, these will be counterbalanced by upvotes. The collective judgement is what matters.

Overall the point is this: one downvote is nearly nothing. If you want to understand why someone would vote a question for low effort, the above is relevant, but it's really a waste of time caring about one downvote. It's only when more or many votes agree that it becomes worthwhile to try to parse what they mean.

(And this is why SE doesn't/won't ever require commenting when downvoting: it would wrongly focus on individual reasons for voting, when SE's voting system is designed to focus on an aggregate judgement, not individual judgements.)

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    \$\begingroup\$ Asking other people to do work that you can do yourself (but don't want to) is making low effort. When I encountered the question, I refrained from making this point in a comment even though it was my gut response. I am glad that on meta we can, without cluttering up the main site, speak frankly to one another via the question and answer method. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 10, 2016 at 18:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ RE: "[Low effort means] 'I know how to get the answer to my own question, but I don't want to do the work. Here is the work that needs doing; please do it for me so that I don't have to waste my own time.'" Really? For such questions, wouldn't Someone has already done this (if someone has) (plus a link and an evaluation of the work) or advice like It's legal for you to do this yourself because be a better response than a low effort vote and Do it yourself, ya lazy bum? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 12, 2016 at 10:12
  • \$\begingroup\$ @HeyICanChan If we're talking about answers, yes, those are better. But talking about downvotes and whether the tooltip applies, this addresses the primary confusion the OP has about how avoiding high effort could be seen by a voter as low effort. Note too that between otherwise similar questions, one might attract "low effort" votes and another not, based on what impression it gives voters. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 12, 2016 at 14:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ Cool. Just making sure there's an in-between and not only a high effort-low effort dichotomy. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 12, 2016 at 16:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ @HeyICanChan Should I add something about how low effort doesn't make a question unworthy of an answer (i.e., doesn't make it closeable)? That shouldn't be the take-away here, but I can't tell if it might be doing that anyway. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 12, 2016 at 16:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ I wouldn't have commented had that been my takeaway. That is, it sounds like your rubric is pretty unyielding. But I've a tendency toward over-reading and extremism, so… I dunno. How many folks do you think will read it like I did and not comment? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 12, 2016 at 16:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ @HeyICanChan I think I see what you mean? I gave it an edit, but I'm not sure if it addresses that. I'm having a hard time figuring out how to present my evaluation of the question, which explains why I think it's obvious that someone could downvote it for low effort, without making it sound like an absolute rubric that everyone does/should use. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 12, 2016 at 16:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ RE : "Asking other people to do work that you can do yourself (but don't want to) is making low effort." I know you know, but that's not what the button says. The button says low research effort, which can be distinguished from low personal effort. I can't find this on the Web; has anyone else found it? might be just bad research but involve a high amount of personal effort, and (while that question's terrible) that's rewarded on the rubric presented despite the button saying to do otherwise. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 12, 2016 at 16:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ That is, I answer a lot of questions that amalgamate a number of sources, and some of those questions might get downvoted by a casual reader who go by the letter of this when, in fact, the research is hard and involves a lot of prior knowledge. It'd be a shame to see those questions retroactively punished for this rubric. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 12, 2016 at 16:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ @HeyICanChan “I know where to find exactly the information I want, but I don't want to do the final step in such research. Please do the reading for me and compile the results?” is low research effort though. There is lots of value to having expertise that allows the research in the first place, which is great for questions where even knowing how to start requires that expertise. Those aren't low research effort questions; they tried and failed, and turned to experts for help. This question isn't that kind though. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 12, 2016 at 16:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ I understand the distinction. Really, I do. But that the distinction is more in the question's presentation than its substance is the part that's difficult to quantify when explaining what could later be later cited as a rule. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 12, 2016 at 17:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ @HeyICanChan This isn't a rule though, it's just explanation. The rule is "people vote how they like" and "the tooltip gives guidance", which we inherit from SE in general. Ironically, codifying it more precisely would actually make it more mistakeable for a rule, and I don't want to encourage that at all! As for distinguishing substance and presentation—that's why we recruit the complex rational-intuitive discernment of human voters to suss that out in aggregate. I happen to personally think there's a substance problem with the question, but that's why I only get one up/down vote. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 12, 2016 at 19:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ Fair enough. However, I had one of my questions fall victim to a nonrule Read the Book to Me idea, citing a mod post about it. I can imagine the same thing happening here. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 12, 2016 at 19:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ @HeyICanChan People will be people; flawed and imprecise. It does not look like that citation of the idea was endorsed by many, and was in fact rebuked by at least three. It looks like noise on the wire, properly compensated for by the system. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 12, 2016 at 19:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think part of the issue here is that it often takes a long time for a citizen to separate down votes and close votes; the idea that a question can be righteously downvoted without any reason to close it is admittedly odd on its surface, and I've seen the two curation systems (sorting existing content by quality and moderating content to limit new low-quality additions) conflated quite often. \$\endgroup\$
    – BESW
    Commented Aug 12, 2016 at 23:38

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