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Whenever I post an answer I immediately get downvotes. This always puzzled me as there never seems to be a reason for it.

I tried posting a comment asking if downvoters could please leave a comment so I can correct any problems. I received a lot of comments which is great, and fixed some problems.

But I also received a comment linking to this meta, saying that it is not good to ask for comments. However that meta is about requiring people to make comments as a matter of policy, not one user simply asking another. The reasons given don't really make sense in this context.

So, in general is it ok to ask for comments?

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It doesn't hurt to ask ...

Many users on many SE site do ask for feedback to help understand what caused a negative reaction to a given answer or question.

... but don't be upset by a lack of follow up

SE encourages "down vote and move on" as a way to prevent comments wars ... which sometimes happen. So if you do ask, and don't get the feedback you are looking for, then let it go and see if you can spot what may have elicited the down vote. Or just press on.

If you do get a reply as to "why", then avoid the impulse to argue.

@Miniman tried to coach me on this when I was new to the site. It took a while for me to embrace what he was getting at, but over time what I found works best is that if a "Hey, what's wrong with this?" comment gets a reply, and one disagrees with that reply, it is best to resist the urge to argue about it. That can be hard to do, but resisting that urge is the better plan.

Why is that?

If we ask for that feedback, and we get it, and then we start an argument with whomever fed back to us, it disincentivizes that person, and observers, from responding to a similar inquiry about a down vote in the future. Arguments in comments are not value added.
I had to learn that the hard way.

@Novak offers this experiential point in a comment that is IMO good guidance:
It's also probably best done sparingly: I ask when I get a downvote (or a bunch) that really baffle or confuse me, but if I asked on every downvote I'd come across as... I'm not sure what, exactly, but nothing good.


A community history point on this kind of interaction

I was discussing this with @doppelgreener, who has a much longer experience with this site and with SE than I do. A norm developed over time on a lot of SE sites to prefer to not ask "why the down votes?" under one's answer/question. While it was never expressly forbidden, it does tend to lead to arguments. Arguments in comments add to noise, not signal, on an SE site so argument prevention is desirable. To paraphrase what doppel told me:

  • The goal of that guidance is to minimise the number of all-out arguments the site has. Requesting feedback on why your answer is being downvoted is not a bad thing, by itself, but it has a very good chance of generating an argument (maybe 50% as a finger-in-air estimate). So be sensitive to that before one so asks.
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    \$\begingroup\$ This is kind of what I was trying to say, I guess. Asking is okay, but arguing with the feedback is not. It seems like many times it does lead to arguments/debates, tho. And that's when it does hurt to ask. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Feb 5 at 19:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch Yeah, it does, and given the human nature thing I don't think we'll see it end. (I see that request a lot at Christianity.SE) \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Feb 5 at 19:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yup, I don't think we'll see it end, but that's also why I think the other metas did try to discourage asking. But if the stack citizens want it back in, then we can encourage it. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Feb 5 at 20:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ This goes right along with one of my dad's adages: "don't ask a question unless you're ready for the answer." \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 Feb 5 at 21:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ It's also probably best done sparingly: I ask when I get a downvote (or a bunch) that really baffle or confuse me, but if I asked on every downvote I'd come across as... I'm not sure what, exactly, but nothing good. \$\endgroup\$ – Novak Feb 5 at 23:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ Personally, if I think a question or answer can be improved, if there is something to salvage, I'll comment but not downvote. If I think it's hot garbage or totally wrong, I'll downvote and move on. \$\endgroup\$ – T.J.L. Feb 12 at 13:37
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It's always ok to ask, but there's no guarantee you'll get a response.

The reason for this is because downvotes already have their own reasons.

This question/answer does not show any research effort; it is unclear or not useful

And unfortunately, everyone interprets things differently. Some people may see your question as not useful because you could simply do a bit of google searching to come up with your own answer, you just haven't looked in the right places, and therefore posting a question about it, to that user, it appears that your question is not useful or shows little research effort. To others, they may misinterpret your question, or not understand what you're asking.

Asking for help to improve your post is always welcome.

Sometimes, you may get a comment pointing out some of the faults in your post. A detail that could be added, like an excerpt or a specific situation to define your question. Maybe simply formatting the question or rewording things a bit could help. If you don't get these comments, do feel free to ask for assistance. If we can help you improve, then that means we can help improve the quality of the site; which is something everyone strives for.

As V2Blast has commented, there are posts that can help you improve the faults in your own questions and answers, and the Tour and Help Center can also help you to improve.

But remember, we are not responsible for maintaining or improving your posts - if you contribute to the effort to improve, we can assist, but you are responsible for making the effort to contribute to this site; not us.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ What about a pre-emptive request for comments? Same answer? \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Feb 5 at 20:09
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    \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch: I'd argue preemptive requests are even less necessary, because people are already aware that they can use comments to provide feedback. When there are unexplained downvotes and the issue isn't obvious, then some people might want to ask why people are downvoting. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Feb 5 at 21:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ @v2blast that's why I was asking because thats the action I'm seeing now. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Feb 5 at 21:36
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Usually it's not bad, but it isn't helping.

Reasons for why were given to you in abundance in other answers here.


What's wrong then?

I have looked up your answers sorted by ranking. All in all, you have some very highly appraised answers (and questions) but also some very poorly regarded ones. I count 46 answers with negative scores of -1 to -8. One of the two -8 is an accepted self answer - which means that the stack disagrees with your reasoning heavily.

After reviewing several of these low regarded answers (the worse half), it appears to me, that the reasons you might get downvotes often fall into one of these categories, always featuring one example:

  • Some answers were arguing against the limits of the premise.
    • In a review question, where you need to objectively reason why you rule this or that way, your only argument is "I feel".
  • Some answers were tangential to the actual question.
  • Some answers were very convoluted and extremely hard to read, let alone understand.
    • Here it was explicitly told you that your answer is hard to understand by others.
  • Some answers are just incorrect.
    • Here you say it's an exception when a day earlier an error was acknowledged by the publisher and subsequently fixed.
  • Some answers were written in a rather hostile tone towards other answers or OP.
    • Here you argue against the errata of a spell that was erratically errataed and then fixed by subsequent overriding errata. By the way, those errata happened 4 and 3 years before your answer, making this also something for bucket 4.
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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for answering their situation and not the strawman question they have devised from their situation. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk - SE stop being evil Feb 17 at 2:24
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At face value yes, but looking deeper...maybe not

If you review both the meta you link on required comments as well as the FAQ V2blast linked to in the comments of the question, you'll note that there are very good reasons as to why we don't necessarily want to encourage comments.

Which seems hypocritical in some ways because we always want to improve our answers so that they are both better received by the community as well as potentially more relevant to the querent.

Ultimately, we vote as we want to vote. And if users want to provide explanation, they are free to do so in the manner recommended - and many will do so, and do so without being asked. For those that don't want to give a comment with their vote, they shouldn't feel like they need to because someone left a comment requesting it.

People understand that if they give feedback, the answer can be improved. And many are vocal and not shy to say something. But if they don't want to, that's totally fine as well.

Asking for feedback just isn't necessary. And if feedback is given, I'd also generally recommend either using it in your answer or asking for it to be deleted as not necessary. Debating in the comments about it may not be fruitful and returns us back to why encouraging comments can be problematic.

Looking beyond rep

Getting downvotes is still a bummer, though. We want to know why so that we can try to fix it and turn that negative rep into sweet positive rep. Rather than asking for feedback, I'd recommend reviewing the positively reviewed answers against yours to see where they diverge. Sometimes it's things you can fix. Maybe it's in your use of support, tone, language, or something unrelated you notice. And you can then apply that to either your current answer or your next one.

But sometimes it's also just pure disagreement. If you believe in your answer, then you're not going to fix that. Diversity of opinions makes us strong, and just because you got some downvotes, maybe you got upvotes, too. And those upvotes are both worth more and tell you there are some like-minded folks, too.

And finally, there's always the possibility that you can change your mind. I've definitely written answers and later realized my approach, logic, or reasoning wasn't the best and end up agreeing with someone else that my answer was problematic - even when I was really confident in my initial approach.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This answer goes against the reality of human nature. Asking for explanations does in fact tend to result in more explanations. People tend to not want to do more effort than necessary, so they many won't volunteer information unless they know it is wanted. Plus simply saying something can remind you do so. Furthermore, trying to figuring things out from other Answers is an inherently inferior method. Comments are about improving answers, and asking for help does not make them any worse. \$\endgroup\$ – trlkly Feb 5 at 18:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ I also note that none of the links you pointed out (The Meta or VBlast's comment) say comments are bad in and of themselves. Just certain types of comments or forcing people to give comments. You don't want a comment that just says you disagree without giving an explanation--no comment is better. And you don't want to force people who downvote to leave a comment, because sometimes the answer will just be "I disagree." That doesn't mean that comments are bad, and thus does not mean that asking for comments is bad. \$\endgroup\$ – trlkly Feb 5 at 18:33
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    \$\begingroup\$ @trlkly I don't think I ever said comments were bad. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Feb 5 at 18:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm conflicted over the last paragraph of the first section. Because while asking for feedback isn't necessary, I know I'm a lot more likely to explain my downvote if the author has shown some genuine interest in hearing what others have to say. Actually, I almost never explain a downvote unless the author asks for it. I agree, though, with your point about not leaving comment-debates to linger. \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 Feb 5 at 21:51
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    \$\begingroup\$ @nitsua60 That's an interesting point that I hadn't considered. I sometimes ask for clarification, but sometimes not. At times it's from previous history or not, but I don't think someone asking or not asking has ever been a factor for me. But that it is for others can't be ignored. But honestly, my biggest concern is that asking for it and then debating it creates comment sections that I'm not sure we want to promote. But maybe we do! \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Feb 5 at 21:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ And to be a little clearer: there are a good few dozen or even a hundred people whose posts I wouldn't hesitate to comment--you'll probably find them atop the "activity" tab =) But strangers, or a couple active members I've knocked knuckles against... someone else can leave the comment if it's that important. \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 Feb 5 at 22:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ @nitsua60 I'm a slow learner, but I'm starting to figure that out. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Feb 6 at 1:52
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    \$\begingroup\$ @trlkly I think your first comment is missing some elements, honestly. Yes, asking for feedback can lead to good, actionable, feedback. But in my experience both as a user and an elected mod it can also be a prickly author annoyed that someone doesn't recognize their brilliance who wants to take it out on someone. You may not have run across it--which is great!--but a lot of the comments the community deletes are very argumentative and clearly not helping anyone do anything =\ \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 Feb 6 at 14:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch I think it would be great if you asked "why the downvotes on this answer" and see what happens. (Yeah, I have a sick sense of humor) \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Feb 6 at 15:15
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    \$\begingroup\$ @trlkly I also never said it was bad to ask for comments. What I was trying to say was that asking for them could (and often does) lead to scenarios we try to avoid. And that goes back to don't ask for comments if you're going to argue with the feedback. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Feb 6 at 17:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ "I'd recommend reviewing the positively reviewed answers against yours to see where they diverge." - this is what you should presume the DV meant. Because if it was disagreement or serial DVing, an explanation wouldn't help. - Personal opinion: People with +10k rep and hundreds of up-votes on their answers can cry me a river. \$\endgroup\$ – Mazura Feb 9 at 2:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Mazura while I find your closing comment to hold a certain validity (if a bit harsh in tone) it is natural to solicit feedback when something one does gets a negative reaction. "Wait, what did I do wrong?" and "Was it something I said?" are not uncommon follow ups when someone gets a negative reaction to doing or saying something. (this comment follows up on the theme in trlky's comment regarding human nature) \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Feb 14 at 12:33

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