I'm a new member, and I've noticed that a number of questions (which seem fine to me, and apparently also to others who answer them) get down-voted. Then an answer I gave about frying potatoes got down-voted, so I read the guidelines about doing so, and they weren't remotely pertinent to my answer or to most questions. I started here with a question which was closed as off-topic (understandably), but to which I got helpful answers before it closed, and it was that helpfulness and courtesy which led me to join. Now I see new users whose questions get marked down, and it seems like needless negativity. Thoughts?

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    Must....resist...urge to downvote.... – MikeTheLiar Dec 17 '12 at 14:54
  • Could you please list some examples? That will help us answer your question. – yossarian Dec 17 '12 at 17:09
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    Also, just so you know, down votes have a different connotation in meta than in the main site. On the main site, a down vote means 'bad', 'wrong', 'disapprove' etc. In meta, a down vote means 'I disagree'. So, whoever down voted your question did so to say, 'I don't think this is an issue' and not 'I don't like the question'. – yossarian Dec 17 '12 at 17:12

Statistically, our site receives about 40 upvotes for every downvote, a figure which seems to be loosely applicable across most of the Stack Exchange network.

That means two things:

  1. Chances are, you will receive some downvotes, eventually. Somebody is going to disagree with you for reasons that may or may not be clear at the time. So don't sweat it if you get a few.

  2. If somebody is incurring a lot of downvotes and not very many upvotes, then that typically indicates a misunderstanding about how the site works. Either that or a lot of wrong answers, but that's comparatively rare.

Regarding your particular situation, I only see one of your answers (out of 11) that was downvoted, and said answer does not appear to answer the question - it's just a recipe.

I can completely understand the urge to post recipes on a cooking site, and sometimes that's a valid answer, but it's important to stay on topic first and foremost. Try this recipe is helpful when it's accompanied by an explanation of why that recipe is better/best; if you're having trouble articulating that, then consider the possibility that you may not know the real answer.

We're trying to avoid the situation where somebody arrives at one of our questions from a Google search, sees 10 recipes posted in response, and leaves even more confused than they started because all the recipes are different and there are too many to actually try or even sort through. That is why our voting culture favours answers that explain something at a conceptual or practical level, and conversely, may penalize answers that seem superficial or lacking context.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but the majority of "too many downvotes" problems I've seen in my fairly long history here can be remedied by simply reading the questions a little more carefully and answering them directly - as opposed to posting a "response" à la discussion forum.

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    Honestly, some of you seem rather full of yourselves; now I understand all the down-votes. – daisy_ann Dec 17 '12 at 21:25
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    @daisy_ann: Meta is not Customer Care. We participate here to help members through the grey areas, not to gush sympathy and reassurance through empty platitudes. If you consider the above explanation to be a description of people who are "full of themselves" then I'm sorry to say you've wasted both your time and ours by posting here on meta; this isn't just incidentally how we operate, it's pretty much the whole intent of this site. You can either try to see it from our perspective or you can lash out, no matter, but rest assured that the latter won't accomplish anything productive. – Aaronut Dec 18 '12 at 2:58
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    I'd like to see a change made to the down-voting procedure over the entire SE network, namely that whenever a user downvotes an answer, they're forced to leave a reason why. It's the anonymity of downvoting and lack of reasons for why that I think irks many users, particularly newish ones. – spiceyokooko Dec 18 '12 at 17:05
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    @spiceyokooko, I disagree. You want it to be as easy to leave down votes as up votes, otherwise the voting will be even more skewed. Down votes are important to help filter good answers to the top. And it has to be anonymous or all sorts of petty retaliation and cliques would develop. The issue is when new users come to the site and get all butt hurt that someone didn't like their contribution. Some users don't care, and some freak out. I'm not sure there's much to do about the latter. Even long time users (daniel / roux) have quit in a huff over it. – yossarian Dec 18 '12 at 17:17
  • @yossarian Fair enough. It's not that bad here in all honesty, it can be dreadful on some other SE sites. I think I'll try and do that myself though, add constructive comments rather than necessarily voting something down as being unhelpful. – spiceyokooko Dec 18 '12 at 17:23
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    @spiceyokooko, the best practice is probably to down vote and leave a comment. Then check back and reverse the down vote if appropriate. – yossarian Dec 18 '12 at 18:15
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    Aaronut, my answer was based upon the entirety of my reading, here, and in the other forum. I did not find you (based upon your answer) to be full of yourself, and I am sorry you took it so personally. Trust me, I have neither a desire or need for coddling. However, on the internet, as in life, I, like many others, find people who display an exaggerated sense of their own self-worth to be annoying, and best ignored. – daisy_ann Dec 18 '12 at 23:14

In general, the downvoting here is a very good thing. I even think that there isn't enough of it. It is important feedback. Keeping back important negative feedback out of fear to hurt someone's feelings is a terrible strategy, here and everywhere else. It makes the non-critiqued person feel nicer in the short term, but makes learning impossible, effectively depriving them of a good chance to improve.

There is no need to feel bad about downvotes, or to take them personally. A downvote just means that somebody found your post less useful than he or she expected it to be. It is not an insult, but an invitation to improve something about your current post as well as your future ones. A combination of very few downvotes and lots of upvotes means that some of the visitors probably had much too high expectations.

Consistently low upvote numbers combined with some downvotes mean that the people who read your answers did not find what they were looking for. The site's intention is to enable you to help other people, so you should rethink your strategy. I agree that in your particular case, it is hard, because most downvoters don't seem to take their time to explain what they did not like in your answers. I can see why this frustrates you, so I will speculate a bit on the reasons.

  • You frequently give completely subjective answers. Your answer to the tea making tools question is a typical example (I didn't downvote it, but was on the verge). It says that you personally like teaballs, and continues to mention that there are teapots and some unspecified microwaveable heaters on the market, without discussing them. For somebody who needs to take a decision, this means spending 1 minute reading and not learning anything which brings him or her closer to a decision. The information that somebody on the Internet (you) likes teaballs for undisclosed reasons is not helpful. You don't comment on any pros or cons of the devices you mention. In contrast, the accepted answer (which has an uncommonly high number of upvotes for such a recent answer) lists good, experience-based reasons to decide for or against most of the usual tea making devices.

  • Sometimes you give useful information, but it is so deeply interwoven with irrelevant information that it is hard to find. I can assume that the downvoter either found it and was irritated by it being so hard, or even didn't notice it, which is obviously a bad thing when you are trying to convey this information. For example, your answer to this cookie dough question contains something I found very interesting:

In the future, you might want to look for a freezable dough board. I have one which uses gel packs you place in the freezer; you can keep them stored there, then remove and place in between the plastic trays when you want to use it. You can find them in cooking supply stores

I still didn't upvote it, because the rest of the answer does not address the question at all. The OP specifically noted that she can roll the dough OK, so your comment on how to roll it easier was unneeded. The idea to add more flour is already contained in another answer and repeating it doesn't help people who want to find information quickly.

  • Related to the above: your writing and formatting style is somewhat hard to parse. You rarely structure your text into paragraphs, and the information density in your text is not very high. This makes it harder to appreciate the useful information you are trying to share.

To summarize, you seem to behave as if you are idly chatting with a friend, socializing, exchanging thoughts. Most people who come here are not looking for this. They want succint, exact, in-depth answers, and want to find them efficiently, without having to wade through text which does not interest them. Many of our users will tolerate your style without action (but probably also refrain from upvoting this kind of answers even if they include some helpful information). Some will be irritated enough to give a downvote.

You don't have to adapt to our preferred answer style if you don't want to, but the goal of the system is to give incentive to people whose posts are compatible with this style. Consequently, if you do not wish to change your style, you will probably get lots of downvotes - which doesn't have to be a bad thing in itself, after all it is nothing but pixels on a screen.

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    Wow. Nice answer. A lot of good advice and your final sentence is almost poetic. I like a casual tone from time to time but it is important that it not distract from the point. – Sobachatina Dec 19 '12 at 22:19
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    I wish I could upvote this answer more - it's very well-researched and detailed! – KatieK Dec 20 '12 at 20:12

The salient instruction for when to downvote an answer is "This answer is not useful". Since you raised your answer about frying potatoes as an example:

I love fried potatoes and have been making them for ages. I usually use red potatoes and never pre-cook them; I just chop them, add them to a large saucepan or wok with 1/4 - 1/2 cup of heated vegetable oil (I like Smartbalance), add seasoning, and stir/toss them periodically until they test done (crisp outside, tender inside). Adding some fresh basil at the end of cooking is a flavor & health bonus. Easy, nutritious, delicious. :)

I've italicised the parts which don't actually have anything to do with the question: giving you the benefit of the doubt, about half of the answer is irrelevant. Someone who doesn't look closely could believe that the response doesn't address the actual substance of the question at all. Someone who does look closer will see

I usually use red potatoes and never pre-cook them; I just chop them, add them to a large saucepan or wok with 1/4 - 1/2 cup of heated vegetable oil, and stir/toss them periodically until they test done (crisp outside, tender inside).

and wonder two things: firstly, is there any universal truth here, or is it just personal anecdote; and secondly, what does this add to the existing 5 or 6 answers (some of which were very good ones)?

  • They were good answers, as was mine. The difference in my answer was that the potatoes are not boiled prior to being fried, which is one solution sure to prevent a soggy potato, as the questioner sought. – daisy_ann Dec 17 '12 at 21:28
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    @daisy_ann, if that's the difference in your answer then highlight it. Make the first sentence something like "One option is to skip the pre-boiling step". List the implications for the rest of the process - oil temperature, approximate cooking time. If possible give more detail about the variety of potato which you know works. The Stack Exchange platform allows you to edit your answer in response to feedback, and downvotes can be undone (or even converted into upvotes) if the voter considers that an edit fixes the problem they previously perceived. – Peter Taylor Dec 17 '12 at 22:39
  • Thank you for the suggestion. I am unaccustomed to forums such as this, or internet forums as a whole, and tend to write the same way I would speak to a person asking me a question. Your tip is helpful. – daisy_ann Dec 18 '12 at 23:07
  • I'd disagree that the first sentance was superflous -- establishing your experience and credibility to answer the question can be useful. I've seen a few answers on this site that seem well written up, but had enough subtle things in them that made me question if I was mis-interpreting what they wrote, if they were just researching the problem and writing it up without real experience (and possibly making mistakes in paraphrasing or transcription), or if it's some form of subtle trolling. The statement means I can eliminate the second case, and post a comment asking for clarification. – Joe Dec 26 '12 at 17:33

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