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I recently posted an answer. It quickly got two upvotes, and then it got a downvote.

When I see downvotes on my posts (and I've gotten a few), my impression is "oops, I totally misunderstood what the questioner wanted. I had better reread it." Up to this point, the source of the downvote was clear: either I had misunderstood the question, or else the question was stated ambiguously enough that I could have misunderstood the question. In all cases, the response on my part is to withdraw my answer, since it doesn't contribute.

This time, I'm a bit baffled (I think I answered the user's question). While I understand the anonymity aspect of downvotes, I guess I'd make the "feature-request" that downvotes be accompanied by some sort of secondary click that indicates a generic reason for downvote, to give the author of the downvoted response additional feedback.

Possible generic reasons might include:

  • doesn't answer user question
  • poor programming form
  • not concise
  • other

I'm sure there are others. It's just a bit unnerving to get downvoted when you can't figure out why.

UPDATE: Well, I think I got an update. The questioner pointed out an essential feature that he found lacking in my solution. So, the particulars of this question may be moot, but the generic question remains. How to interpret downvotes if they are not followed up with a comment?

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    It's good practice to leave a downvote comment so that people get a chance to correct and improve themselves or prefer not to vote and leave comment on improvement. Just downvote is very difficult to interpret (may be rage/angry.. no idea) but it needs a moral strength to leave downvote comment. BTW one can always ask back why ? using a comment – texenthusiast May 22 '13 at 19:13
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    I ask many questions but I would never downvote the answer right off the bat. If it doesn't answer the question, I leave comments first so we can answer the question which is more important to me. To your point, since people want to be anonymous, a system like that where there is information but no identity would be nice to questioner and the answerers. – dustin Jun 14 '13 at 3:09
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The simple answer is don't even try to interpret downvotes. :) You will receive so few of them that in the grand scheme of things they are even more irrelevant than votes already are.

But that aside, the voting system on the Stack Exchange sites was designed (I think) to be the great democratic way of deciding quality, and in that democratic tradition, votes are intended to be anonymous, so there is no way the The Powers that Be will require comments associated with down votes. However, voting patterns on the different sites vary, and here we pride ourselves on up voting a lot on both questions and answers, and down voting very sparingly. For example, in my two years or so on the site, I've cast 4187 up votes and only 16 down votes, and many of the other high reputation users have similar patterns. (For example, egreg has 19,007 up votes and only 22 down votes at time of writing.)

So down voting here is really infrequent by most users, and we generally prefer to comment rather than down vote for the reasons you suggest. Also most of us reserve down votes to answers that are simply wrong rather than less ideal than some other answer. Learning this culture, however, takes some time and perhaps overt instruction by other users. When I've received down votes in the past, I've often left a comment explicitly asking for a reason. If I see what appears to be a fair answer that has received a down vote I might leave a comment myself asking why. Sometimes people reply, and sometimes other people reply saying "I didn't down vote you, but perhaps ... is the problem".

So if you do get down voted, don't worry too much about it, and leave a comment asking for explanation. At best, you might get a response; at worst, you might make people think twice the next time they down vote without commenting.

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