What is the proper way to deal with an incorrect answer from a new user? For example, this answer is incorrect. At the time, I was tempted to not respond because I didn't want to discourage the answerer from participating here in the future. Nearly a month has passed and it seems that ofer has not returned to the site. I wonder if the down-votes and my comment were responsible. (I never down-vote a first time questioner/answerer for exactly this reason.)

What is the right way to handle this situation in the future?

  • If it seems appropriate, I guess one of the mods could make contact and actually ask :-)
    – Joseph Wright Mod
    Commented Nov 28, 2010 at 21:39
  • I am surprised that "answer" received 11 up votes. Having two words for minus ("negative" and "minus" with apparent different meanings) is an American K-12 textbook educrat invention. For University math departments and for the rest of the world there is only one "minus".
    – Sony
    Commented Nov 4, 2011 at 23:25
  • @Sony: Feel free to vote my answer down.
    – TH.
    Commented Nov 5, 2011 at 0:48
  • @TH: I think I am agreeing with you. :)
    – Sony
    Commented Nov 5, 2011 at 12:52
  • @Sony: Okay, I guess I don't follow then. The only thing I see at that link that had 11 votes was my own answer which indeed used negative and minus (and as far as I can tell is correct, but then, I got my math degree at an American university, so what do I know?). The answer I linked to in my question here was deleted, which presumably you can't see because of your rep.
    – TH.
    Commented Nov 6, 2011 at 6:39
  • @TH: Thanks for pointing out that there is a misunderstanding between us. Apparently, you are talking about an "incorrect" answer that I cannot see. I was under the impression that you are talking about the answer that I can see. :) In any case, I will not vote down your answer as it is possible that there are more misunderstandings between us. I will stand behind what I said and leave it at that.
    – Sony
    Commented Nov 6, 2011 at 10:36
  • @TH: Even though I said I would leave it at that, I re-read your answer and I think I am wrong to say your answer is incorrect. (There are enough TeX experts in TeX.SX who can correct it if it is incorrect.) However, I am unhappy to hear that "someone" made a conscious decision to distinguish "minus" and "negative".
    – Sony
    Commented Nov 6, 2011 at 12:40

7 Answers 7


I agree with the anti-piling on sentiment. If an answer is already below zero then I'll not vote it any further. I'll try to leave a comment explaining why I don't think it's a useful answer. Indeed, if I feel that an answer is an honest attempt to answer the question, then even if it's wrong I'll not vote it down, trusting rather to comments and voting for other answers to differentiate. I tend to reserve my down votes for answers that are clearly pointless and don't even have the defence of being an honest attempt.

Of course, I'm only one person so if I don't vote against something that doesn't stop a few others voting against it. But if I leave a comment saying, "This doesn't answer the question because ..." then I think that people are inclined to vote up the comment rather than vote down the answer.

So to encourage friendly behaviour, I'd encourage everyone to leave comments as much as possible - friendly comments, but to the point. That way, there's a middle path for those that want to register that they don't like the answer, but also don't like the whole "voting down" part of the site.

tex.SX seems like quite a friendly place so far, I'd like to keep it that way. I think that tex is a bit unique in that we don't need any barriers to keep time-wasters out. On the whole, time-wasters won't come here. So I'd like us to be friendly by default and only use the negative aspects of the site if necessary.

On MathOverflow, a common thing is for people to start meta discussions on questions or answers where they feel that they'd be inclined to vote against it but they aren't sure, so we discuss it a bit first and that tends to soften things a little. (That is a part that I feel really does work better with a genuine forum than the SE architecture, but that's a battle for another day.)

  • 1
    Great answer, I agree with every single bit you wrote. Commented Nov 30, 2010 at 15:26
  • I'm new to this forum, but I really appreciated your response.
    – bellochio
    Commented Jun 1, 2011 at 17:21

I should think that at some point, this is bound to happen. I don't think that we need to change the way we treat incorrect answers from users if they have low reputation. As the site grows bigger (mods: any insights on our growth rate?), inevitably it will attract more people that are considered novice in all things TeX, and might have incorrect understanding of how things work (it's not exactly Java). So in the name of having high-quality answers, I think there shouldn't be any special treatment.

Seeing the problem on the other side, I'd be happy to be corrected if I answer wrongly to a question -- after all, StackExchange, and tex.SE by extension, is not a competition for gaining as much rep as possible for a unit time. It's the learning process that matter. So if a user sees this as a punishment instead of an opportunity to learn something new, or to straighten out a misconception -- I say, good riddance. Of course, there are bad ways of showing mistakes, but basically everybody on TeX.SE is tolerant enough to point them out calmly and without derision.

  • On the stats question, some general answers. Both new users and views do seem to be rising, although I'd that the growth in views is probably steeper. I guess that is to be expected: people looking for answers won't necessarily register.
    – Joseph Wright Mod
    Commented Nov 28, 2010 at 21:39
  • @Joseph: Right. What I haven't seen yet, which I do see on SO, is people who ask a question without registering. Commented Nov 29, 2010 at 9:37
  • I did (asking a question without registering)! But I registered later, yes.
    – Stephen
    Commented Aug 31, 2011 at 17:38

I agree with others that downvoting past -1 isn't usually necessary except in obvious cases of abuse.

I certainly prefer being downvoted when I'm wrong, though, so I really don't think there's anything you can do about this. People don't come back to forums all the time—I wouldn't take it personally in this case.


If I spot an answer that is clearly incorrect and has a positive or zero upvote/downvote total, I will downvote it. However, I will refrain from downvoting if the answer score is already below zero. Looking at TH.'s example, I think there was no need to vote ofer's answer down to -5 - this bears resemblance to punishment, and ofer may very well have perceived it as such.

  • +1. I wonder why the piling on--perhaps people found an easy way to earn their "Critic" badge? Commented Nov 29, 2010 at 13:00
  • 2
    @Matthew or it's a psychological effect -- you don't want to be the first to throw the stone, but after it has been cast, then you find it much easier to do what the others are doing -- "safety in numbers". Commented Nov 29, 2010 at 13:43
  • 4
    i'm inclined to make a comment about why an answer is incorrect rather than dowvote it. (i'm even inclined to comment on what i believe are incorrect comments.) i think this is generally more instructive. learning how tex works isn't something that can be accomplished in a single afternoon ... Commented Nov 6, 2011 at 20:39

I must confess that I use the downvote feature quite often. Many people use to copy solutions from the web without really understanding them (especially if they are hacking internal macros), and if one solution affects my caption package, there are good chances I will get impacted by the aftereffects afterwards.

So I downvote bad solutions regarding the caption package (and leave a short comment) simply to minimize the chance that I will get contacted later on by a user who picked that bad solution and because of this had run in trouble.

  • 6
    I think that this is a good use of down voting. What I like about what you describe are: 1) Your voting is a means to an end and you have thought carefully about why you do it, 2) You leave comments explaining why you are voting. Commented Nov 7, 2011 at 11:46

This answer has kind of a personal touch, hope that's OK. I can't really add anything new to what Andrew wrote, but I'd like to expand a bit.

I do actually downvote (rarely), but first I leave a comment in the way Andrew suggests, then I wait at least a day, and if there is no reaction to my comments, then I feel free to downvote. One reason for this is that one can't always be sure who's right: It may well be that the answer was OK although I thought it was wrong; maybe I just misunderstood something, or I was wrong myself. So when I leave a comment, that's friendlier and more useful (I think) than just downvoting, and it gives the chance to clarify things.

Now for the personal part of my answer: One reason for following the above procedure is that I don't like getting downvotes myself (unless there's a good reason). I got a downvote on this answer although there's nothing wrong about it. Obviously, many people thought I was wrong, and this is not so surprising since you have to read Appendix G of the TeXbook really extremely carefully to see that my answer is correct. Thus, leaving a comment like "I think you're wrong" is good, but I'm not so happy with "I think you're wrong, so you get a downvote".

  • Thanks for this. And thanks for that answer! Commented Nov 30, 2010 at 19:11
  • 1
    I like your explanation in that answer—although I don't think manual spacing and loss of ligatures is the right way to go there—so I upvoted it. (I [almost] never downvote an answer to a question I've provided an answer to. I think it's the job of the community to decide which answer is better.)
    – TH.
    Commented Dec 1, 2010 at 2:57
  • @TH.: Thanks! (I didn't think you'd downvoted it. Incidentally, quite some time ago I thought you had downvoted this one ...) Commented Dec 1, 2010 at 8:33
  • Yep, I did. But that was due to the question in the answer. Thanks for pointing it out. I'd completely forgotten about it. Vote changed. =)
    – TH.
    Commented Dec 2, 2010 at 2:33
  • @TH.: Thanks! Then my guess was right on both counts :-) (see "kind of understand"). As I was a newbie at that time, I had no idea that I'd have to use "@TH." to notify you of my newbie-comment, so how would you see it? I think this really should go into the faq. Commented Dec 2, 2010 at 8:15

Like most of you here, I would simply respond with a comment and not a down-vote. I'm new myself and I've been picking up quite a bit of the etiquette on this site. Personally, I would hate to receive a down-vote, and I think an appropriate and thoughtful comment would be most appreciated. Also, I think it's nice that users explicitly state their reasons for down-voting (or, less commonly, up-voting) a particular answer by using "+1" or "-1".

Recently, I fell into the unfortunate situation of expressing my disagreement with an answer posted by another new member to this site. I did not down-vote, though, but someone else did so without leaving a comment. Now I feel bad because the poster may just think I'm belligerent or just plain unwelcoming.

It's quite interesting to see that feelings are as easily affected in cyberspace as they are in real life!

  • 10
    Remember, a downvote is just a vote that an answer or question is not good. It's not a statement about you. Also, this is the internet, it's best not to take it too seriously.
    – TH.
    Commented Dec 15, 2010 at 10:01
  • @TH.: Wise words. I'll remember this, thanks!
    – Jimi Oke
    Commented Dec 15, 2010 at 10:05

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .