# Why answer a question that doesn't deserve a vote?

I am surprised that most questions have fewer votes than the answers. It often happens that a question has no vote, or even a negative vote, but the answers have several votes. As egreg says:

if you deem a question worthy answering, then it's also worth a vote

Why do (top) users on this site have such high reputations?

Why answer a question that doesn't deserve a vote?

• I always thought that one should upvote if "the question shows research effort; it it useful and clear". So if a question does not show research effort or is not useful and clear (at the same time) I thought that one may not necessarily upvote it. And as for the "why answer" part: this is probably worth a separate question, but personally I do it (a) because it is fun (like solving crossword puzzles) (b) I love LaTeX and want to help showing how elegant/useful it is and (c) I like most of the (frequent) users here and it is fun to interact with them. – user121799 Jul 25 '18 at 13:10
• Probably I should have said if you deem a question worthy answering, then it's likely worth a vote (there are a few exceptions). Anyhow, I often upvote questions with 0 score if they have interesting answers. – egreg Jul 25 '18 at 14:05
• @marmot In my opinion all LaTeX users love LaTeX because its learning is long and difficult. And to keep using it despite its complexity, you really have to love it. – AndréC Jul 25 '18 at 14:49
• Well, if all users think like this, then I am the exception. ;-) I really love it because of its complexity and structure, which allow me to produce well-structured complex documents. ;-) – user121799 Jul 25 '18 at 15:32
• I rarely vote on questions, perhaps because I measure with too high standards what is a good question (see answers below on what is a good question). The system tells me with almost every vote I spend that I haven't voted on questions for a while. – Skillmon Jul 26 '18 at 18:46
• The same thing occurred to me a while ago: tex.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/2655/… :) – cmhughes Jul 27 '18 at 11:35
• the top answer has more upvotes than the question, even though there doesn't seem to be anything wrong with the question. QED or is there something fishy, here? ;D (I'm joking, if it wasn't clear.) – thymaro Jul 30 '18 at 22:34

## The vote differential

Here are some unsubstantiated musings on some of the reasons for the vote differential.

1. The picture effect. Answers with pictures get lots of votes. Questions with pictures not so much.

2. The drive-by voter effect. Much of the traffic on the site is casual "drive-by" users who don't necessarily participate in the site actively but come via Google to solve a particular problem. Answers solve their problem, questions don't. (Even though obviously the answer depends on the question). So answers always get more votes than questions.

3. The vote-for-the-person effect. High reputation users rarely ask questions, but answer a lot. Some high reputation users are rumoured not to know how to ask a question. :) But an answer from a high-reputation user will tend to attract upvotes just because it's from a high-reputation user.

The upshot of these three factors (and there may be more I haven't though of) is that answers will inevitably gain more upvotes than questions.

Sometimes really bad questions can in fact be answered, and the answers will be useful to others. There are a couple of sort of these types of questions:

1. The "just do it for me" question. The topic of endless meta debate (should we or shouldn't we...) these sorts of questions are inherently bad because they often just post an image of the desired output and nothing else. But since there are plenty of people who enjoy making nice TikZ drawings just for fun, they often get answers, and the answers are very good.

2. The crystal ball question. Some questions are bad because the information given is really just not adequate to provide an answer. But many of us have extremely good crystal balls which allow us to figure out a good answer anyway. Such answers often end up answering the question (or the question is partially clarified in comments), but it's still a bad question.

With both of these sorts of questions, a vote differential between question and answer(s) is almost inevitable.

Added by @percusse for testing the vote differential hypothesis #1

• Regarding the voting differential that increases over time between answers and questions your explanation seems reasonable. But this difference begins with the first readings of the questions: it is not unusual for questions that have been read about thirty times to have no vote, or even a negative vote with answers having several positive votes. Shouldn't each answer bring a few points ( 1, 2 or 3?) to the question to motivate users to participate more actively. Everyone loves to earn points. Translated with www.DeepL.com/Translator – AndréC Jul 25 '18 at 21:41
• @AndréC No, I don't think so. There is an overall vote differential on all questions and answers, even good questions receive fewer votes than their corresponding answers. And the drive-by effect and the just do it for me effect are there from the very beginning I think. – Alan Munn Jul 25 '18 at 21:45
• +1 for the picture effect. You could post two technically identical answers, one with and one without a picture, the former gets substantially more votes in my experience. – Skillmon Jul 26 '18 at 18:40
• @Skillmon that is probably because answers with pictures are better/more useful answers, they show immediately if the solution is what you are looking for, for the OP but especially for later visitors. – Marijn Jul 27 '18 at 9:05
• @Marijn Now apply that logic to answers with ducks. :) – Alan Munn Jul 27 '18 at 10:46
• @AlanMunn Answers with ducks are useful when you like ducks, and who would ever dislike ducks? – Marijn Jul 27 '18 at 11:05
• imgflip.com/i/2espyl – Marijn Jul 27 '18 at 11:05
• The important thing to note: This answer got more votes than the question :) – TeXnician Jul 28 '18 at 7:33
• I do not know how to read the "picture effect". Do you mean a screen shot of the result, or are you talking about true pictures only? In the first case, I think it is not too surprising that the answer with screen shot receives more upvotes: the screen shot is a proof that the answer really works, and, perhaps more importantly, allows others to judge if they should use that code to solve their problem(s). – user121799 Jul 28 '18 at 8:02
• Added an experiment, feel free to revert :D – percusse Jul 28 '18 at 10:02
• @marmot No, I mean picture qua picture, not just a screenshot of the output. As in the current edit. :) – Alan Munn Jul 28 '18 at 16:30
• Given that you have 20 upvotes now, you must be right. ;-) (More seriously, I think that many questions here are on how to make some document/output more appealing. Therefore, I am not too surprised to see that nice pictures like the one by @percusse attract upvotes. Plus at least I often find relevant/useful answers using a picture search, and if I find the post useful, I upvote, and others may do the same.) – user121799 Jul 29 '18 at 8:53
• @percusse: Where is the associated tikz code? :-) – Peter Grill Jul 30 '18 at 20:18
• @PeterGrill \documentclass{please stand alone}\begin{document} some magic \end{document} – percusse Jul 30 '18 at 21:30
• @percusse I must be missing the right CLS file or something's wrong with my \$PATH variable. I get ! LaTeX Error: Missing \begin{document}. It tells me I'm "in trouble here". Would it help to try XeLaTeX? I'm kind of afraid to do so. – thymaro Jul 30 '18 at 22:48

The comment of marmot above notes a key aspect of this issue: many questions are badly asked, but still answerable, and the answers to such questions can be good, so the question does not deserve an upvote while the answer does.

A question can be bad because it lacks an MWE or the MWE is too long, which means that the answerer needs to spend time making an MWE or trimming it down. Or the question fails to specify what the error is or what the desired output is, which means the answerer does not know whether or not he is solving the right problem and whether his solution is correct. Or the question shows code in a screenshot. Or the question shows too much or too little backgorund information. Or the question is is clearly made up and unrealistic - etc. etc.

If, despite all the extra work and guessing involved, somebody answers the question, and the answer provides clear code, good explanation, a screenshot of the result, etc, then I think an upvote for this answer is deserved.

Note that I do it the other way around as well, i.e., vote for the question and not the answers, because I want the electorate badge :)

• From another point of view, we can also say that it is because he has error, approximation that a progression is possible. This is the case in science, where errors are historically very frequent and have led to solutions. If those who ask questions were able to ask good questions at first, they would certainly be able to answer their own questions and therefore would not ask any more. – AndréC Jul 26 '18 at 19:05
• @AndréC you are right to some extend, trying to write a good question often solves your problem. However, there is a large spectrum between a very bad question and a very good question, and I think upvotes should be used only for questions where the asker has at least tried to be on the good side of the spectrum. This includes question improvements, if a question is bad and somebody (myself or someone else) leaves a comment suggesting improvement, and the asker actually edits the question to address the request, then I upvote even if the question is not yet perfect. – Marijn Jul 26 '18 at 22:53
• @AndréC Maybe my view of what a 'good' question is like is a bit too simplistic, but I believe that one can ask good questions to which one doesn't find the answer while formulating and typing up the question. Take tex.stackexchange.com/q/442749/35864 as an example: The question was clear, had an MWE (one which might not have been strictly necessary, but it greatly improved the question) and showed some effort, yet at the same time I would not expect the OP to have come up with the answer even after reading 300 odd pages of the biblatex documentation. ... – moewe Jul 27 '18 at 6:42
• ... Another example are questions where the answer turns out to be: Use package so-and-so with this obscure feature. If said feature is not the main advertised feature of the package, it might have been hard to find in a simple online search, and so the question might have been clear, useful, shown effort, yet did not produce an answer automatically. Package incompatibilities can be isolated with a bit (a lot) of effort into a good question, yet I would not expect anybody to make an answer from that: tex.stackexchange.com/a/443244, github.com/plk/biblatex/issues/703 – moewe Jul 27 '18 at 6:45
• @moewe These issues are difficult to resolve because few users use these packages. And so, the number of people able to respond is considerably reduced. There are few users who are interested in BibLaTeX compared to those who like to have fun with TikZ. Questions that do not deserve a vote and are answered are generally much easier to resolve. – AndréC Jul 27 '18 at 7:55
• @AndréC Granted, I mainly have biblatex examples, because that is what I usually play around with. The examples were mainly to dispute the (general - as I read it anyway) claim that people would certainly be able to answer their own questions if they were able to formulate it as a good question. This may be true a specific type of question, but not in general. The number of people responding or interested in the question does not seem to be a relevant to my claims. – moewe Jul 27 '18 at 8:25
• @moewe It is true that generalization is abusive, there are exceptions. There is another factor to take into account when writing a good question: being able to write it in good English. Without the automatic translator I use: deepl.com/translator , I will not be able to participate in this site, it is considered the best in its field but it is not perfect. – AndréC Jul 27 '18 at 9:10
• @AndréC although English can sometimes be an issue, I think that if people provide a question with a MWE, many of us are happy to fix issues with English. I know I certainly am (one of my most used edit comments is "minor English fixup"). So it's hopefully less of a barrier than you might think. – Alan Munn Jul 28 '18 at 19:39

That egreg is always right is, of course, axiomatic. However, what you claim follows does not.

if you deem a question worthy answering, then it's also worth a vote

OK.

But why should we answer only questions we deem worthy of answering? At any rate, I don't only answer questions I deem worthy of answering.

if you deem a question worthy answering, then it's also worth a vote

OK.

if you deem a question worthy answering, then it's also worth a vote

OK.

But I've certainly seen zero-vote questions with answers by egreg.

This is not inconsistent since egreg may answer questions egreg does not deem worthy of answering, egreg may have answers when egreg has no votes, egreg may not vote for everything egreg thinks worth a vote or egreg may not have inferred the implications of a general policy to the effect that egreg votes for all questions egreg answers for every instance to which that policy applies.

• I quoted egreg, but in his reply, which I linked to, he quotes a moderator. tex.meta.stackexchange.com/a/6692/138900 – AndréC Jul 27 '18 at 5:19
• The quote from egreg can be interpreted differently: it can also mean that as soon as a question motivates you to answer it, then it deserves a vote. There are questions that, even if they are asked incorrectly, arouse our curiosity and make us want to spend time answering them. Doesn't that deserve a vote? – AndréC Jul 27 '18 at 17:10
• @AndréC I agree that's a possible interpretation, but the question was, 'if A, why not B?' and my point is that A is quite consistent with not-B. That is, A can be interpreted consistent with not-B. I do not deny that it can also be interpreted in a way which is inconsistent with not-B i.e. which requires not-not-B. Although, as I say, even in this case, there are ready explanations for the disparity described in the question i.e. answers, unlike votes, are unlimited, and people regularly fail to do as they ought. But those are not required explanations in this case, given a plausible reading. – cfr Jul 27 '18 at 22:31
• @AndréC If I remember correctly that quote belongs to LoopSpace (Andrew Stacey) – percusse Jul 28 '18 at 10:05
• @percusse, I trust you on this subject, I am too recently registered to know it myself. – AndréC Jul 28 '18 at 11:11
• @AndréC Don't try to argue with a logician! :) – Alan Munn Jul 28 '18 at 16:31
• @AlanMunn If I could discuss in French, it would be a lot of fun to discuss with a logician, but in English, I'm not sure that the automatic translator remains faithful to my thought:( – AndréC Jul 28 '18 at 16:54
• @AndréC I could try Welsh, if it would help. I once half-translated a logic programme into Welsh. (I never completed the translation. Hence the 'half'. Half of it was translated. The other half not.) – cfr Jul 28 '18 at 21:48