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It would be good to make sure / very strongly encourage users to explain every downvote. The commenting can be brief but at least point towards the high level reason for downvoting.

I suspect there is no technical mechanism to do this in SE. But perhaps we can at least foster a culture that encourages this. Downvotes without explanation are pretty useless in my opinion.

How has this been handled in other SEs?

Edit: While there are questions, e.g. feature requests such as this one, where it is extremely clear what a downvote means, most technical questions won't fall into this category and an unexplained downvote then just becomes noise in my opinion. Seems to be a controversial and apparently well discussed SE topic though.

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    $\begingroup$ Well, there's this, to start: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/135/… There's really no solution. It's been tried before and argued about before, to no avail, besides the message that shows up when you downvote, as suggested in Jeff's community wiki answer. $\endgroup$ – HDE 226868 Feb 8 '15 at 23:00
  • $\begingroup$ Although you didn't tag this as a feature request, I'm downvoting it to express my disapproval with your proposal that we encourage users to explain their downvotes. (I'm throwing you a bone by explaining this one. :) $\endgroup$ – Air Feb 8 '15 at 23:04
  • $\begingroup$ @Air I was half expecting ten downvotes with no comment, just because, you know, Monday. $\endgroup$ – pandita Feb 8 '15 at 23:06
  • $\begingroup$ @HDE226868 Thanks for the pointer. Looks like there's not much hope for this request... $\endgroup$ – pandita Feb 8 '15 at 23:11
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    $\begingroup$ And please remember that votes in meta are different. 1) they don't affect main site reputation. 2) voting in meta can simply reflect someone agreeing or disagreeing with you. Hypothetically speaking, if 10 people down vote this question, it just means that 10 people disagree with what you're proposing. $\endgroup$ – user16 Feb 9 '15 at 14:45
  • $\begingroup$ @GlenH7 In theory, "I disagree" downvotes on meta sites are supposed to be reserved for feature requests. $\endgroup$ – Air Feb 9 '15 at 19:35
  • $\begingroup$ @air - I think that may depend upon the meta site. $\endgroup$ – user16 Feb 9 '15 at 19:43
  • $\begingroup$ @Air The downvote tooltip says "This question does not show any research effort; it is unclear or not useful". I suppose "not useful" could be loosely interpreted as a variation of "I disagree", though. $\endgroup$ – Rick supports Monica Feb 9 '15 at 20:10
  • $\begingroup$ @GlenH7 and Rick, see this help center page, the section titled "Voting is different on meta." There was this feature request some time ago; Jeff rejected it on the basis that the topic is covered in the help center. Still, most people don't read the help center unless they have a specific reason to. It's just one of many messy quasi-policies on the network that haven't yet become priorities to address $\endgroup$ – Air Feb 9 '15 at 20:16
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The system does not offer any incentive to explain downvotes except the friendly notification reminder after downvoting. And this is good because from experience nasty discussions can follow. Users want to have highest possible freedom with their downvotes without personal inquiries about the reasons why they downvoted.

That being said and if you are the author of the question and you really want to know why you have been downvoted, please do not ask

"Why the downvote?" or "Care to explain the downvote?"

From experience on SE this very rarely brings a suitable answer. Instead:

  • Improve your question/answer
  • Pay attention to any comment, fix mentioned drawbacks and respond to them
  • Argue factually

Most likely however you will seldom get extensive explanation of downvotes. The best is to critically review your own questions and well, ..., in the end, just move on. It's just funny numbers.

Finally, ask on meta why something is downvoted (negative score, more than a single downvote which can be noise as well) if you really do not know why.

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    $\begingroup$ Comments addressed to "downvoters" are a pet peeve of mine. In at least once instance where I was borderline on an answer, such a comment pushed me over the edge to downvote. Users should expect that in time their contributions may receive many, many votes, the vast majority of which are unexplained. Even the best answers attract downvotes for petty reasons. If your contribution is so poorly received that you must comment, a simple, "I don't understand the reason for the downvotes" is usually enough to invite comment. $\endgroup$ – Air Feb 9 '15 at 20:21

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