Sigh I don't know if this is a question as much as it is a comment... Sadly I suspect that those who will take the time to read my comment (e.g. those of us that check out Meta) are probably not guilty of this sort of thing... Nevertheless I feel that I have to say something:

Over the past couple of weeks I've started to notice an uptick in posts/users who can best be described as "English is not their first language." I've also noticed that many of these posts (some questions, but even more answers) collecting downvotes on what would otherwise be considered 'perfectly reasonable' answers... Often not the best answers, but at the same time not obviously wrong or harmful answers either.

While I agree completely with the notion that downvoting should be private, and shouldn't require an explanation, and sure, it could be argued that maybe these posts are gathering downvotes for other reasons; at the same time I want to point out that there are other options aside from downvoting... Options such as editing (if you have the rep), or flagging for a mod to edit (if you don't). Or just not unpvoting something that isn't wrong, but also isn't the best answer. Downvoting seems unnecessarily punitive for something that (in all likelihood) the OP can't really do anything about (at least in the short term of asking or answering a question on photo-SE) and it would be much better as a small community if we were welcoming to everyone who visits by not hauling out the 'punishment stick' for every little thing that comes through and rubs someone the wrong way...

I'm not at all trying to point fingers at anyone in particular, and again, I'm probably barking up the wrong tree as I'm sure that those who care enough about the community to spend time in Meta are actively working to be welcoming to all, encourage more folks to convert to regulars, etc., but I just felt a need to say something... Feel free to downvote into oblivion if you disagree. :-/

5 Answers 5


Don't forget that now anyone can suggest and edit regardless of their reputation. So if you see a badly formatted post with poor spelling and grammar make the necessary edits and someone with enough rep (or a moderator) will review it and (hopefully) approve it.

You even get 2 points for your trouble (up to a maximum of 1,000).

  • 1
    Yes, I was grateful when someone improved the layout of my post.
    – labnut
    Feb 22, 2011 at 9:37

On one hand, it is definitely a good idea for new, nascent communities to be extra-welcoming to new users as they grow. Downvoting with a comment is not required but is always helpful, in those situations where you think it might make sense.

On the other hand, "be welcoming" does not mean "tolerate your drunk brother in law who always shows up on your doorstep at 2AM screaming incoherently." Not every user is worth keeping around, honestly, and we'd rather screen for quality first.

It's really a judgment call -- can this user be an asset to the community with some gentle prodding? Or are they beyond hope?


  • It's not a 'this user' situation, it's a 'these users' situation... In this case 'these users' I'm referring to are the group of users who don't speak English as their first language and thus their questions/answers are sometimes phrased or worded improperly/awkwardly. They're clearly sincere in their desire to participate, and (for the most part) their questions/answers are not of the variety that should be attracting downvotes, but because of their 'less-than-fluent' grasp of the English language some are voting them down instead of editing, or flagging for edit. Feb 19, 2011 at 1:36
  • While obviously SE sites primarily deal in the language of English, there's no reason to be exclusionary towards those who are otherwise being good participants in the community simply because English isn't their first language... Especially since there are several options available besides downvoting... Feb 19, 2011 at 1:38
  • I think Jeff is more referring to the so-called "drive-by posters", who may show up and ask a bunch of inane questions, and never bother to vote or accept any of the answers, and generally leave little turds (yes, scientific term) all over the community. I don't think he is specifically referring to people who speak english as a second language, although drive-by posters are not limited to the english language.
    – jrista
    Feb 19, 2011 at 2:30
  • "- can this person form complete sentences, with punctuation and capital letters more or less in the correct places? - can this person express a coherent thought in writing? - does this person appear to be angry at the audience?" love it
    – rfusca
    Feb 19, 2011 at 2:37
  • I agree with his points about whether a user makes a good community member... But it seems like he answered a completely different question (or 'observation' I guess) than I posed... I'm guessing he read the title but skimmed (or didn't) the contents of the post before he answered... Feb 19, 2011 at 2:56
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    @jay it is irrelevant whether or not they know English -- what matters is that the net effect is the same, and the decision is the same: do you have reason to believe this person will be an asset to the community ... or not? Feb 19, 2011 at 4:19

Personally, I haven't down-voted for bad English unless it's a repeat offender whose first language is English and simply isn't taking the time to do better(a recent example comes to mind, but he's since reformed).

However, if you submit a question or answer to a site that is using a voting system - you should be prepared to accept "judgement" either way, positive or negative. To me, down-voting on purely technically questions indicates "No, this is not correct" and on the more subjective questions (which our community tends to accept a tad more than others, some equipment recommendations for example) indicates "I don't agree with you". I don't feel its "punishment" to down-vote, nor do I get offended when/if I get down-voted. It's the nature of the site and what distinguishes good answers (or answers that the community favors) from others.

In fact, I wish more people would legitimately down-vote. It increases the quality of the site and that is what will ultimately drive membership, IMO. We have many answers with scores that would indicate they're OK or at least not bad, when in reality they're terrible but nobody wants to down-vote.

If the reason isn't painfully obvious, it is beneficial to leave a comment though.

  • Don't get me wrong, I do my fair share of downvoting, and sometimes I don't even feel a need to justify why I've downvoted or get into a discussion about it so I may not even bother to leave comments (gasp) at all. I'm not advocating a 'hey let's all hug and only upvote and everybody's OK, man' peace, love and Popsicles point of view... You're absolutely right that this is a site with an obvious voting mechansm and if people are too fragile to be able to handle having their questions/answers voted upon, then this probably isn't the site for them... Feb 19, 2011 at 3:04
  • ...I just wanted to take a sec to maybe have folks think about the difference between legitimate downvotes, and simply punishing folks because English isn't their primary language as we do want to balance the voting aspect of the site with the community building aspect... Especially while we're small. We can always transform into a more brutal, cynical Gladiator Academy for Q&A after we're too big to be denied. ;-) Feb 19, 2011 at 3:08
  • If English isn't their first language, but they're able to form coherent sentences, I fully welcome them. However, if they can't adequately make an attempt to speak the language this site has chosen, I'm not sure we have other actions available other than down-vote or close - this just might not be the avenue best suited to them. (Note, I don't think I've done this yet though).
    – rfusca
    Feb 19, 2011 at 3:17
  • WHat is the use of the up and down voting? The help text says "was this / wasn't this useful?" which isn't necessarily synonymous with "was this / wasn't this the right answer". Shizam was mentioning this in chat the other day and the more I think about it the more the up and down vote is a bit confusing in that respect. So, what is the up/down voting system to determine? useful or correct answers?
    – JamWheel
    Feb 21, 2011 at 17:51
  • I think people should be encouraged to explain their down-votes in a comment. I have seen some down-votes that made no sense. In a couple of cases I have seen down-votes that seemed to be a punishment for an earlier disagreement. So explaining it would help the poster, avoid misuse and in any case is plain good manners.
    – labnut
    Feb 22, 2011 at 20:26
  • I agree though that judicious use of down-votes will improve the quality of this site.
    – labnut
    Feb 22, 2011 at 20:28

In all circumstances (i.e. regardless if the poster is a native English speaker) the poster should be encouraged to rewrite/explain his or her post if it is not understood. I would welcome anyone who makes an effort to effectively communicate and contribute regardless of their proficiency in English. And by "make an effort" I mean they at least attempt to be understood (reword, expand, or explain posts).

As Jeff pointed out, down-voting with a comment is a reasonable response to such posts. I've seen several poorly worded answers that had friendly comments suggesting the user should clear up the answer, and that once the post was fixed, they would be happy to up-vote it. This seems to have several benefits. First, an initial down-vote for poorly worded answers discourages lazy posters who just don't care about effective communication. Second, a subsequent up-vote for fixed posts gives clear rewards to users who edit and clarify their posts.

If you feel that down-voting is too harsh, then simply leave a comment that the post should be cleared up and if it looks good you would be happy to up-vote it.

Let's helpful to all users, new or old!


I don't downvote due to poor english, but if I can't even understand what they are asking, I might vote to close such a post. I understand the problems of trying to speak in a language which is not your native tongue, but still, if a question can't be understood, then I don't know if it's worth it, so...

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