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I've been a long time user of GIS stack. Until recently it always seemed that questions were treated with a relative level of fairness. Questions that were (probably not) written in a clear way were given the benefit of doubt and allowed to be improved (as described in the answer at Should there be a grace period before downvoting questions from a new user? -- but please note that my concern is about all questions, regardless of who posts them). When truly bad questions were posted they tended to attract negative votes quickly ... which is fair. However, there seems to be a growing trend of just downvoting anything that might not immediately make sense. This seems like bad form to me.

Many of the people who post questions here have English as a second language. Voting a question down just because its a little poorly phrased makes the site look snobby (at best). Is there any way that people could assess a question on the merit of what is being asked, rather than just voting it down?

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With the special case of new users (perhaps with English not as their first language) addressed in a separate Q&A at Should there be a grace period before downvoting questions from a new user? my answer applies to any remaining cases of experienced and English speaking users, and when it is appropriate to downvote their questions.

The tooltip for downvoting is:

This question does not show any research effort; it is unclear or not useful.

I would hope those are the criteria that anyone downvoting is using to make their determination.

I think it is a sign of site healthiness when a question that shows little research effort, and/or is not clear and/or is not useful, receives early and clear feedback from the community to an asker that their question needs to be edited to improve it before it is likely to attract a quality answer, and in some cases to help it to avoid being closed.

I must emphasize that I do try to make allowance for new users and people with English not as their first language before downvoting any question or answer.

I am always surprised that many new users, and even the occasional long time user, do not take the Tour before asking their first question. It is this which is designed to introduce them to the site and its protocols, and to lead them into the Help Center and its advice on How to frame a good question?

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I feel that the main situation that requires downvoting AN ANSWER is when it is mistaken, incorrect, dangerous or proposes a gunblazing approach without informing potential users of pitfalls.

PolyGeo's answer is very precise, covers the rest of the ground very well and i totally agree with it.

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