This question is intended to assist with providing feedback on answers. Every answer to this question should include all of the following:

1) An explanation for the downvote,
2) An recommendation to fix the problem.

The goal is not to criticize people, but to facilitate constructive feedback and generally improve answer quality. The answers serve as templates that can be referenced in comments on answers - e.g. "I could upvote this answer if you fixed the problems as mentioned in link to template".

  • Nothing in here is intended to be derogatory of an individual; the examples are chosen because they represent an problem or opportunity. All of us make these mistakes and the site is better when the mistake is fixed.

  • Although the title refers to downvotes, the real goal is to assist in improving answer quality.
    This supplements Why did my question get a downvote?, but is focused on answers, rather than questions.

  • 3
    Do not think that every downvote is correct. For example, sometimes happens, when a post gets heaps of pluses and minuses simultaneously. On the other hand, don't forget that your target is not to prove that you are right, but to get the useful information. So, make compliments, agree, edit, ... until you are getting anything useful. Read rules and know them and use them in discussion. Sometimes you can get minuses because simply nobody knows the answer. Then you can do nothing. People don't like to feel themselves stupid.
    – Gangnus
    Mar 27, 2018 at 11:37
  • You very probably will be downvoted for no references for a reasonable statement. But practically never you will be downvoted for an unfounded reference or not connected to the statement, however senseless it is. Very often you will be demanded for a reference even to a logically proved statement - mostly people cannot check the proof, but they can check if there is a reference and it does not give error 404.
    – Gangnus
    Mar 27, 2018 at 11:40

4 Answers 4


Cite every non-trivial assertion

I'm tempted to downvote answers that include no research. If everything in the answer is a mere opinion or assertion, I have to wonder how valuable/credible the answer really is. On the other hand, when I see an answer that is replete with links and citations, I'm tempted to upvote even before I finish reading. Links lead to upvotes.

H:SE is a place to learn. Even if your answer is the definitive response and universally acknowledged as both the most correct and the wittiest possible, it should include citations/research.

  • Citations give us the chance to learn more; an answer may spark my interest in the topic and make me want to read more.

  • Citations help us to resolve conflict. I've observed cases where two answers contradict one another on essential details. Citations let us go back to the source documents, understand the assumptions and resolve the contradiction. The answer that provides citations is almost always going to be more persuasive/convincing.


Before you post, examine the answer and look for opportunities to provide links/citations. It is extremely easy to provide Wikipedia links to any noun or concept.

  • 2
    " Links lead to upvotes." Do you have a source for that?
    – JeffUK
    Mar 31, 2018 at 10:36

Quality of citations

Weight and quality of assertions and claims should match weight and quality of quotes and citations

Not everything that might benefit from backup from other sources needs to be an academic history research paper.

Illustrating a peripheral point in an answer can give you a hard time finding academic or otherwise reliable online sources. Contrasting supposedly common knowledge or basic facts with historical research can give you a hard time backing it up with online articles or comparable sources alone. Sometimes such a scholarly source exists, but it is either behind paywalls or it is simply not online at all.

The point is, anyone striving to provide an answer is regarded as someone having a say because she knows something. Something more than the asker, something more or in addition or improving on, correcting previous answers. Furthering the discussion.


Mere statements are not very helpful in these cases. Arguments need some kind of backup most of the time. Pointing out a logical flaw in a line of reasoning might be sufficiently called out by explaining why you think it is flawed. But when discussing the pros and cons of conflicting sources or narratives you most often need to quote that, refer to that, give links to that. We need the transparency most. Everyone should form his own opinion and be able to check the sources that form the basis of your post.

As an answer poster you are also a judge, a gate-keeper an evaluator of the material available to you, of your own knowledge. As such it is up to you to find the best evidence, the strongest argument the best data to backup your claims, your arguments or reasoning. Low quality sources are permitted! Low quality sources are also miserable and shine a bad light on your answer and on you.

That is why we need reliable sources. If you want to backup your claim about perhaps well-known facts that are non-central to your argument, then higher standard historical sources might not be the easiest to accomplish what you want to say.

Peripheral sources I would like to call them should be fine to illustrate, to give context to weigh the arguments. Central claims need reliable sources central to the field of discussion. One might contrast yellow press articles with what books or research articles have to say about a certain topic. It will be almost fruitless to just refer to personal anecdotes or a TV host's statements to backup your statement.

You do not know or have the truth. Your sources do not have or know the truth. –– Everyone is entitled to his own stupidity. Or geniality. There is always room for improvement.


Not answering the question

This may seem obvious but there are quite a number of posts which don't actually answer the question. This may be because

  • not enough care was taken in reading the question in the first place (not paying attention to qualifications made concerning time period, for example)

or (less forgivably)

  • answering simply for the sake of posting something which might get a few upvotes (i.e. knowingly posting an 'answer' which doesn't answer the question), especially on hot questions.

There are sometimes questions which may not actually be fully answerable. In such cases, address the issue of why that is and provide any relevant supporting information and sources.

Also, avoid 'burying' the answer to a question in a mass of irrelevant information. There's nothing wrong with adding information which doesn't directly address the question if it provides background or if it may be of interest to readers, but don't overdo it. Using clear headings will make it easier for readers to determine whether they can skip something without missing a key part of the answer.


Fringe sources

There have been a few answers recently that were downvoted because they cited sources that can charitably be called "fringe". If you post an answer that is based on controversial scholarship, you run the risk of a dowvote. Or to put it another way, if you present controversial scholarship as authoritative, then you'll probably get a downvote.

I want to make an important caveat here. If you acknowledge that the source is unconfirmed, then only a jerk will downvote. "Dr X in his paper Y says that baryons are responsible for most economic activity in left handed people. If this were true, it would answer the question, but nobody has been able to provide a model or experimental evidence." or "Professor Z argued that the American Revolution was caused by socioeconomic stresses; Profession Bailyn's analysis of pamphlet's undermined this, and Professor Z's views are now in doubt...."

Second caveat - hat tip to @langlangC - history is a dialogue, and differentiating between mainstream, alternative and fringe theories is not a simple matter. I think that @LangLangC provides the best guidance - "Using only fringe and then declare that as 'the one truth there is/wake up' is entirely different." I'd summarize that if you acknowledge the dialogue, then downvotes are jerks, but if you assert that your truth is the only truth, then downvotes are likely, and quite probably legitimate.

That said, I think it should be permitted to politely point out that an answer is based on sources that are not generally accepted, or that are otherwise controversial. (in point of fact, my answers on economic history come from an analytical perspective that is not universally accepted, and I have thanked those who point out my bias).


  • If you know your sources are debateable, acknowledge that fact
  • If someone questions whether your source is mainstream, engage with the facts, not the person.
  • If you feel that an answer relies on sources that are questionable, politely point out the grounds for discussion.
  • This is not the place to push an ideology; there are innumerable forums on the internet, and it is cheap to create a new one on your own. There is a place for every discussion. H:SE may not be the place, and downvotes are a legitimate signal that the scholarship in question are not mainstream enough to be welcome here.

Be nice. Be scholarly. Be respectful.

  • That's quite delicate to differentiate. Esp. in history there is seldom one authorative, mainstream answer, and these standpoints are subject to change anyway. Questioning the mainstream is wonderful, if done correctly. Controversy is not bad. As your example illustrates, engaging in 'fringe' views as such and evaluating them is a plus. –– Using only fringe and then declare that as 'the one truth there is/wake up' is entirely different. While downvotes may occur for any reason, it's important to encourage this difference and show a way to fix this. May 13, 2018 at 16:54

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