SFF.SE's downvote arrow lists 3 criteria for when a question should be downvoted ("No research", "unclear", "not useful").

The first 2 are reasonably clear-cut, even though the "unclear" one has potential to be quite subjective.

But it seems that we as a site have a major deficiency in a well-understood and agreed upon set of criteria of which questions are "useful" vs "not useful".

Given examples below, I feel that we should have a very well developed and settled set of guidelines of what the site community as a whole views as "useful" and especially "not useful".

If we do, we CAN use it to explain to newer voters what they should consider when making voting decisions (we can't - and shouldn't - use it to police votes, however). I have personally had many cases where I talked someone out of a DV or VTC by explaining Meta guidelines that they weren't aware of.

Examples would be:

  • Some people once in a while pop up who openly declare "Plot hole explanation" questions as not useful.

  • Yet, as the Meta consensus shows, the community settled on such questions as being perfectly fine and useful.

  • Some people (especially in chat, too lazy to search meta) declare any question asking about "speculative" situation as not useful ("Can you cast Avada Kedavra while doing triple somersault while dressed as a clown?" - responded to with "Not useful, since that situation never occurred in canon").

  • Some people consider any questions clearly answered by books to be not useful.

Please provide ONE guideline per answer; either a positive (X is not useful; + Reasons) or negative (Y is NOT 'not useful' + Reasons). This way people can vote agreement or disagreement with each guideline.

  • 2
    I think there is some merit to establishing guidelines as to what might constitute "not useful", but I agree with Ward's answer to the extent that I disagree with your approach here. Saying "X is [probably] not useful" might be helpful, but saying "Y is NOT 'not useful'" is not, as it is essentially an attempt to justify why some people are voting "wrong"... and you cannot vote "wrong", even if other people disagree with your voting reasons.
    – Beofett
    Commented Apr 24, 2014 at 12:11
  • 3
    I have a problem with this approach. Previous experience with this kind of approach on other sites indicates that as soon as you draw a line, people will dance along it. So as soon as you have a strictly defined definition of "not useful" you're going to see Meta being filled with tedious arguments that "my question is NOT not useful because of nitpicky-loophole-XYZ". That doesn't seem to be in the best interests of encouraging quality content.
    – user8719
    Commented Apr 24, 2014 at 16:41
  • @JimmyShelter - posting abusive and uncalled for "useless" feedback to perfectly valid questions does a lot more to discourage quality content. Commented Apr 24, 2014 at 16:51

4 Answers 4


Guidelines? We don't need no stinking guidelines!:

I think this question (and some others here recently) misses the point: voting is a mass activity. If lots of people vote based on their own understanding of what "clear, useful, and well researched" mean, then the net score is a measure of how good the question is.

To me, statement made in one of sample answers ("If 5 other people upvoted a question, [...] you should NOT downvote it as "Not Useful".") is dead wrong. Even if 50 people have upvoted it, if you think it's not useful, go ahead and vote it down.

It seems like too many people worry too much about a few downvotes here and there. If there is a problem with "bad" downvotes, a better solution than trying to give people exact rules about how to vote (since there's no mechanism to enforce those rules) is simply to encourage people to vote more - up or down. In the long run, if someone's opinion of what's useful is different from most other voters, it won't matter because everyone gets just one vote.

It's sort of an aside to the rest of my answer, but I mostly agree with the guideline in another sample answer ("Not useful" means "Not useful to everyone else - specifically, to future readers". It does NOT mean "Not useful to me personally".), but even that is open to debate: in the linked Meta.SE question, there are no comments disagreeing with the next-highest answer that says "vote however you want."


General guideline #0:

  • "Not useful" means "Not useful to everyone else - specifically, to future readers".

  • It does NOT mean "Not useful to me personally".

Reason: This is discussed in the highest-voted answer on Meta.SE here


Guideline: Questions asking for in-universe explanation of what is obviously a plot hole are NOT "Not useful".

Reasons: Discussed in detail in these meta answers.

Short version: for most large-ish fictional universes, there is enough information in them (canon or author interviews or retcons) that address many if not most obvious plot holes. There are plenty of people on this site who view said information as very useful.


Corollary to guideline #0: popularity on SFF.SE implies "usefulness".

While - as Gilles put it pithily in the past - popularity (upvoting) does not imply quality; you can safely assume that popularity implies interest and thus usefulness to other users.

If 5 other people upvoted a question, clearly there's a big enough set of people who find that question useful; so you should NOT downvote it as "Not Useful".

(Mind you, it can still be an awful question deserving downvotes on other grounds... just don't think it's "Not useful" since the evidence shows that it is).

  • 5
    I strongly disagree with this one. Some questions receive upvotes seemingly based on humor alone. Being funny doesn't necessarily make it useful, and I will sometimes downvote clear, researched questions because they receive a lot of upvotes despite not being useful content ("funny" does not automatically equate to "useful" for me, but it may for others). Other people's upvotes should never supercede my decision to exercise my right to downvote. Ever.
    – Beofett
    Commented Apr 24, 2014 at 12:16
  • @Beofett - would you be able to show me numerous examples of those on SFF? (aside from Time Lord ones)? I can show you numerous questions declared "unusful" when they were clearly NOT upvoted because of humour. So I'm not sure you have strong factual reason to "strongly" disagree. And this wasn't about "your right to downvote" - it was about your right to declare the question "not useful" despite clear evidence to the contrary. Commented Apr 24, 2014 at 23:51
  • 2
    My strong disagreement is over the idea that popularity implies usefulness. If you want to dispute my argument by virtue of "insufficient evidence", then i must point out that the burden of proof is on you, not me, since youre the one making a claim. If i have a chance tomorrow, i will see if i can find some examples (i suspect many were subsequently deleted), but I can guarantee nothing. Not that " lack of evidence " in any way diminishes or invalidates my point. And since this isnt about downvoting, but about "right to declare",is it about banning comments calling a question not useful?
    – Beofett
    Commented Apr 25, 2014 at 0:08
  • @Beofett - Declaring question unuseful in comments (or meta) is simply a symptom of people holding the wrong idea of what is "not useful". Some are new users NOT knowing what "useful" means, reading it as "not useful to ME" (which you don't seem to disagree to being wrong thinking) and downvoting perfectly valid questions despite evidence that other people find them useful - out of not knowing. I frankly care more about the latter scenario - you can fix new users misunderstandings by pointing to meta. Commented Apr 25, 2014 at 0:17
  • ... Mind you, publicly declaring a question "Not useful" is also pretty bad - it invites people to DV, especially coming from higher-rep user. I've seen comments like that drastically increase DV rate/speed. But my problem isn't with "unusful" comments per se, but with applying them in incorrect scenario - namely when there's evidence of usefulness. Commented Apr 25, 2014 at 0:24
  • @Beofett - popularity DOES imply usefulness. Not always (I agree with "funny" being an exception); but most of the time. My evidence is linked above (people coming on Meta declaring things "useless" that are not) and I'm sure I can find tons of comments if that's not enough. Commented Apr 25, 2014 at 0:24
  • Wait, so 'declaring something not useful' is something separate from downvoting? People are making comments declaring things not useful? The question made it sound like this was purely about voting.
    – user1027
    Commented Apr 25, 2014 at 0:44
  • 1
    @Keen I remember seeing "not useful" come up on occasion as justification/explanation for a question downvote. I've also used it once that I can remember on an answer when there was confusion as to why the downvote was given (although I did also explain why I found it "not useful").
    – Izkata
    Commented Apr 25, 2014 at 2:56
  • @Izkata - IMHO, "not useful" on an answer is a lot less subjective and usually more justifiable, as the usefulness can be measured relative to the question. Commented Apr 25, 2014 at 3:00
  • @Keen - There are 3 things: voting down due to being "not useful"; stating aloud in a comment that something is not useful (probably always accompanied by DV); and stating that things aren't useful aside from voting (e.g. meta, chat). As far as "not useful" comments I see them in one of 2 ways: first- and more relevant here-, they are merely a symptom that specific downvotes are for that reason as opposed to a more justifyable one; second as a diss of the post which (unless the post truly was unuseful to ANYONE) merely discourages a contributor to a community AND invites other downvotes. Commented Apr 25, 2014 at 3:03
  • 7 upvotes, 18 downvotes. I felt "not useful" was appropriate because the OP apparently knew the answer given in the movie, but disagreed (researched) and did not mis-state any facts (accurate). 5 upvotes, 14 downvotes (I didn't downvote, though, because while I'm fairly sure the OP was trolling, it might be useful... or might not).
    – Beofett
    Commented Apr 25, 2014 at 12:08
  • 3 upvotes, 11 downvotes Not useful because the question is cluttered with arguments and criticisms of how the characters were portrayed both in the books and the movies.
    – Beofett
    Commented Apr 25, 2014 at 12:13
  • 5 upvotes, 12 downvotes. Again, I didn't vote, and if I did, it would be towards "poorly researched", but I can see "not useful" as being a perfectly valid reason.
    – Beofett
    Commented Apr 25, 2014 at 12:16
  • 5 upvotes, 11 downvotes. I voted "not useful" for this.
    – Beofett
    Commented Apr 25, 2014 at 12:18
  • 10 upvotes, 18 downvotes. Again, I did not vote, and again, I suspect that many of the votes are "poorly researched", but "not useful" seems just as valid to me.
    – Beofett
    Commented Apr 25, 2014 at 12:22

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