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It is known that CV has a large and growing number of unanswered questions. If that is to improve, increasing the number of people who answer questions and/or help clean up (downvote, edit, comment) is a likely a necessary part of the solution.

Reflecting on my experience as a new answerer here, I felt that the greatest impediment to me becoming active on the site was the feeling that I was "speaking into the void". When I started to feel confident in answering questions, my first answers got almost no reactions (comments/acceptance/upvotes/downvotes). As I did put a lot of effort into those answers, it didn't feel great. Not saying my answers are necessarily great, but I also got basically no feedback on where to improve.

I eventually became OK with getting little feedback (though it still feels sad at times) and am now trying to participate on the site actively but I wonder:

  1. To what extent is this a common experience of new answerers? Do we lose noticeable number of potentially active participants this way?
  2. Is there some way to avoid this?

Right now, I am experimenting myself with proactively searching for answers without votes and being generous with upvotes. My current upvote threshold is somewhere around "This answer is more likely to improve the statistical practice of the OP than to make it worse". Is this considered desirable by the community? Or could it have unintended side effects I am missing?

Managing expectations of new answerers or providing some hints on how to determine if an answer to a question is likely to attract some feedback might also make sense (e.g. show info to users writing their first few answers).

The lack of upvoting has been discussed before, but from a different angle (also it was 5 years ago) and without a strong conclusion.

The discussions on quick and dirty answers, upvoting answers you are not sure are correct are also somewhat related.

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    $\begingroup$ My personal experience is that it are the simpler matters that often get more upvotes. This has to do with the time that people have to invest in order to read and comprehend a question/answer. In addition it are the more popular issues, which get more views, that get the most upvotes. I would not be surprised if the data will show a correlation between votes and views. I can imagine that a lot of people here see their 'best' (as in complicate, high level, or something similar) answers end up with less votes and their highest voted answers could be some easy short answers on simple questions. $\endgroup$ – Sextus Empiricus Sep 5 at 11:33
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    $\begingroup$ An example is this: stats.stackexchange.com/a/421795/164061 about the German Tank problem. It got 14 upvotes within a month, placing it currently in my top 3% answers based on votes. I was initially surprised about that. It is not such a great answer (from my view). But possibly it has attracted some people from other sites when it may have gotten in 'hot network questions' and then it helps that the German Tank problem is a well know question and can be easily understood by a broad public. What I also imagine is that an entire class of students may have passed by the question. $\endgroup$ – Sextus Empiricus Sep 5 at 11:44
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    $\begingroup$ I've been on here quite a while, but trying to remember back - and also reflecting my current observations - very few answers get positive comments. I do recall this happening to me a few times - and it felt good! - but it was rare and it remains so. Upvotes are another matter. They seem pretty common. Of course, to get an upvote or a comment, the answer has to be seen and, with so many questions on CV, it's easy to miss questions (and answers). $\endgroup$ – Peter Flom - Reinstate Monica Sep 5 at 11:49
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    $\begingroup$ See the comparison with this answer to one of your questions. stats.stackexchange.com/questions/359728 I find the issue dealt with much more interesting. On the other hand it is also more in depth. It makes the question and answer both less appealing. So you can see that that question has only 250 views whereas the question that I linked to earlier has 2k views. $\endgroup$ – Sextus Empiricus Sep 5 at 11:49
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    $\begingroup$ (1) I still feel like I am speaking into the void, more often than I would like. (2) I will happily admit that I'm part of the problem. My bookmark points at the "new questions" view, and I usually skim the new questions and answer whatever I feel like. Usually, by the time a question has received answers, it's already off my view. I feel like I should spend more time looking at and upvoting answers, but the deluge of new questions is coming too fast. $\endgroup$ – S. Kolassa - Reinstate Monica Sep 5 at 21:31
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    $\begingroup$ Honestly I just started answering in earnest about 3 weeks ago and I feel like the response has been reasonable--it'll be a somewhat specific question, I'll give some brief advice, get 2 upvotes and a couple clarifying comments, and move on, which is probably what should happen most of the time. Frankly, a large percentage of questions being asked are terrible. They don't meet the "unsalvageable" criterion so I don't flag them, but I'm not willing to go through the effort of coaching someone into asking a reasonable question. $\endgroup$ – Sheridan Grant Sep 15 at 22:06
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    $\begingroup$ @SheridanGrant If they are terrible questions, downvote them! $\endgroup$ – mkt - Reinstate Monica Sep 18 at 8:55
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    $\begingroup$ For now, I'll leave this as a comment: the "speaking into the void" phenomena has happened to me a bit, but in part it's because the tags where I'm most qualified to comment are very niche ones (latent class analysis and item response theory - ever heard of either of those?). Personally, I'm fine with receiving only one or two upvotes and the occasional positive comment. Maybe I'm a bit strange in that regard. $\endgroup$ – Weiwen Ng Sep 18 at 17:46
  • $\begingroup$ @mkt I do every time--I presume that is preferable to flagging them? $\endgroup$ – Sheridan Grant Sep 22 at 18:37
  • $\begingroup$ @SheridanGrant If there's a valid reason to flag, by all means do that too. $\endgroup$ – mkt - Reinstate Monica Sep 22 at 18:44
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1. To what extent is this a common experience of new answerers? Do we lose noticeable number of potentially active participants this way?

I think I felt similarly when I started participating, and it was years before I became a regular user. As with most communities, this one has some unusual norms that take a while to learn - especially since there's no central archive of all of them (the help pages cover things partially at best). The biggest challenge for me was finding questions simple enough to answer that were not going to be closed as duplicates (or for any other reason). Having spent a lot of time here, I now have a decent idea about whether a question has been addressed before or is going to meet the closure criteria. But earlier, finding a question closed half-way through writing an answer could be discouraging.

2. Is there some way to avoid this?

I agree that upvoting (and downvoting!) more would be helpful, but I'd be surprised if it had more than a small effect. The number of upvotes I get for my answers is mainly a function of how much attention the question gets, and this seems quite random. My most-upvoted answers are nothing special: they just happened to be to questions that ended up being popular. So a few additional intentional upvotes (while appreciated) are probably not going to change this general dynamic. Edited to add a partial retraction of the above point: on reflection, I realised that those few additional intentional upvotes are not trivial. They would have mattered a lot more when I was new to the site and had a low rep score.

But to return to your question about avoiding this engagement problem for new users. I think the problems I faced are structural and hard to address. I think the biggest problem is that the community has to spend a lot of effort to just remove bad questions. This work is largely done by a relatively small pool of people, but new users suffer the consequences too - the new questions page is generally filled with a high proportion of low quality questions. Participating would be easier if this 'background noise' level was lower, but I don't see a good way to make that happen. I'd be fine with mandating some moderately time-consuming steps for new participants to ensure they learn what a good question is before posting, but that's not going to happen. And I don't think anything else would work very well.

[Edited to add] A second problem is that because simple questions are very likely to have been asked before (and hence would be closed as duplicates), the remaining on-topic questions are more specialised and complex. Answering these is a valuable contribution, but the problem is that there's fewer people who have the expertise to understand these answers. And if I can't understand an answer, I cannot justify upvoting it. This also penalises new users, but I can't see a good solution there either.

3. Regarding your upvoting criterion "This answer is more likely to improve the statistical practice of the OP than to make it worse"

I don't know. Pitching your answer at a level that the OP can understand is valuable, of course, and sometimes I'm happy to upvote answers for the reason you cite.

But I don't follow this as a general rule. There are frequently important lessons to be taught that supersede the specific question being asked. Questions can be so misguided that a technically correct answer could still be a bad way to proceed, and conceptual frameworks can serve as straightjackets that hinder the search for good solutions. For example, instead of telling someone how to do the exact test/p-value calculation they have asked about (which might improve their statistical practice), it can sometimes be more important to point out that there may be better ways to think about their problem than through the framework of null hypothesis statistical testing.

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As a reader looking to better my practice, I welcome answers that are clear and broken down in detail.

As a learner that will eventually look to help others I would welcome some guidance of what a good answer structure is.

Reading various answer I have an idea of what a good answer is for me -- but would be nice to see guidelines to help newcomers

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To what extent is this a common experience of new answerers? Do we lose noticeable number of potentially active participants this way?

Probably. I certainly answer less because of it (not that I'm important at all of course). The main issue is probably the fact that people come here for an answer, then leave when they don't get one. So they are not around to upvote late answers to their question. But that might be my fault for sometimes liking to go through older unanswered questions to give them an answer.

Is there some way to avoid this?

I can suggest two things that might help off the top of my head. Although, there's probably some huge issues I haven't thought of yet.

  1. What if we gave more medals/badges for voting? Maybe in a recurring manner? I thought about giving a tiny amount of rep (e.g., x rep every 1000 upvotes), but that's too easy to abuse.

  2. Regarding the backlog, a lot answers, especially late answers to older questions, simply sit without being accepted nor upvoted. So they will be in the unanswered queue forever I guess(?). [Sorry if I misunderstand the system]. If there was a mechanism for the community to accept answers to "dead questions", it would probably help with this. (E.g., if the questioner hadn't logged in for n months, the question can go into an "old questions with answers" queue, and if enough people vote for it, it could get accepted). This might encourage people to answer some more older questions as well.

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    $\begingroup$ I think accepting answers by the community is not necessary: an upvote for the answer should be enough to put the question out of "unanswered" $\endgroup$ – Martin Modrák Sep 7 at 6:04
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    $\begingroup$ @MartinModrák is correct. Note also that when you do post an answer to an old question, it is immediately brought to the top of the front page where it can draw some attention (and upvotes). Regarding your idea about automatic accepting answer to old questions, this has been discussed here and here (in short, the community does not like that idea). $\endgroup$ – mkt - Reinstate Monica Sep 7 at 7:49
  • $\begingroup$ @MartinModrák ah, I didn't realize (or maybe forgot) that upvoted answers are considered "answered". Thanks. $\endgroup$ – user3658307 Sep 7 at 16:01
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    $\begingroup$ @mkt oh, fair enough. Thanks for the links. That seems to be working alright here (on math SE my ratio of zero upvote answers is much higher, though of course that may just be an indictment on my answers). I still wonder if some kind of review-like queue could help tamper down the unanswered backlog though. $\endgroup$ – user3658307 Sep 7 at 16:15
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    $\begingroup$ Agreed, the ever-growing backlog is an irritant that many of us have spent time on too. But as someone here once said, worrying about the backlog can turn into an unproductive obsession. Getting to zero there is even less likely there than it is with most email inboxes. As an aside: a lack of accepts/upvotes is not an indictment of your answers; that's what downvotes are for. As I said above, if you tackle specialised topics (which from a quick look appears to be true), (i) you may not get many views, and (ii) many of us may not be able to understand them well enough to justify upvoting. $\endgroup$ – mkt - Reinstate Monica Sep 9 at 9:46
  • $\begingroup$ There are badges for voting: Civic Duty, Critic, Electorate (gold!), Sportsmanship, Suffrage, Supporter, and Vox Populi. $\endgroup$ – whuber Sep 13 at 20:00
  • $\begingroup$ Badges for answering old questions are Revival, Necromancer, and the somewhat related badges Tenacious and Unsung Hero (gold!). There are also badges for resurrecting or improving old questions, such as Excavator and Archaeologist. $\endgroup$ – whuber Sep 13 at 20:03
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This is my advice for newbies for getting the questions answered:

  1. Join a smaller, more 'hobbyist' SE first, one that you either have some expertise in or can ask interesting questions of. Make sure it's one with a generous voting culture (Something like Worldbuilding, Movies or Sci-Fi)
  2. Grind questions or answers until you've accumulated 200 rep and obtained the association bonus.
  3. Your CV account will now get +100 rep, enough to allow you to give out a bounty.
  4. Ask your question, make sure it's a quality one and put a bounty on it as soon as you are able.

The bounty is absolutely necessary if you are to have any chance at getting a quality answer to your question, I've found.

If you have more questions that need answering, you are put in the unenviable position of having to grind for rep. Even if you have some knowledge and are able to answer some of the easier questions, it is highly likely that your answers will go by without comment, upvote or acceptance.

An alternative strategy is to regularly make edits to your question to keep it in the active queue. People may frown at this strategy, but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do.


These strategies are symptomatic of a sick SE. One shouldn't have to resort to gaming the system to have a reasonable chance of getting a decent question answered. The main cause is the constant flood of new people asking their questions, and this is a tide that cannot be stopped, no matter how punitively bad questions by new users are downvoted/closed/deleted.

I don't have any real solutions to this, but one thing I think can help is to actively upvote questions by new users that are not bad. I.e. when going through the first post queue, if the question is not actively bad, but also not actively good, give it an upvote anyway. That little dopamine rush will make it more likely the new person will stay around after their first question, and will give them rep which they could save up for bounties in the future.

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    $\begingroup$ This is about how to get good answers, a permanent concern, but not what this thread is about. I think its main point "The bounty is absolutely necessary if you are to have any chance at getting a quality answer to your question" is empirically wrong as a generalization about threads here and indeed (no doubt unintentionally) even offensive to all those who have given good answers without receiving bounties. $\endgroup$ – Nick Cox Sep 13 at 16:09
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    $\begingroup$ The initial part of this post is wrong and misleading. For instance, a series of good questions can garner a lot of reputation, but this possibility seems to be completely ignored. By contrast, anyone posting a series of answers that "go by without comment, upvote, or acceptance" either is choosing very obscure questions (you can tell by looking at their view counts) or needs to work on communicating answers. And the strategy of gaming the system with frequent edits is guaranteed to backfire: you will eventually annoy enough people to get your post downvoted and even closed. $\endgroup$ – whuber Sep 13 at 20:10
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    $\begingroup$ Well I'm glad other people have been able to get their questions answered without bounties; this by and large hasn't been my experience. To be fair, part of the problem I think is my active time zone (New Zealand), and the principal answerers tend to skew American, so by the time day rolls by in America, my question has already been buried under 70 others. $\endgroup$ – Ingolifs Sep 14 at 8:39
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    $\begingroup$ @Ingolifs I generally agree with Nick Cox and whuber here, but your time zone point is a good one. Ultimately, we need a larger pool of answer-writers to address this and many other related difficulties. $\endgroup$ – mkt - Reinstate Monica Sep 14 at 9:15
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    $\begingroup$ Well, @Glen_b heads the active users that are in similar time zones to you. From stats.stackexchange.com/users/172392/ingolifs?tab=questions I count 16 questions on the main site from you of which 4 are unanswered. I wouldn't want even to try to think about their quality -- that would be invidious and you're much nearer the machine learning side of this community than I am -- but (without wanting to dismiss personal experience) I would still call that a small and not very convincing sample given your assertions. $\endgroup$ – Nick Cox Sep 14 at 9:47
  • $\begingroup$ @NickCox Ok. I'm looking at my 16 questions in chronological order. Beyond the first few newbie questions, things dry up substantially. Out of the last 9 questions, I have only had three answers - all of which came from bounties. The others either have inadequate answers or no answers at all. This includes a question where a bounty was left to expire unawarded because the answers didn't answer my question. I don't know about you but 9 times in a row is a pretty convincing sample for me. I don't mean to get argumentative, but I still stand by my assertions. $\endgroup$ – Ingolifs Sep 14 at 10:50
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    $\begingroup$ You’re the expert on your personal experience. The wider assertions and even insinuations here remain open to discussion. For example, you seem to be implying that the voting culture here is not generous. I don’t know what data or data analysis could be relevant to that without raising more questions than it answers. $\endgroup$ – Nick Cox Sep 14 at 14:31
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    $\begingroup$ I'm not sure what it is you think I'm insinuating. It seems you think that I think that this SE's problems stem from a moral failing on the part of the site's regulars and moderators. I don't think that. Once a question actually gets noticed, whether on the HNQ list or otherwise, the rate of votes seems about typical. It's just there's so many questions that never get that far. I attribute this to a poor asker to answer ratio, especially in my time zone. $\endgroup$ – Ingolifs Sep 17 at 20:24

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