As a normal non-moderator, low rep user, what is my correct course of action on reading a new question that has issues, for example it is likely off-topic?

I have several choices:

  • I can downvote
  • I can comment
  • I can mark for mod attention
  • I can vote for on-hold or close etc

And, to make it more difficult I can do these things in combination as I see fit.

Downvoting with no other action doesn't seem right as it doesn't help the asker understand the problems.

Should I mark for mod attention and expect the mod to comment on the issues, or do it myself? If myself, is there a record of "standard" text to be used?

Similarly, voting for on-hold or close, in isolation, feels like it doesn't help the asker, yet I use it quite a lot!

Is there an accepted protocol for this, to be used in "most" cases where circumstances aren't exceptional?

3 Answers 3


In my opinion, those are all valid responses. Depends on what you mean by "dodgy". Below are some opinions about some of the related issues. I've tried to highlight the fact that these are opinions by being somewhat lighthearted.

Meta is where the culture is formed.

IMHO you've done right to ask in meta - this is where we form the culture, the norms and the protocols. I also think you've effectively answered your own question, which is entirely valid.

You are the moderator; you are responsible for curation of the site.

Each of us shares the responsibility for the incentive structure that will lead to a better SE. Downvotes, comments, flags et. al. are all valid techniques to incentivize better questions and better answers. We trust you to use all the tools you list in order to improve the quality of the site.

downvotes are atomic

I'm in the minority on this, but a downvote is a downvote. A downvote is an atopic feedback statement "I don't like this question/answer". I don't believe that a downvote obligates me to provide a comment. Sometimes I downvote without explanation if

  • I think someone else has explained it well enough. Sometimes I downvote without explanation because I think the explanation is obvious.
    • I conclude that the OP would not be helped by the explanation.
    • I wish to reinforce the negative feedback loop but don't feel a comment is required.
    • The question is part of a trend that will, in my opinion, diminish the value of the SE site.
    • I receive telepathic instructions from my pet bird. Downvotes are a privilege that you exercise without oversight or accountability. If you think the question deserves a downvote, then the question deserves your downvote.

That said, I'll admit that if I believe that a downvote + a comment is a more effective feedback loop, then I'll downvote and comment.

Close Votes are not condemnations

Closing a question puts it in a state which facilitates remediation. Contrary to popular rumor, closing a question does not release a plague of locusts to terrorize the OP's home town. Close votes are not a judgement, they are an opportunity. Closed questions get heavily edited to see if we can salvage the question. Closing a quesition also frequently inspires us to start a discussion in Meta to see if we can identfiy which portions of the question are dross, and which are of value. Closing a question can abort a disruptive comment stream and focus attention on what we collectively find might be valuable about the closed question.

moderator attention is expensive

Moderator attention requires manual processing; I try to avoid that unless I perceive something that is really damaging. This is still a subjective judgement. I've recently dropped the threshold for "obsolete" flags (among others) after consultation with one of the moderators elsewhere.

  • By "dodgy" I meant "Any question that needs intervention and not an answer". I was struggling to word that in a pithy enough way for the question title. I accept all these are valid responses, I am trying to formulate a standard response, for example: "Downvote, add a comment and vote for close/on-hold accordingly", or "Downvote and mark for mod attention" etc. I find my responses to such questions are inconsistant, sometimes I handle it one way and somethime another, and my inconsistancy offends me ;) I was just wondering if there is consensus...
    – Marv Mills
    Commented Feb 25, 2014 at 14:57
  • Agreed -but there are questions like the recent PM:SE question that asked how to do software development - dodgy because it isn't a PM question. Then there are the endless string of questions on History:SE about whether Hitler is an alien messenger - dodgy for a different reason and deserving of a different response. Every dodgy question deserves a (potentially) different response.
    – MCW
    Commented Feb 25, 2014 at 15:00
  • 1
    Postscript - but I think you are right to ask the question. Consistency is not a requirement, but consensus and protocol may be useful in curating the site we want. (conversely if we don't have consensus about what we want, then we're very unlikely to get it.)
    – MCW
    Commented Feb 25, 2014 at 15:01
  • 1
    Fair comment, though I only really have knowledge of PM:SE. I do agree, of course, that some are obvious- An obvious Spam question or answer definitely require a mod->spam marker (IMO) and optionally a downvote. I guess the one I see the most is Off Topic (due to Tool Request or non-PM based question). I never know whether to dive in with a comment, or defer to mod, or just vote for closure...
    – Marv Mills
    Commented Feb 25, 2014 at 15:13
  • Fortunately the close vote for software recommendation auto-generates a comment.
    – MCW
    Commented Feb 25, 2014 at 15:17
  • but only after all the votes are in- up until then the OP may not have an inkling that their question is not welcomed. Hence: should the first person to thus vote also leave a comment, or should it also be marked for mod attention so they can leave a mod-level comment?
    – Marv Mills
    Commented Feb 26, 2014 at 15:42

Disclaimer: I'll use 'post' to refer to both questions and answers. I believe the same applies for both.

So, all 'intervention' actions are ways to tell the original poster that something is not good or not good enough. The gap between not good and not good enough will likely help to define the approach.

From 'Not Good Enough' to 'WTF':

  • When a post is good but could be enhanced, it deserves a comment. It's only not good enough.
  • When a post has a potential question under a pile of unclear phrases, then a downvote (plus a comment, IMO!) would fit like a glove. It sends a message like "come'on, you can do better. Give us more details on what you need and let's make a great post together!"
  • When a post mentions something that's clear out of PMSE scope, a close / on hold flag is more than welcome. Not only we should, but we must flag such posts. Keep in mind you need 4 other folks flagging to close down the question, so there's no problem if only you believe a question needs to be closed.
  • When a post is offensive or a pure spam (there are rare cases in PMSE, but for some... WTF is the best definition!), then a moderator flag must be added. The community itself can do most of Mod work, so Mod flags are likely to be used when the problem goes beyond Community's power.

As you said, there are combinations on the above, but I believe the above should be a fair acceptable rule of thumb.

All in all, I strongly encourage the community to participate on PMSE, not only with Questions and Answers, but with votes (up, down), flags and comments! We cannot be afraid, it's our community and we're the most interested in having PMSE growing!

  • I like this approach and I would be happy to vote for it as a recommended common approach if that's where we are headed with this?
    – Marv Mills
    Commented Feb 26, 2014 at 15:40
  • Sorry Marv, I didn't get your question... would you kindly rephrase it? Tks!
    – Tiago Cardoso Mod
    Commented Feb 26, 2014 at 18:09
  • I did not really mean to ask a question, I meant to show appreciation of your answer and indicate that I would like to settle on this as a "rule of thumb" standard or default approach.
    – Marv Mills
    Commented Feb 26, 2014 at 22:06
  • Ah, now I got it, tks!
    – Tiago Cardoso Mod
    Commented Feb 26, 2014 at 22:54

This is sort of a late answer, but I wanted to add that I oftentimes check the PMSE Notice Board for activity.

CodeGnome and Aziz hang out in there quite a bit, and we often post links to questions that we need to watch.

I'm thinking if more higher rep users in the 500+ range dropped by, it could help get those extra close votes needed to put on hold some of these "dodgy questions".

On The Workplace SE, the community there uses chat to escalate and remove spam, get attention for lower quality answers, and close, edit, as well as reopen questions. Many times this happens without a diamond moderator.

An active, core community is important to the success of a Stack Exchange site. We definitely have an active core user base here; we just need to come out of hiding! :)

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