tl dr: Vote early. Vote often. Heck, just vote!

Yes, I'm new to Writers, but not new to SE. I have been a writer for some time, though. You probably wouldn't or couldn't tell it from this Meta post, though.

The reason I'm writing this post is to bring up a thought which has come to mind. I don't want to appear as "the new guy" who wants to come in and change the world as it applies to Writers.SE, but I'm hoping to find out what others are thinking and what might be done about helping Writers along to graduation, if that indeed is the goal of this stack.

Looking at the statistics on Area51, most of the stats for the site look great for graduation. The single area which needs help is in Questions Per Day (QPD). We are about 1/2 of where we need to be in order for the stat to appear in the "Excellent" column. The rest of the stats look pretty good, with the single exception of "avid users", but I'll get to that in a minute. QPD may be one of the hardest stats to improve upon, but you'll find it can be worked with and improved if you do a few key things. If QPD could be brought up over 10 and sustained, this site would most likely go through graduation. There is always a lot of excitement about graduating and with good reason. It's ... well ... exciting! :o)

Having just gone through graduation on Mechanics.SE a few months ago, I have a good idea what has to happen in order to push the site forward. I joined Mechanics a little over three years ago after finding it here on SE. It was running at a steady pace for some time and had been in Beta for quite some time (not as long as Writers, though). Not long after that there was a bit of a lull, where I can say I personally kept the stack out of the Beta refuse pile. In about 12-18 months time, I wrote in excess of 1,200 answers, ensuring as many people received help where I could provide it. The intake of questions wasn't very high (I wish I had the stats, but it wasn't a whole lot - obviously it was greater than 1,200 :o). Finally around the middle of 2015, several other users became interested in making things happen and by the end of 2015 there was a large push to ensure several of our stats were in the "Excellent" range, which before were just "Okay". By January of 2016 we were really progressing, where we'd picked up a few very excited users who asked a ton of great questions, giving the rest of us something more to do and something more to think about. Around February of 2016, we started asking what we needed to do as a community to get over the hump to graduation.

In March of 2016, Jon Ericson, a Community Manager from Stack Exchange (yes, an employee) wrote this Meta post to us. The whole premise of Jon's post centered around voting. His emphasis was more about increasing the number of eligible voters who could vote for moderator candidates during election. I believe his post has merit here and can be used to emphasise a few things which may help Writers. I'm going to paraphrase some things which Jon wrote and pull other things out in quotation. Hopefully I can get my point across. I believe this single Meta question was enough to get us over the edge and graduated. I believe it can help Writers as well.

What is a vote?

A vote means different things to different people, but I think it can be boiled down to what Jon says in his Mech Meta post:

... voting is the engine that drives the reputation economy.

In this quote, he links out to another Q/A he had written which says:

Questions and answers are expensive. It takes time, thought, and (hopefully) expertise to produce a good question and even more to produce a solid answer. Ideally, we'd all be motivated by the joy of finding things out and by the good feeling we get from helping others. But the truth is when I get up in the morning and I wonder what I ought to do with spare time, it gives me a little jolt of happiness to see that someone on the internet gave me a +1 on an answer I worked so hard to produce.

As has been stated elsewhere, a vote means different things to different people. Many SE users go by the premise that a vote is something to be hoarded, only to be used sparingly. Others think it should frivolously be given away without thought. If you can buy into what Jon is saying, the vote is what makes SE work. To me, without the vote, we are just a forum ... and who wants us to be a forum?

Why should we vote?

I think I've already touched on why we should vote, but I want to reiterate a few things about voting which may not pop out to everyone.

We can cast up to 40 votes per day (we're given 30, but this can be brought up to 40 by ensuring we vote on questions as well as answers). These votes cost us nothing. If we don't use them, they shrivel up and die at the end of the day, never to be seen again. If they aren't used, they are wasted ... POOF ... bit heaven.

Using votes can do the following:

  • Entice new users to stick around. As Jon pointed out, it's exciting to get an uptick on a question or an answer. When a new user comes on the site, getting some type of validation gives them reason to stick around, by either asking more questions or providing some thoughtful (or thought provoking) answers. Giving answers in and of themselves may help bring people back, but an uptick might give them a reason to be here more often.
  • Encourage those who answer to answer more often. Is Stack Exchange a way of life for you or just a play thing you throw answers at once in awhile? For me on Mechanics.SE, it's a way of life. I came from the world of automotive forums where there's more guessing, conjecture, and opinions than you can shake a stick at. I liked how SE brought good answers to the forefront and encouraged smart people to give good, honest answers. How does that encouragement happen? Through voting.
  • Gives experienced users the ability to help moderate. As people gain in experience, hopefully they are gaining reputation as well. SE is, for the most part, self governed. We the users provide the muscle to help keep the site clean and tidy. Without people voting on posts, people don't gain the needed reputation and a few people are always stuck doing the clean up. At a minimum, getting new users out of the basement level of the reputation latter allows them the ability to post comments (instead of posting comments as answers), as well as the ability to chime in at The Overlook Hotel (yes, you need 20 points to participate in the chat room).
  • You can earn badges! I know, the first thing which comes to mind is the old movie cliche of: Badges? We don't need no stinkin' badges! While you may be right, some people aren't here for the glory of reputation or badges, it still makes being here a little bit more fun. To encourage voting, there are several badges which are available you can earn for yourself by voting. To my knowledge, those badges are:
    • Electorate: Gold badge issued when you vote on 600 questions and 25% or more of total votes are on question. At this time there have been only five awarded.
    • Civic Duty: Silver badge awarded when you vote 300 or more times. Only 35 have been awarded.
    • Critic: Bronze badge awarded for your first down vote. 290 have been awarded.
    • Sportsmanship: Silver badge awarded when you up vote 100 answers on questions where an answer of yours has a positive score. Only four have been awarded.
    • Suffrage: Bronze badge awarded when you use 30 votes in a day. Only 70 have been awarded.
    • Supporter: Bronze badge awarded on your first up vote. 3,466 have been awarded.
    • Vox Populi: Bronze badge awarded when you use the maximum 40 votes in a day.

The reason I put how many of the voting badges were awarded is to bring light to something which is so simple to earn, yet hardly anyone has earned them. To me this shows just how little people on here care about voting. How hard, really, is it to earn either Suffrage or Vox Populi? Not hard at all. Even the newest of the new users can earn these in no time. Some people have been on this site for years and have never earned them. Take a look at Electorate. If, for instance, a user has placed just one vote per day on a single question, it would take a little under two years to earn this badge. There have been active users on this site for more than six years who have yet to earn this badge. How sad is that?

How should we vote?

I'm not going to tell you how to vote. My thinking is we just need to vote. I do have some thoughts about how I vote which I'll share, which might help others.

Some may believe there are only two different ways to vote: Up or Down. I'll submit to you there is a third way to vote: The non-vote. Here is my thinking on voting and how I apply votes:

  • Up Vote: I use an upvote for several reasons.
    • For doing a good job on a post, whether it's a Q/A. If it looks like they've done some research or put some thought behind it, it's worth an uptick.
    • For bringing to light some insights I might not have thought of.
    • To encourage new users to come back (also, so they have some minimal privileges of comments and chat, which makes the moderator's job much easier).
  • Down Vote: For egregiously wrong answers. If something is just wrong in my humble opinion, I'll downvote them.
  • Non Vote: If someone really doesn't put any effort into a Q/A, I just leave it alone.

I have a different philosophy about downvoting than some others do. A lot of people will downvote a question if it's poorly written or has punctuation/formatting issues. To me, that's no reason to downvote. Why? Because more than likely these individuals can be coached into doing things better. We can do that through comments and even editing the posts ourselves. Since this stack (and most of the others) use English as the primary language and we are a world-wide entity, it comes to mind we may get some people whose first language isn't English. They may not know the difference between "too", "to", and "two". Should we penalize those who may just not know, but are after knowledge and are doing their best? In my eyes, no. Not only is it unfair, it's a good way to drive people away. In a slight way it goes against the general concept of SE which is to be kind.

Please do vote your conscious, though. Voting is by far the most important thing to do here.

Why is it important to vote?

If you've gotten this far, you've probably figured out where I'm going with all of this. Votes are the currency on SE. You are given votes to spend as you see fit. Once those votes are expired, you cannot get them back. You cannot keep them on retainer. They're given to you so you can use them. By holding them back, you aren't hurting yourself, you are hurting the site as a whole. You are keeping the site from growing. You are not allowing the site to prosper. Voting is the key to getting that 800lb gorilla called "Beta" off of the site. You would not believe the burden which is lifted once you're no longer in Beta unless you've been through it before. Not only is it exciting, it's fulfilling in so many ways.

I said I'd get to something later as it pertains to "avid users". Avid users refers to those who are on the site and regularly doing things, like voting, editing, asking, and answering. To get to graduation, one of the things you need is a strong "middle class" of people within the stack. Those are the people who are in the 3k to 10k range of reputation. If you don't have enough of these people, the SE powers that be, like Jon Ericson, are more than happy to leave the site in Beta until there are enough people in that reputation range to support a full and honest election. The only way to get people to those levels is to vote!. Squandering your votes doesn't help you or your fellow Writearians toward the goal of graduation. Writers will continue to flounder or quite possibly die on the vine without this key group of people.

Let's do this community a favor and get it rolling towards graduation. Let's help Writers.SE become a full fledged site. You know, Writers needs to graduate if for no other reason than to become eligible for the site design ... white and blue are so boring. Writing brings color to an otherwise drab world ... shouldn't that be reflected in this site as well?

Be well. And please vote.

  • There is probably a lot more I could add to this ... but I think the diatribe is way to long to begin with. If it goes anywhere, I may see about adding to it, or even providing another question within Meta to help us progress. Jan 14, 2017 at 3:37
  • Thank you for explaining why some of my mediocre answers got more votes than they deserve over the past 5 or 6 weeks. (Since approx Jan 14). As a proud new middle-classian I'm going to go earn a badge or two.
    – SFWriter
    Feb 23, 2018 at 1:08

4 Answers 4


So, first of all: YES to all of that.

Voting is an important part of the Stack Exchange ecosystem. It's a hat-tip to people for making the site better, for creating content, for asking questions and answering answers.

All that being said, you can't disentangle low voting from low questions-per-day. And low QPD is Writer.SE's biggest issue, and has been basically forever.

Low questions per day means there's not a lot to vote on. It's no surprise to me that Suffrage and Vox Populi are rare (I don't have either of them; nor do our other two mods) - with ~5 questions a day, and even 3-4 answers per question, I wouldn't get those badges even if I voted on every single post that came in.

Basically, I'm not at all convinced that Writers.SE has a voting problem. A helpful user created this query, tallying the average score for both questions and answers on various SE sites. We're right at the median, with an average of 2.5 for questions and 3.08 for answers.

(And I'll point out that that puts us ahead of many excellent, active, healthy sites, with many more active users than Writers.SE has. Which means our small group of dedicated users are rewarding questions at the same rate that other, larger sites are rewarding theirs.)

I will try to put together a query for this, to see if we can get a sense of how many "active" users we have, and how much voting they do. This is... non-trivial, and I don't have a lot of experience with the Data Explorer, but it seems like that's the way to get more info here.

The other major point is: I'm not convinced that we are failing to reward good questions. This ties in to low QPD, but it's not quite the same thing: A lot of the questions we get, are not necessarily very good.

Good enough to not get closed, sure. Good enough to get answered, yes. Good enough to get more than an upvote or two? Not necessarily.

A question upvote often implies "This is an interesting question," or "This user has put work into writing their question well," or "This will be helpful to others," or "This is the kind of content I want to see more of." But many questions are... not that. That's fine; that's expected; that's par for the course. But it's not going to get many upvotes.

Writers.SE is still an uneasy beast. We don't have a steady flow of good Q&A style questions. We aren't easily accessible to newcomers, who often most want critique and feedback and help with rephrasing (which are firmly off-topic) and struggle to phrase their writing issues as Q&A. And we haven't really found a body of "expert-level" questions, which is what makes Stack Exchange work so well in other domains. All of which is to say: I am not seeing a body of people asking decent questions and remaining low-rep; I'm seeing a site which is valuable, but niche, and a good question for the site is a nontrivial occurrence.

So the flip side to what you're saying is this: Voting, expressing your opinion, encouraging new users, highlighting where you want the site to go -- these are all very important things. But, that doesn't mean turning votes into an end of its own.

I do not want people "spending" their upvotes on things they feel don't deserve them, "so that they don't go to waste." Nor do I want them downvoting things they wouldn't upvote, but haven't previously felt strongly about. Both of those would make votes near-meaningless.

I also have no particular desire for community members to start trawling backwards in the archives, looking for old posts to vote for (which is the other easy way to vote a lot). That satisfies the gamification, but it really doesn't help the site in any way.

In summary: Members should know that they have votes; and that they're encouraged to use them. Using your votes makes the site better. That doesn't necessarily mean that (a) the site has a voting problem, or that (b) more voting would, on its own, catalyze an improvement the site. But, anyone who's a user who tends not to vote, it would definitely be a good thing if you exercised your privileges, put your opinions to good use, and voted. :)

  • Thanks for this answer. I appreciate you reading my diatribe. I'll restate what I've stated in a chat somewhere, "Activity breeds activity". Voting is activity. If others are excited about what they find here and how they are received, they will tend to stick around and ask more questions. Writers needs more questions (and good questions). Voting is the only option to get more (because Writers is doing everything else right!). Again, I'm not trying to come in and change the world. I'm only hoping to help get Writers more of what it needs to become what it deserves to be. Jan 14, 2017 at 19:58
  • 1
    Right, but you're assuming we have things to vote on that we currently aren't. Voting on stuff we don't actually want to vote on is activity, but it isn't constructive activity.
    – Standback
    Jan 14, 2017 at 20:07
  • I haz those steenken badges. :) I even have Electorate! Jan 15, 2017 at 22:19
  • 1
    @Pᴀᴜʟsᴛᴇʀ2, writers is very clearly not doing everything else right because the participation by professional writers is very low and the subject of the vast majority of the questions is fantasy fiction, a tiny sliver of the total writing market. It is as if SO were dominated by amateur Visual Basic programmers. Frivolous voting is not going to bring in a wider range of questions or the people to answer them. The site needs to be more serious, not less. I think we need to talk about ways to broaden the appeal and get more professionals on here.
    – user16226
    Jan 16, 2017 at 2:02
  • @MarkBaker - It's doing "everything else right" in the sense towards graduation. It's nailing the key areas which it needs for graduation except QPD. Writers does very well in all other areas. Jan 16, 2017 at 2:28
  • 1
    @Pᴀᴜʟsᴛᴇʀ2, I think there is more to doing well than meeting statistical categories for participation, but what I was really saying is that voting is not the only thing that is affecting our QPD. As Standback points out, our voting stats are on par with many successful sites. But it is obvious that we attract only a small sliver of our intended subject matter. We are fulfilling maybe 5% or our mandate. Fantasy fiction is a tiny part of the market but dominates here. That is a problem.
    – user16226
    Jan 16, 2017 at 13:27
  • @MarkBaker - Fair enough. Jan 16, 2017 at 13:48
  • @MarkBaker (and others): followup: meta.writers.stackexchange.com/q/1212/1993 Jan 17, 2017 at 0:50

As I see it, there are three basic problems for Writers in the SE framework that limit its appeal and have nothing to do with voting, or only tangentially.

  1. The SO paradigm, on which all other SE sites is based on the idea that there are small reusable solutions to specific coding problem. I have used it hundreds of times for exactly that purpose. But writing does not work the same way. There simply are not millions of small reusable solutions to writing problems. And for this reason, there is no motivation for successful working writers to frequent the site the way successful working programmers frequent SO.

  2. Writing is very hard to test. The only real test is that lots of people put down money to buy your book. Even then, that does not mean that everything you did in the book is good or should be emulated. Answers on Writers are simply not testable. At best, you can offer counter examples to assertions. The result it that very often voting here is a popularity contest between two untestable assertions.

  3. Writing and storytelling are different things. Storytelling is something that works out over a large scope -- far too large for a SE question, even if we allowed critiquing. Writing questions -- questions about how to form a pleasing and effective sentence are more the right scale, but their answers are not likely to be useful to anyone other than the person who asks them (which is why they are off topic here).

I came to Writers because I wanted to study the SE model. As a technical writer, I was fascinated by the rise of the SO model as a dominant form of technical communication, to the point where it is often a preferred source over official documentation. I wanted to participate in the model myself, but it was clear to me that I was not a sufficiently expert programmer to make much of contribution to SE, and thus to experience the model in action for myself. So I joined Writers, as well as English Language Learners and English Language and Usage. I found the latter two to be dominated by fierce grammarians, which I am not, so I have put most of my energy into Writers.

But what I have learned over the last year here is that the model does not really fit. We really see the same questions coming up again and again, simply because there are not that many general writing questions that are applicable to many. Writing consists of some general principles and an infinity of specific cases. Most of the worthwhile answers here are telling people which general principles apply to what they are struggling with. @what's brilliant Writing a novel, can I do [this or that]? could be repeated for a couple of dozen issues and incorporate most of the site.

This does not mean I don't think Writers should not exist, or that I am not going to continue on it (that depends on how long I stay interested). It just means I have a hard time imagining what the growth model is for it.

  • 1
    Your participation adds a lot to this site; I almost always find your answers to be well-thought-out and appropriate. I'm also a technical writer, and I hope we can explore building out that part of the site together -- if nothing else, to find out what commonalities and differences there are among all the types of writing that are on-topic here. Jan 15, 2017 at 22:14
  • 1
    Thanks @MonicaCellio. I think that if Writers is going to grow, the most hopeful direction is sideways, to draw in writers from fields other than fantasy fiction, which seems to account for the vast majority of the current questions. Actually, almost every form of writing other than fiction would be a better fit for this format. Tech writing, journalism, marketing, etc are all more testable and have more repeatable solutions than fiction. But how to get those people here?
    – user16226
    Jan 16, 2017 at 1:46
  • 1
    +1, but I think that Writers doesn't have enough members interested in fiction writing to make it interesting for writers interested in fiction writing. I tried to recommend the site to a few bloggers, but their reply invariably was: "There is nothing there for people who write kid lit (or whatever the blogger's genre was) and it is not interesting for my readers."
    – user5645
    Jan 16, 2017 at 14:43

The problem with writers it that its attractiveness for writers is limited.

I just noticed, when reading Standback's answer, that the mother site of us all, Stack Overflow, basically is a rephrase-my-code site! Reviewing code is what about 99% of the questions on Stack Overflow are about. But reviewing writing is forbidden on Writers, although it is what very many of the new users want. General answer that apply to every writer are not very helpful for an individual writer struggling with a certain passage.

At the same time, individual help with writing is not helpful to other writers. While many programmers will need to write certain functions and a snippet of code will be of use to many, no writer needs to write the story another has already written, and anything that one writer will find helpful will be largly irrelevant to most everyone else.

Another problem is that where code is objective in that it either works or doesn't, writing always works. Even bad writing will entertain some readers to some degree. For that reason, there are no right or wrong answers on Writers. While on Stack Overflow answers where upvoted because they were helpful, answers here are upvoted because the upvoters have the same opinion.

A third problem is that while programmers naturally help each other develop code online, writers (like other artists) naturally are afraid of having their ideas stolen or others getting the publishing contract they hope for. There is a huge demand for programmers, and close to four million people earn their money writing software in the US alone. No other programmer needs to be afraid of their competition, on the contrary, sharing is part of programming success. For writers, on the other hand, there is only a very limited market, and only about three hundred thousand people can make a living off writing in the US. In writing, especially fiction writing, the competition is extreme, and financial success is rare. We all fear the slush pile. Writers are wary of each other and envious of each other's success, and helping other writers succeed is not the same strong impulse as it is for software developers (or hobby mechanics).

We really need to think about what writers want and try to implement that in the site rules, if we want to attract new users, instead of trying to force the rules of a programmer's site onto writers. This site was not created for writers, but from a certain software structure. That is the reason why this site does not grow.

  • 1
    I think sometimes there are genuinely wrong answers on Writers, but they are very few and far between. I have less than two dozen DVs out of over 4900 votes cast, and I generally save those for "Boy howdy, this isn't just bad advice, it is flat-out incorrect." By way of example, I disagree with your statement that "there are no wrong answers," but the rest of your post has some good points. Mere disagreement doesn't merit a downvote. Jan 15, 2017 at 22:25
  • @LaurenIpsum, I agree that "Mere disagreement doesn't merit a downvote," though I am pretty certain that every downvote I have ever received had been an expression of disagreement, mostly with my non-mainstream views on "show don't tell". I don't think I have given more than a couple of downvotes in all the time I have been here. But this points to a problem: because the vast majority of the answers here are essentially non-testable, there is very little grounds of downvoting anything.
    – user16226
    Jan 16, 2017 at 1:51
  • 1
    Like @LaurenIpsum, I disagree on "there are no right or wrong answers on Writers." I think there are lots of wrong answers. The problem is that there are very few testable answers. You can definitely do wrong things in writing: fail to sell, fail to communicate, fail to convince. If you can do wrong things, then there are wrong answers, at least relative to a given aim. But proving that an answer is wrong is very difficult.
    – user16226
    Jan 16, 2017 at 1:56
  • I just want to point out that SO is not a "rephrase my code" site. It has many requests to review and fix code, but much more it has "I'm trying to do X, here's my code, why isn't this working." Questions that don't manage that, get closed and ignored. If they didn't block out all the "please fix my code for me, kthxby" questions, they'd never have gotten to where they are today.
    – Standback
    Jan 16, 2017 at 14:21
  • @Standback "I'm trying to do X, here's my code, why isn't this working?" is a code review question. It is the same as "Here is my short story, how can I improve it?"
    – user5645
    Jan 16, 2017 at 14:36
  • 1
    I kind of agree! But a code snippet is much more manageable, and the issue is MUCH more clearly defined, than an entire short story :-) So code snippet is "fix THIS problem," fiction feedback is "tell me everything you think about this." Two very different forms of "review"...
    – Standback
    Jan 16, 2017 at 16:32
  • 3
    SO and Writers both require that you say what problem you're trying to solve. "Here's my stuff; please fix it" gets closed on either, but "why am I getting this exception?" or "how can I make my dialogue less stilted?" doesn't. This is the line we try to walk with critiques; open-ended "review my stuff" questions don't work, but "help me solve this problem, which I will demonstrate by showing you some of my work" fits. Jan 17, 2017 at 0:33

A little extra data: Jefromi, a mod from Cooking.SE, kindly whipped up some relevant data queries:

  1. This query shows average scores for questions and answers. We're solidly in the middle of the back -- which isn't too bad, especially when you take community size into consideration.

  2. A query showing how many votes, on average, different users cast on "active" days. Jefromi made two variations: one where an "active" day is one with at least one post; a second where an "active" day is one with at least one comment. I don't really have anything clever to say about these results, but they make sense, and give us an idea of whether low voting is an issue.

Many, many thanks to Jefromi for putting these together!

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