Two of my answers were downvoted recently and the reason was that though they gave quite a bit of information, all of it wasn't entirely accurate and had a few errors. The main cause of this is because I type most of my answers myself without doing a lot of research. I try to explain the answer by using the knowledge that I already have and don't check if what I know is 100% accurate.

So now I feel that I should do some research before posting my answers. I just want to know what you guys do when you answer a question. Do you google the question first and foremost? I've seen some huge answers by high rep users which seem like they've come right out of a textbook. Do you actually type all of that? Or do you open different sources and copy-paste the appropriate information?

Also, it is very frustrating to be voted down after taking so much time in typing an answer. Why don't people just say what the error is so that I can edit the answer and fix it? I don't think you should downvote answers at all unless they are completely bullshit.

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    $\begingroup$ do you open different sources and copy-paste the appropriate information? I hope nobody does that. $\endgroup$ – jinawee Apr 9 '14 at 18:36
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    $\begingroup$ "all of it wasn't entirely accurate and had a few errors" That's exactly what should be downvoted. Hopefully the downvoters will leave a comment so you know what they disagree with. Then you can either fix your answer or rebut. It's nice when people cancel downvotes when you fix your error, but you can't count on that. Some may not notice, or don't care to bother. The only time you might not downvote something clearly wrong is if you think it was a honest typo or something from a user you know to generally be correct. Downvote if it's not fixed within reasonable time. $\endgroup$ – Olin Lathrop Apr 10 '14 at 12:41
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    $\begingroup$ @OlinLathrop If it's just a typo I think you should edit it. $\endgroup$ – jinawee Apr 10 '14 at 17:11
  • $\begingroup$ [Insert subtle reference to Lubos' consistently textbook quality answers here] $\endgroup$ – Jim Apr 11 '14 at 21:27

Downvotes are an unavoidable effect of having an answer that is not accurate, and they should remain that way. Downvotes are not a criticism on the poster, they are the way to keep good answers on the top and inaccurate answers (duly indicated as such in the comments, ideally) further down; it's what makes this site good.

One strategy to answer questions is what you describe: post what you know and let the community tell you when it's wrong. In that case, you should be prepared for exactly that: the community will tell you it's wrong by downvoting it. If that happens, the onus is on you to figure out why and to fix it. You can politely request explanations for the votes, and if your tone is right then people will stop by and help, but they are not obliged to. Drive-by downvoting hurts but it is necessary and has been gone over a million times in this and the mother meta.

If you want to avoid those downvotes, the answer is simple: don't post inaccurate answers. If you're not 100% sure of the material you're posting, do your homework, investigate, check, and revise whatever needs revising, before you post. This is, I feel, how many of us approach answers, and it has the huge advantage that it lets you learn while you answer. Indeed, it is probably the reason many of us are here: we learn by answering.

Finally, as jinawee pointed out in a comment, lifting text straight out of different sources without proper attribution is straight-up plagiarism and should be removed from the site if present. If you find text that looks 'taken out of a textbook', google it and find out. If you do find such an instance, the correct procedure is to edit the post yourself: include links to the original sources, and indicate whatever text has been copied by the use of inline quotation marks and quote blocks for longer stretches. Do this regardless of the poster's reputation, and particularly so for high-rep users, who should know better.

That said, I do not think anyone does this and have never seen an instance on the site. Most people do type all of that. They either know it already - which is exactly what we want, a site where experts can take fifteen minutes to explain what they know and save you many hours of research - or they find it out, in which case they learned as much as you did in the process.

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    $\begingroup$ For what it's worth, I have seen instances of plagiarism, but fewer than 10 over the entire lifetime of the site, and always (as far as I remember) from new users. (Also: excellent answer) $\endgroup$ – David Z Apr 9 '14 at 19:33
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    $\begingroup$ @DavidZ, when you say 'plagiarism', you mean the entire answer copy-pasted right? I don't see how copying certain definitions and paragraphs from sources that the OP might be unable to find himself/herself would be a wrong thing to do. $\endgroup$ – user42733 Apr 9 '14 at 21:05
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    $\begingroup$ @ParthVader no, the copying does not have to be an entire answer to be plagiarism. Any amount of direct copying of content or ideas without proper credit qualifies, with certain exceptions for very short passages (such as if the material copied is common and not associated with any particular source). The kind of copying you're talking about, if uncredited, is not allowed. But remember, the fix is easy: cite the source, and quote anything you copy verbatim! That's all it takes to guarantee you're not plagiarizing. $\endgroup$ – David Z Apr 9 '14 at 21:15
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    $\begingroup$ @ParthVader Plagiarism issues can indeed be difficult to navigate. Have a browse through e.g. the links on this page; unless you are familiar with all the definitions, warnings and advise, I would recommend you spend a good while reading through them. $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty Apr 9 '14 at 21:27

Downvotes are to let other users know that the answer contains errors or wasn't useful. Once you've edited the answer to correct the errors, users who have downvoted can change their downvote to an upvote (assuming your edits have amended the errors). It should not be used only for answers that are completely bullshit, it should be used for any wrong answer.

Personally, I usually use Wikipedia for references for relevant articles and Google for image searches. Outside of that, I pull things from memory or my textbooks at my desk.

As an aside, at some point you're going to stop caring about downvotes. You might want to consider stopping caring now.

  • $\begingroup$ Gotcha. I know I shouldn't care about them, but they just hurt my ego.. $\endgroup$ – user42733 Apr 9 '14 at 18:42
  • $\begingroup$ Good teachers don't have much ego. Try and be a 'good' teacher. $\endgroup$ – Shubham Apr 14 '14 at 21:10

I'll suggest that comments are a really useful way to help get a question answered if you are unsure you have a good answer yourself. You don't get a lot of rep for that, but I think it improves the site and helps people.

For example, I see a question that I'm fairly sure could be answered by a web search, but its also clear the person asking lacks the critical term (word) needed to find what they are looking for. If I know a good term, I'll share it in a comment, and give the person a chance to do some leg-work themselves to answer or improve their question.

It's not condescending to the person to constructively help in this way, but IMO you should do it in a comment rather than answer - and you should not be marked down for it. If you feel you do have answer, then use the answer functionality and you can also include links to supporting resources.

  • $\begingroup$ That is a very good point. $\endgroup$ – user42733 Apr 9 '14 at 21:06
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    $\begingroup$ I'm not really disagreeing with this, but I would point out that if something answers the question, it should be posted as an answer, not a comment. It's important that answers be evaluated on their merits, which means they need to be subject to downvoting, which comments are not. $\endgroup$ – David Z Apr 10 '14 at 5:58

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