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Stack Exchange has a built in system that blocks a user from asking more questions if their others have been low quality. From this Help Center page:

Stack Exchange has automatic filters in place to ban questions from accounts that have contributed many low-quality questions in the past. These filters help keep the quality of our sites high. The exact formula for the bans is not disclosed, but users are only banned if they have a significant number of heavily down-voted, zero-voted, or deleted posts. One or two bad posts will not cause you to be blocked from using the site.

As our traffic increases, we are attracting more questions from people who are not being responsible about them. I am probably more tolerant than most concerning questions based on curiosity from people who don't know much at all about space exploration, as I believe helping the general public understand the field is a service to the field. However, I also downvote questions that are very vague, poorly written, inflammatory, or confused more than most.

As a community, are we downvoting enough? It could be that our regulars are not aware enough that downvotes are a key part of the formula used to block users with a lot of low quality posts, until they show improvement. It could be that we are juuust getting to the point where we attract more attention from marginal people who aren't able to work with the format, and so we haven't adapted to that yet. So, please ask yourself where the line needs to be between helping out new people, and considering what is best for the site as a whole. This may be a good time for input on this.

Oh, one more thing, as it is pretty related - if you see the seed of a good question in a question from a new user that has a lot of problems, ask yourself if it is really best to help that user get points by making an extensive edit that saves it. Maybe it is. Or maybe you have enabled someone who doesn't deserve it to get a bunch of points, instead of you. That can lead to more problems down the line. It might be better to wait until that person has demonstrated the skills necessary to participate here before helping them out like that, or more valuable to the community for you to get those points, by asking the question better if the original is not fixed by the asker and is then deleted.

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  • $\begingroup$ Do we have accounts that have contributed many low-quality questions in the past? Some statistics would be nice. $\endgroup$ – Jan Doggen Aug 4 '16 at 10:04
  • $\begingroup$ @JanDoggen Yes, it happens occasionally. There are no stats we have available though. Possibly a query on the Stack Exchange Data Explorer could turn up statistics, i'm not sure. $\endgroup$ – kim holder Aug 4 '16 at 15:19
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    $\begingroup$ @JanDoggen For a list of likely suspects: "SELECT Id, DisplayName FROM Users WHERE Reputation < 50 AND Views > 1" $\endgroup$ – called2voyage Aug 5 '16 at 15:12
  • $\begingroup$ Out of the first 25 results I had on that list, about 17 were what I would consider to be users likely to post low-quality questions or answers. Greater than half means the list does a fair job of filtering out a lot of the quality users. Of course this leaves out those users who start at 101 because of the association bonus--some of them may also contribute low-quality posts. $\endgroup$ – called2voyage Aug 5 '16 at 19:51
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    $\begingroup$ Oh, the irony of this post not having received a single downvote... :-) $\endgroup$ – a CVn Aug 15 '16 at 19:58
  • $\begingroup$ @JanDoggen Actually Reputation < 120 and Views > 0 probably catches more poor users without the list growing too unmanageable. If you order it by id descending, then you can see who the more recent users are. Again, not all of them will be poor users, but many of them will be. $\endgroup$ – called2voyage Aug 22 '16 at 14:19
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Remember our be-nice policy.

Leave a comment, edit the question and leave a comment describing what you did and why, and give them the chance to reply.
(Consider what the OP sees: Someone takes the time to improve the question, people are responding, he may get some upvotes (always nice for a new user), ...)

Then, as in Organic Marble's answer, if people are demonstrably resistant to learning, downvote.

OK, this is more work then just downvoting, but it is a positive first reaction.
And as for reputation going to the OP, well, we're not in this for rep, are we? ;-)

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  • $\begingroup$ I'd say the editing and a comment about editing depends on the situation. Just leaving a comment can be a better first step, to seek clarification or encourage someone to be more attentive themselves. It is generally preferable that the OP improve things, rather than someone else (unless it is a matter of a quick fix of details). $\endgroup$ – kim holder Aug 4 '16 at 15:14
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    $\begingroup$ As people gain reputation points, they are given more abilities. If they use those abilities, they help the quality of the site. So, though individuals might not care about their points, the system definitely cares about people having points :) $\endgroup$ – kim holder Aug 4 '16 at 15:22
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I didn't understand the importance of downvoting so thanks for explaining that. I don't have a deep understanding of the mechanics of the site. I've been a bit afraid of being flagged as a "serial downvoter" or being seen as "picking on" people if I downvoted much.

I totally agree that to grow the site we need to attract more people and we don't want to run off newcomers who are just learning the ropes. But if people are demonstrably resistant to learning how it operates, it will be difficult for them to become valued contributors.

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    $\begingroup$ And don't forget that downvotes can usually be reversed if the person improves their post, so you don't have to feel stuck in your decision. $\endgroup$ – called2voyage Aug 2 '16 at 12:12
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    $\begingroup$ @called2voyage Theoretically yes, but it requires the downvoters to keep track of these - which I would not count on. $\endgroup$ – Jan Doggen Aug 4 '16 at 9:56
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    $\begingroup$ @JanDoggen I'll usually review my own list of reputation changes from time to time, and check out the posts I've recently downvoted. If they have been edited, I check to see if the edit fixes what I felt the issue was. If it does, I retract my downvote and sometimes even reverse it. Sure, it's a bit of manual work, but (despite that I downvote occasionally) I don't downvote enough for it to become a problem to do so. $\endgroup$ – a CVn Aug 15 '16 at 19:58
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Remember: absent users will never get better.

When we're out of beta, we can start being more picky. Currently though, instead of downvoting a bad question, it's much better to edit it and make it a good question - unless it's really beyond salvation, say, lacking fundamental understanding of physics. And even "stupid questions" can get good answers. Crackpot theories can be neatly debunked. Provocative, loaded questions can be edited into a NPOV form. skeletally thin questions can be improved too.

New users often don't really know what is asked from them. A couple times, on other sites, I had my questions downvoted, or voted to close for being "too broad" despite myself having a very narrow focus in mind - but I didn't understand how my question fails to restrict its scope to that focus and encompasses enough to write books about - I just wouldn't notice the "scope leak". The fact I didn't know ANY answer to the question was definitely unhelpful in spotting that it has TOO MANY answers, and unwillingness of the society to provide examples of how this question is too broad was very frustrating. And downvotes absolutely wouldn't help me narrow it down or understand the problem.

So: before you downvote or vote to close, really think if there's no better way to go about it.

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  • $\begingroup$ Good points all. A vote to close is meant to be part of a process of a question being improved - it isn't meant to simply eliminate a question. That works fairly often, but not often enough that closure isn't widely seen as doom, which is unfortunate. I feel this community has done well so far in supporting new users and providing clarification, we have an advantage there. $\endgroup$ – kim holder Nov 25 '16 at 16:42

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