EA Handbook, Third Edition: We want to hear your feedback!

by Aaron Gertler3 min read28th May 202012 comments


EA Forum (Meta)Community

CEA just released the first section of the third edition of the EA Handbook

We’d love to get your feedback on the initial version of this material, since we plan to make edits and updates over time. This will also help us decide whether and how to publish additional Handbook material in the future.

If you want to help, click the link above to start reading and use this form to provide feedback.


The project

The EA Handbook is meant as an introduction to effective altruism for people who are newer to the movement. It can’t be comprehensive, but we aim to describe the core ideas of EA accurately and fairly.

This is the third edition of the Handbook, but it looks quite a bit different from the previous edition:

  • It's being hosted as a series of EA Forum posts, rather than as a PDF or as a series of articles that don't allow comments.
  • It’s likely to end up being longer, covering more ground, and including a wider range of authors.

So far, I’ve produced one of what I hope will be several sections of the Handbook. The topic is “Motivation”: What are the major ideas and principles of effective altruism, and how do they inspire people to take action? (You could also think of this as a general introduction to EA.)

If this material is received well enough, I’ll keep releasing additional material on a variety of topics, following a similar format. If people aren’t satisfied with the content, style, or format, I may switch things up in the future.

Potential issues

Producing a single “introduction to effective altruism” is difficult for many reasons. These include:

  • The sizable collection of excellent writing about EA that already exists. Any reasonably-sized introduction will be forced to exclude much of this.
  • The wide range of people who encounter EA and want to learn more. No single introduction will appeal equally to each person who reads it.
  • The wide range of viewpoints that exist within EA. Any introduction at all is likely to lean closer to some views than others, even if the author(s) don’t intend for this to happen.
  • The passage of time. EA is always growing and changing, and any static introduction will become outdated with distressing speed. (Though growth and intellectual progress are good things, on the whole!)

As the coordinator of the project, here’s how I’ve tried to account for these issues:

  • I asked the community to suggest material for inclusion, in this Forum post and in lots of individual conversations and messages. I chose a mix of the most popular suggestions and those that have stood the test of time in other ways (e.g. having been cited in many newer articles).
  • I’m testing the Handbook with a wide range of people (everyone reading this, plus many people and EA groups that I’ve reached out to individually).
  • I’ve planned for the Handbook to be a living document that grows and changes as the movement does. I intend to regularly check in on the material and make sure it still fits the spirit of the movement (and that any important numbers aren’t too outdated). And because the Handbook is hosted on the Forum, I expect to get lots of questions, corrections, and suggestions as people read it over the years.

The simplest way to help

Even if you don’t plan to suggest improvements, I’d love to get a basic sense of how well the Handbook is working. 

If you want to be both helpful and efficient, you can just answer the first question in the "Detailed feedback" section of the feedback form (the 0-10 scale). That will help me judge how to move forward with the project. If you read at least a few of the articles, please try to fill it out!

How to improve the Handbook

I don’t think I’ve produced anywhere near the optimal introduction to EA; what I have now can be substantially improved. 

And I hope that you — whether you’re new to EA or very experienced — can help. 

Right now, my plan is that the Forum will host the “EA Handbook” permanently. However, the collection of material that makes up the Handbook will always be subject to change. Posts might be added or removed. Explanatory footnotes might be added (e.g. to provide recent data or link to later material from the same author). As people ask questions and point out weaknesses in my own contributions, I will edit and improve them.

What this means: If you suggest a change to the Handbook, it could stick around for a long time and be seen by hundreds or thousands of people.

Examples of changes you could suggest:

  • Material to excerpt from (or include in full) for a given topic
  • Improvements to the structure, prose, or framing of the pieces I wrote
  • Changes to the overarching structure of the Handbook (e.g. the order in which topics are presented)
  • Anything else that comes to mind! Please don’t be shy; I’m grateful for your bad suggestions as well as your good ones.

Ways to provide feedback:

I hope that you enjoy the Handbook, whether you’re reading every article for the first time or just skimming through some old favorites.

But I hope you don’t enjoy it too much, because I know it can be better and I want to hear your constructive criticism. Thanks for reading!