TLDR: You can do many things on the EA Forum. Writing is one of them, and I think you should probably do it.
(Note: this is part of the "How to use the Forum" sequence, which is replacing the original "How to use the Forum" post. The series also includes posts like a guide to norms and a user manual for the Forum.)
If you haven't spent much time reading content that's already on the Forum, I'd encourage you to do a bit of that before posting straight away — you can check the Frontpage and "New? Start here!"
Here’s an overview of things that you can do on the Forum:
- Write stuff!
- Engage with things other people wrote
- Read! (A lot)
- Subscribe to the Forum Digest
- Express appreciation
- Follow users, topics, and specific posts
- Join the community
- Write a Forum bio
- Message and connect with other users
Let’s talk about #1.
- Why should you post?
- Don’t be intimidated
- What should you post?
- Discussions & writing that will help us do the most good
- Don’t post spam, info hazards, personal tirades, stuff you know is false
Why should you post?
Below are some reasons for posting.
- Help — have a direct impact through your writing.
- This can happen if you clarify a problem, direct people’s attention to important topics, support others’ efforts to do good, and the like.
- Learn and skill up.
- If you’d like to test your fit for research or communications (or improve skills you already have), writing on the Forum and getting feedback is a great way to develop yourself. Writing out your thinking on the Forum can also help you identify mistakes or direct you to valuable resources, perspectives, and people to talk to about your topic of choice.
- Get noticed
- You might be thinking about topics of great interest to other people, and they might reach out to you and see if you’d like to get involved in their work. Also, if you’re considering working in research, communications, or strategy positions in the future, having some thoughtful Forum posts can help demonstrate your fit.
- Connect with people
- If you’ve been thinking about something or working on a project, and you post about it, people interested in similar things can identify you and reach out to collaborate, share resources, or otherwise connect.
- Feel rewarded and appreciated
- Say you’ve been working on something for a while. If you share it, it can be appreciated. Someone might find it useful and tell you, or maybe you’ll just get some upvotes — but that’s still a signal that can be rewarding!
There are also downsides to posting. I think the main one is the cost of time; it will probably take up some of your time to write out your thoughts, and you could use this time in a different way. Another real cost might be incurred if you find the Forum intimidating or otherwise unpleasant to interact with. (I had a lot of trouble posting my first post, for instance, and definitely worried a lot about whether people would hate it. I now think people shouldn’t worry so much — the worst thing that will happen is probably that your post will go down the Frontpage and not get tons of engagement — but that doesn’t change the fact that people do worry, and that’s truly unpleasant.)
You can see a longer discussion of the upsides and downsides to posting on the Forum here.
Convinced that you should post? ➡️ New post
Don’t be intimidated
You’re allowed to post (you don’t need permission from anyone or any special powers to publish a post on the Forum)
The Forum exists for you— for anyone trying to do good as well as they can. It’s not for “employees of EA organizations™”, researchers at specific institutes, or people with the official stamp of approval. It’s for you.
If you’re posting your first post, it won’t show up on the Frontpage straight away; as an anti-spam measure, one of the Forum's moderators will check the first post or comment from each new user before automatically approving their future posts and comments. But it will get approved unless it’s spam or clearly violates some community norms. (If more than 24 hours pass and you still don't see your post or comment, please contact the moderation team at email@example.com.)
If you’re not sure about whether something is ok to post, you can contact Lizka — or just take a small chance and post straight away.
Many new Forum users, and even longtime readers, report feeling nervous about publishing a post or writing a comment. The EA community has a lot of sharp writers and thinkers, and it can be daunting to submit your work alongside theirs.
In our experience, most people overestimate how strict the Forum is. But if you want to start small, consider writing a Shortform post or leaving a comment in our latest Open Thread. You could also start by telling someone you liked their post; friendly comments are always welcome!
It’s ok to make mistakes (but try to be clear about why you believe what you believe)
Mistakes are normal. Don’t mislead deliberately, though.
You can post things that you’re not certain about — just flag that uncertainty! (That’s what all the fuss about “epistemic statuses” is about.)
More generally, it’s good to share details (that can be verified), be clear about cruxes (the arguments and facts that are so important to your conclusion that changing your mind about those will change your conclusion), and add summaries. Being easy to argue with is a virtue, separate from being correct.
You can edit your post
We’re here to form correct beliefs and help each other have a positive impact, not to carve our beliefs in stone. This means that you can (and probably should) update a post if you’d like to correct it or clarify something.
In order to encourage truth-seeking and an actually productive conversation about how to do good effectively, we also encourage having a “scout mindset.” Seek to inform, not persuade. Try to find the truth collaboratively instead of trying to get everyone on your side, and be open to being wrong. But it’s also ok to disagree — to criticize, and to be criticized.
One great example of clarity, scout mindset, and belief-updating is this post — the author posted something, was clear and honest about what they were basing their conclusions on, got corrected, and changed their position, including the very title of their post.
Be kind (don’t make the Forum more intimidating)
Be generous and welcoming. You can see more on this in the guide to Forum norms.
What should you post?
In brief, writing that will help us do the most good.
There are some lists of posts that people would like others to write, but posts can be on any topic that’s relevant to our common goal. (Moreover, you could also write things that aren’t posts — publishing questions, comments, shortforms, and other types of content can also be really useful.)
Some examples of post formats that are likely to be valuable (not an exhaustive list):
- Quick or in-depth intervention evaluations
- Summaries, collections, resources
- Relevant developments in the news & what they mean
- Research about how to do good
- Critiques, additions to active discussions, and reviews
- Personal experiences that might be relevant to others in the community
- Philosophical explorations
- Updates for the community
Some things you should not post (not an exhaustive list):
- Information you know is false, personal tirades, “infohazards”
- “I’m not sure that my application to EA Global was received; can someone check, please?” — some things are better as an email.
- Things that are completely unrelated to doing good
If in doubt about whether you should post something, ask me (or just post it).
Getting help and feedback on your writing
You can submit your draft to the Effective Altruism Editing and Review group on Facebook to get feedback before posting.
You can also send your post to me, and I may look at it and give some feedback if I have time. I can also tell you whether I think your post seems like a good fit for the Forum.
Key Forum resources
- 🖋️ Write on the EA Forum (this page)
- 🦋 Guide to norms on the Forum
- 🛠️ Forum User Manual
- ➡️ New post
I think you know this, but I'll say it anyway.
I think much of this comes down to User eXperience design. I guess less than 5% of forum users will read this post in its entirety. It's a good thing to discuss norms, but most people will behave in the way the space leads them to and mirror other people.
So my questions are:
- Getting downvoted sucks and it makes me not want to post and I'm pretty thick skinned. How can it suck less?
- The forum is intimidating because there isn't fun chat - how can this be worked on?
- We want other people in EA to think we are clever, but posting imperfect posts can often make me feel dumb. How can people be encouraged that even a bad but written post is better than a perfect one that never gets published.
Thanks for all the work you do.
I agree that a lot of this is baked into the UX, and really appreciate the feedback!
Love the addition of the emojis
(I don't remember seeing them before but I might be wrong!)