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TL;DR: EA wants to grow, and the Forum can be one of its best platforms to practice spreading important ideas and welcoming people to the community. Let's write for a broader audience of readers outside of EA or new to EA.

Audience: I'm writing this to EA community members who regularly write on the EA Forum. This is not intended for a broad audience (which is ironic but necessary).

Motive: To make the EA Forum more readable and approachable.

Preface: Yesterday I published a post called How to Write Readable Posts. This is the "prequel" to that post, explaining my personal story.

Also Note: This is a first draft.[1]

Ingredients for Growth

Premise: Improving Forum posts for readers outside of EA or new to EA is a great way to practice making the EA Forum/community more:

  • friendly
  • welcoming
  • inclusive
  • congenial
  • compelling
  • considerate
  • thoughtful
  • caring
  • kind
  • understandable
  • understanding
  • (and also, yeah, altruistic)

All of these principles are key ingredients to cultivating the community and helping it grow.

From the outside looking in:

"Readable and approachable writing/forum" = "Reasonable and approachable people/community"

  • By making writings more readable, you demonstrate your understanding of others.
  • By making writings more approachable, you demonstrate your care for others.

People are more likely to get involved with EA if they are welcomed, understood, and cared for.

But before going further in this generalized, abstract space, I want to give my account of how this has affected me personally. In fact, it was with these premises that I wrote my previous post on How to Write Readable Posts. Among my friends I've found that many others have shared the experiences I've had that inspired me to write that post. So I want to give us a voice and tell our story.

Behind the Scenes

"What inspired you to write that "readability" post in the first place?"

My backstory for that post actually originates with my recurring struggles (and occasional frustrations) with reading the EA Forum. About 2 weeks ago it honestly got to the point where I told my friends:

"I think I'm done; I'm going to unsubscribe from EA and stop reading the Forum every week and maybe in general."

But then some of the best advice I've ever been given struck me:

"Before you leave something behind out of frustration (whether it's a job, a friendship, a project, or whatever), try your best to change it first (for ~2 weeks). If nothing changes in that time, then you should go."

So here I am; I'm staying invested in this Forum for now to see if I can make a change.

Accessibility: Reach the Reader

My frustrations have been primarily the same "readability and approachability" concerns. I'll get the weekly email newsletter, scan the top picks, open up the posts I'm curious about, and try to learn something new. But more often than not, that whole experience leaves me feeling bummed about: how much content is constantly being poured into this Forum and how little of the most valuable and meaningful ideas reach a broader audience. Surely there are big ideas stashed within the Forum, but they feel inaccessible.

Occasionally I'll find a true gem of a post — a valuable and worthwhile read that respects my time and my (lack of domain-based) knowledge. But even these more meaningful posts often are not shareable with my friends who are either "lightly involved" in EA or have never heard of it.

Shareability: Pass the Test

When I come across a fascinating post, I want to just share that post directly with someone and happily know that they will have the same experience I had reading it: they understand the ideas and are inspired by them. My friends do the same; when they read an article that inspires them, they share it with me. But the problems arise when someone in these exchanges doesn't understand the post and then is left sending the message:

"Hey, this post is confusing to me. Why did you send it to me, and why do you think I should read it? What did you get out of it?"

If this message shows up in a chat following a shared post, then I would deem that post "inaccessible", because it's opaque for some readers. A truly readable and approachable post is self-explanatory and (indirectly or directly) tells every reader:

  • what it's about,
  • why it matters,
  • what to take away, and
  • what makes it interesting enough to share with anyone.

Ideal #1: Shareable posts

I dream of a day where more than half of the posts on the EA Forum can be shared with anyone outside of the EA community and achieve this level of readability.

Picture this: Imagine seeing an EA Forum post shared in a group chat by friends who don't even identify with EA yet all relate to the post and find it inspiring!

Approachability: Beyond the Community

Truth be told, as of 2 years of Forum reading, I have probably shared only 2 or maybe 3 EA Forum posts in DMs. And both times were to a friend or two who are already heavily involved in EA.

What if this Forum was the type of place where I can share almost any post with almost any of my friends?

While reading EA Forum posts, I picture my best friends outside the EA community reading it and reacting to it. Typically this imagination leads to the notion that my friends would basically say to the author: "Yo, chill." or "What the heck?" or "I have no idea what this is saying."

And these friends are all people who could easily become involved with EA practices — people like me who change their career trajectories, go work 2.5 years at an EA org, and aspire to continue working on altruistic endeavors for life.

I would love to see us write for those people as our extended audience, beyond the EA community, because I believe it's one of the best ways to grow and build the community.

Growing the Community

According to its major orgs, EA wants to grow:

Utilizing the Forum

The EA Forum is important for both people within the community and outside of it:

  1. People outside the EA community who want to connect with EA might use the Forum as a way to learn more and witness community interactions online. While trying to explore EA online, they'll quickly find their way to the Forum. (Especially when effectivealtruism.org puts the EA Forum as the 2nd item under its "Connect" tab!)
  2. People within the EA community who want to communicate their ideas effectively will use the EA Forum to have a platform to post.

So the Forum is the online meeting place where EA community members share their ideas and people outside explore those ideas. In theory, it's a pretty ideal place for "communication", "connection", and "community building" (all of which are regarded among the top 3 most important focus areas in EA).

And yet, where do we go wrong with the Forum? Why is it not as inclusive as such a platform could be?

I believe some of the culprits are often: jargon, name-dropping, and esoteric language, allusions, and references.

Welcoming the Newcomers

Everyone who is in EA now was once not in EA. It's easy to forget, but we've all been there. Everyone comes from the outside and makes a decision to join in.

What was your experience like discovering EA and joining the community? What was the experience like for your friends who are now in EA?

If you're anything like me and my friends, the experience roughly goes something like this:

  1. Encounter EA online, such as via 80000 Hours or a podcast.
  2. Try to learn more by skimming articles online.
  3. Maybe do nothing about the ideas for a long time.
  4. Maybe decide to attend a (virtual) conference.
  5. Feel estranged by esoteric references, jargon, name-drops, and foreign ideas / philosophy.
  6. Feel like you have a very long way to go to catch up to anyone else in this community.
  7. Slowly drudge your way through various materials to familiarize yourself with anything and everything.
  8. Eventually feel competent enough to engage and interact with the community.
  9. Maybe make a friend or two in EA.
  10. Actually do something so that you feel involved in the community.

This 10-step process is a pretty big barrier to entry. For each step along the way, we probably all know someone who dropped off at that point. Who knows how many people never make it out of Step 3.

For me, this process took 4 years: from 2016 when I first discovered 80,000 Hours, to 2020 when I finally attended a virtual conference, made a few friends, and started a job at an EA org.

What if we could improve this process, streamline the steps, reduce friction, and make the experience more enjoyable?

If the EA Forum was more readable and approachable and its ideas were more accessible, then newcomers would engage more easily with the community early on.

We can shorten the gap between the moment someone discovers EA ideas to the moment they act on those ideas. Why not use the EA Forum to mediate their journey from newcomer to member? Currently, the EA Forum feels like it's written by members for members, but it doesn't have to be.

Ideal #2: Inclusive posts

Ideally, the most important ideas from EA will be shared as posts on the EA Forum and not only read by people both in and out of the EA community but also acted upon by them.

Picture this: Imagine that your post is seen by someone who is completely new to EA and wants to learn more. They click the title of your post because it seems intriguing. Maybe this is the first post they've ever read on the Forum; maybe it's the fifth. But your post is a part of the crucial period of first impressions, where the reader decides whether or not to get involved in EA at all. By the end of the post, you've managed to excite them, inspire them, and best of all motivate them to take action!

Sharing the Good

Finally, I want to make a case for the idea that the prized EA principle of "impartiality" should also extend to our audience when writing.

80,000 Hours writes about "impartial welfarism", Wikipedia lists "Impartiality" as the first point of emphasis in the philosophy of EA, and the intro to EA (from CEA) lists "impartial altruism" as the 2nd value that unites EA:

"We believe that all people count equally. […] When trying to do as much good as possible, we aim to give everyone's interests equal weight."

But do we extend this to our writings on the EA Forum? Do we regard all readers equally? Do we try to give all reader's interests equal weight?

I know, I know, I'm taking the concept out of its original context. However, I think there's value in just thinking from the perspective of: "By impartially writing for a broader audience of readers both in and out of EA, I regard all possible readers equally and ensure the benefits of my post are accessible to as many people as possible (thus doing the greatest good)."

Obviously sometimes we need to target an audience when we write — like this post. Right now I'm targeting the audience of writers on the Forum who are simply writing about important and valuable ideas that could be spread, could benefit many people, and could play a part in building and growing the EA community.

If the ideas in your post are valuable, meaningful, and beneficial, then try to maximize the impact of your writing by making it as readable, understandable, and accessible to as many people as possible. (I'm certainly not the first person to argue this. Another great example is Kat Woods' post on how writing can be more impactful if it is read by more people.)

The principle of "impartiality" should simply push you towards expanding your audience (instead of focusing on a narrow sample or subset of EA community members who happen to be very much like you).


I think it's under-appreciated how much of a difference we can make with our writings and conversations featured globally and publicly across the internet. Many ideas worth sharing on the EA Forum are also worth sharing with the world outside the EA community. Moreover, the way that we write about these valuable ideas can be the difference between: (1) someone skimming a post and forgetting everything in less than an hour, or (2) someone loving a post, sharing it, and being inspired to do something with the ideas.

Let's make the EA Forum the best platform for EA community building, communication, and connection by making it as inclusive, readable, approachable, and accessible as possible.

  1. Ironically, the first draft of this post will not reflect all of the readability tips in my previous post, because right now I just want to quickly publish my account of my experiences and feelings and link it to my previous post. I'll revise this as I have more time and get feedback from others. ↩︎

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Why is it not as inclusive as such a platform could be?

Both exclusivity and inclusivity have advantages. In recent times, there are plenty of complaints that the quality of the EA forum went down. 

When writing it's important to decide who you want to reach. The first decision you should make when writing a post is whether you would want to reach as many people as possible or whether you want to reach a more narrow audience. 

When writing publically about topics that can easily be picked up out of context by the media, jargon can be protective. If you write about wild animal suffering maybe you don't want everyone to read your post and that's okay. 

I don't like the idea of using jargon to protect oneself. I worry that this protects the author not only from unfair 'out of context' critique, but also from critiques from anyone who can't already understand the jargon (or isn't able to invest the time in deciphering it). Why should you want such critiques? Because people who already know the niche jargon of your field are more likely to agree with you, or at least to agree with you on the big picture. 

If you are criticizing an EA organization because they did something wrong, a journalist who writes the next "EA is bad" article might quote you. They might add something to the critique, but it's likely not what you want. 

Because people fear saying things that are bad for EA's PR they are engaging in less public criticism of the actions of EA organizations.

If you are talking about a topic that touches partisan politics but wants to discuss it from an EA perspective, you don't want your post to turn into a magnet for partisan political discussion. If there would be a lot of partisan political discussion that would be bad for the EA forum. 

Criminal Justice Reform, Immigration Policy, Land Use Reform, and Macroeconomic Stabilization Policy are at the moment cause areas for OpenPhil. I see relatively little discussion on the EA forum about how those cause areas. I would expect that one of the major reasons for this is that people fear that those discussions would be too partisan politic. 

I think it would be good if there would be more EA exchange over those cause areas given that EA money if flowing into them. At the same time I believe it's good to have those discussions in a way that doesn't make it easy for new users who browse the EA forum and who like partisan politic discussions to just jump in. 

100% agree. Each author gives each post its own intended audience (broad, narrow, niche, etc). And sometimes it's important to make a deliberate choice to only want a select audience to read your post.

Also I've never heard of jargon as a tool for protection. Very interesting.

The curious thing to me is that the EA Forum is entirely public online, so in theory everyone can read your post, even if you don't want them to. So it seems if you have some need to protect either yourself or the post, then you'll need some other strategies. For example, you could write anonymously so that your identity can't be traced.

But I really hope the vast majority of posts don't require any kind of "protective" measures.

If you want to personally protect yourself, then writing anonymously is a way to go. If you care about protecting EA's PR it helps little. 

But I really hope the vast majority of posts don't require any kind of "protective" measures.

Practically, that results in people not publically sharing certain information. I personally would like most of what people are willing to say privately at an event like an EA meetup they would also be willing to publically say on the EA forum. 

Definitely agree with this! I will also add that the standard Forum style is not only a barrier to non-EA readers - it can also be a barrier to writers, since people feel like they have to write in that style to be taken seriously on the Forum. 

I will say that writing readable posts is hard and time-consuming, and a lot of people who post on the Forum are either not writers by specialism (they're e.g. researchers or other professionals who are just trying to get their ideas out there), or are very pressed for time. So I do kind of understand why this situation exists. 

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