$250 donation for best EA intro essay - deadline: March 10

by tyleralterman11th Feb 201612 comments



A previous essay competition was successful in generating Scott Alexander’s now-classic article “Efficient charity: do unto others…” My hope is that another might result in the best general introduction to effective altruism.

Right now at the Centre for Effective Altruism, we’re in the midst of a big redesign of effectivealtruism.org. On the front page, we’d like to place a high quality introduction to EA - an adaptation of the essay which wins this competition.

The winner will also be able to allocate $250 to the charity of her choice.


  • Submit by March 10 to tyler@centreforeffectivealtruism.org.
  • Must be a length that people will actually read in one sitting. (Fewer than 2000 words is probably ideal, but use your judgment. E.g., ask “Would I read this in one sitting?")
  • Must give the reader a broad and as close to a complete sense as possible of what effective altruism is, as both a movement and philosophy. (Please go beyond EA as applied to charity alone.) As you write, ask, “Does this essay provide enough information such that a reader could teach someone else about EA basics without reading anything else?”


Strong contributors. Take a moment to think the people who you deem to be the highest contributors in EA. As you write the essay, ask, “Would this essay have convinced the younger versions of these people to join the movement?” The essay should be able to recruit people who are driven to make strong contributions.

Journalists. Keep in mind that if your essay wins, many journalists will be reading your essay for background material when they cover EA. Ask questions like, “If any pieces of this were quoted out of context, would this lead to PR problems?” and “Have I given the journalist a complete enough understanding that they don’t misreport any important details?”

Influential figures. The essay should make influential people feel good about associating their brand with EA. Try to imagine Elon Musk reading your essay when they’re deciding whether to attend EA Global.

“Friends of friends.” Many important connections are made indirectly. The ideal essay would cause people to pass the content onto people who might be good fits for EA. E.g., you might imagine that, after reading your essay, they either talk about it at a party or send their friend a link.


  • The first few sentences should draw the reader in, and cause them to read more.
  • Linking to other articles is fine, but the reader shouldn’t have to read the other articles to understand what EA is.
  • While the essay should be communicate intellectual content, try to also make it emotionally compelling. The ideal essay would yield the answer “yes” to the question, “Would a potential EA feel motivated to make substantial changes to their lives after reading this?” Remember that people read things on the Internet every day without changing their lives, so the essay needs to do something different.
  • Bonus points for presenting a compelling vision for EA, i.e., a description of how the world could look if EA were successful in its aims. See the 6-minute Beth Barnes TEDx talk for inspiration. (Though, in this case, Beth focuses on EA as a way to improve how we allocate funds - your essay should cover both this and other aims that are answers to the question, “How can I/we do the most good?”)
  • It helps if the essay isn’t shy about the impressive aspects of the EA movement, but the reader shouldn’t feel like we’re tooting our own horns too hard.
  • Some of the ideas that we feel are core to EA are: cause neutrality, expanding one’s moral circle, the skewed distribution/power law of impact, rationality (e.g., heuristics and biases). However, don’t feel obligated to include these concepts.
  • It is highly desired that you include an "abstract" or "summary" - we may decide to place this above the essay.

Possible inspirations

  • Hayek’s “The Intellectuals and Socialism” - an essay that is thought to have been influential in launching the neoliberal movement (link)
  • The opening of Engines of Creation (link)
  • The now-classic article “Efficient charity: do unto others…” (link)
  • The 6-minute Beth Barnes TEDx talk (link)
  • Singularity writing advice (link)
  • The public statements of the Labour Party (link) (though this might does well on the “emotionally compelling” axis, it probably isn't at the level of intellectual content that EAs go for)
  • “The Most Important Writing Lesson I Ever Learned” (link
  • The Manifesto Manifesto (link

The fine print

We want to make sure that the essay which finally ends up on the front page of effectivealtruism.org has the best possible content to communicate on behalf of the movement. Basically, this means that essays will be regarded as website copy. All the norms that usually apply to website copy will apply to your essay. By submitting your essay, you give us permission to do the following bulleted things:

  • Edit the version of your essay that appears on effectivealtruism.org substantially, including changing wording, subtracting pieces of text, and adding pieces of text.
  • Use select pieces of your essay that we think are awesome even if your essay is not the winning essay.
  • Choose not to use your essay, even if it wins the competition (there may be circumstances in which we decide to go with a different approach for effectivealtruism.org).
  • Not add authorship details on the page where the essay appears, or not add emphasis to these details. (The essay is meant be a sort of "voice of EA" - in the reference class of “about” pages, which traditionally do include authorship. That said, we may attribute authorship elsewhere on the site, and we will of course note that you wrote the essay when talking about it.)
  • Give the essay intellectual property a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. 

Let me know if you have any questions!

11 comments, sorted by Highlighting new comments since Today at 12:06 AM
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"On the front page, we’d like to place a high quality introduction to EA - an adaptation of the essay which wins this competition."

I would find it shocking (to the point of near-total disbelief) if an essay introducing EA is what performed best on the website's front page. Perhaps this is instead meant for after people dig further into the content?

  • Obligatory EAish objection: Where is the $250 coming from? If it is just $250 from the CEA budget that would otherwise have been spent on EA causes that is not much of an additional incentive unless you have very strong opinions about which cause area is most important.

It will come from CEA's EA Outreach budget. Winners may choose to re-donate to CEA if they think that we're the best target of funds, or donate somewhere else they think is a better target. That said, we think the main reason why someone would be motivated to enter the contest would be to have the 1000s of future people being introduced to EA be introduced by the best content.

[-][anonymous]5y 4

I think it would be great if you test the different essays and website designs out on people who have not already been exposed to EA ideas, in order to determine what is the most effective getting people interested. After all, EA is all about maximizing impact using evidence.

Agreed, some A,B (C,D...) testing would be good to see.

So assuming you don't win, are you allowed to post your essay on your own blog? Or would this undermine CEA's ability to cannibalize bits of it?

Just changed it to a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, so posting it elsewhere is fine (or even encouraged).

I think this is the way to go - but a CC attribtuion license is very different from an assignment of intellectual property (in a good way!) - you will need to provide attribtution on the about page and any subsequent usage of the entry for one thing (the whole point of an attribution licenese is to protect those moral rights!). so you should update your faq to reflect this.

Per above - CEA owns (is assigned) all the intellectual property of any entry. So posting your essay elsewhere without their permission would be a copyright violation.

This IP thing is rather creepy. I would strongly prefer it if either the essays go into Creative Commons or only the winning essay becomes CEA property.