Update, 12/7/21: Given my departure from CEA, I'm no longer sharing feedback.
I recommend the EA Editing and Review group as another option!
If providing feedback to random Forum users sounds fun to you, and you want to take over for me, contact firstname.lastname@example.org to express your interest. Please include a description of your past writing/editing experience. This was a widely-demanded service, so CEA might be interested in hiring someone to continue it (though I'm not certain about this).
Hello, Forum! This is Aaron, your friendly neighborhood moderator (and a content writer/editor at CEA).
I’m writing this to let you know that I offer a free service as part of my work for CEA: If you want someone to read your Forum post before you publish it, I will gladly do that.
My goal is to help people who are uncertain about an idea or draft by getting them to a point where they feel comfortable publishing a post. That said, you’re always welcome to run things by me even if you’re already sure you want to publish them.
Also, I'm not the only person doing this: the EA Editing and Review Facebook group has a community of volunteer editors, who will often be faster or have more relevant experience than me. (Though you can also just share with both of us!)
Services I offer
- Commenting on an idea that hasn’t yet been written up, to suggest directions you could take or material you might want to read before you write a draft.
- Making broad suggestions about major changes you could make, or pieces on related topics that I’d be excited to see.
- Making minor suggestions about points or sentences that I found unclear.
- I rarely have time for a full copyedit, but I may note typos I happen to see.
- Sending your draft to other people who know more about the topic than I do, or otherwise seem like they’d give useful feedback.
- I’ll ask for permission before I do this.
How to get help
- Email me a shared document with a draft of your post.
- Not a shared draft on the Forum or a Word Doc, please — either a Google Doc or another online document that I can make comments on without having to save a separate draft. This makes the process much easier from my side.
- Let me know when you need to hear back by.
- Even if there’s no rush, it helps me to have a fake deadline I can add to my task-tracking system, so something like “two weeks from today, but you can extend that if you need to” is better than “whenever”.
- If I doubt the deadline will work with my schedule, I may say something like “it’s more likely than not that I won’t get to this”.
- Tell me what kind of feedback you want. For example:
- “I’m new to effective altruism, and I’m worried that I’m saying something obvious that will bore or annoy people who have more experience. Do you know of other posts that cover the same points?”
- “I’m not sure this belongs on the Forum at all. What do you think?”
- “I think this post is almost perfect, and I’m not looking to make major changes, but I’d still like feedback on paragraphs #4 and #5.”
I’ve already done this for many Forum users, including people who’d never posted before and people who have thousands of karma. I’m not the world’s greatest editor, but I’ve written and edited a lot of things for money over the years, and I spend a lot of time thinking about how to communicate EA ideas.
Feedback on my feedback
In November 2020, I reached out to the 70 people I'd worked with so far, to ask whether they'd been satisfied with the feedback I gave. From 39 responses, the average score was 8.3/10, and comments included:
- "I think some of the most important traits to have for giving feedback on the EA Forum are friendliness and non-judgmentalness, and you definitely nail that."
- "I appreciated your feedback a lot. I appreciated the push back you gave me on some of my ideas. It helped uncover some of the weak points in my argument."
- "I appreciated how focused your feedback was. It was all actionable and concise."
- "Overall, the feedback was really helpful. It was particularly valuable because—to me—the essay you helped me on was really challenging."
- "You engaged with others' comments in the doc, correctly inferring my actual meaning in the face of high-status misunderstanding."
- "I really liked that you encouraged me to contact specific people directly."
- "You took too long to reply to my initial mail." (I did, in fact, take too long.)
Bonus: There is a Facebook group for people who want suggestions on EA writing — whether or not it’s related to the Forum. I’ve spoken to multiple people in the last month who have substantial professional editing experience and really want to see more content appear in that group. Go forth and publish!
This seems like a really good idea to me, happy to hear you are doing this!
I think that if many people have similar issues, it could be useful to find an assistant from UpWork or similar to help you. There are some people who are reasonably inexpensive and could provide useful writing feedback (though not EA-specific feedback). I personally would be hesitant to use much of your time, but am more willing if much were outsourced (and likely happy to pay the relevant amount.)
I'm actually in the final stages of hiring a new copyeditor for CEA; I'm hoping to find someone who I'd trust to provide some of the types of feedback I mentioned above, which will increase our theoretical maximum capacity for review.
That said, I find giving feedback to be a much smaller drain on my energy than other parts of my job, and I think that I'm well short of the point where additional editing creates more strain than it makes up for in utility. For now, I'd recommend being less hesitant! (I may edit this post if the situation changes.)
That makes me really happy. I really would like to see more experimentation and use of delegation of delegate-able tasks around EA, kudos for setting that up.
Similarly, I am happy to review and leave comments on almost any post that's related to animal welfare (I work as a researcher on animal welfare topics). You can email me at saulius at rethinkpriorities.org if you think that would be helpful for your post.
Thanks for offering this service! I'd like to share a draft/idea with you (the second example in my comment here) but I don't want to use my personal email since I want to keep my account anonymous. Is there a way I could get feedback from you without creating an anonymous email?
You could try sending a link to a Google Doc via OneTimeSecret.
Thank you! I'll send you a link if/when I get around to working on the draft :)
As a datapoint, this would have been highly useful to me before writing this: EA Mental Health Survey: Results and Analysis. Can you have a look at it regardless?
Interestingly, regardless of when you make the offer publicly, there is someone who will have published something at t-1, so I don't feel too bad.
As I mentioned in the post, it's helpful if I know what I should be looking for. Is there any particular type of feedback that you're interested in?