LessWrong is providing feedback and proofreading on drafts as a service

by Ruby4 min read7th Sep 202137 comments

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This announcement follows the Amazon PR/FAQ format. This is an actual feature announcement.

TL;DR

Before one publishes a post, it can be hard to know if you caught all the typos, explained things clearly, made a critical error, or wrote something that anybody is interested in to begin with. To reduce the guesswork, LessWrong is now providing free feedback on drafts (and post ideas) to any user with 100+ karma. We’ll provide the feedback ourselves, send your draft to a professional copy editor, or get the opinion of a relevant peer or expert in your domain. Or something else, whatever is needed to be helpful!

The Problem

Many people are reluctant to share posts before they’re confident that (i) they’re correct, (ii) they’ll get a good reception. It sucks to put out a post and then notice a dumb typo a day later, or to publish and then have a critical flaw immediately revealed to everyone, or to share a post and hear only crickets. The fear of these outcomes is enough to prevent a lot of great ideas from ever escaping their creators’ heads. And although many people feel better after getting some feedback, soliciting it can be effortful–you’ve got to find someone else and then tap into your social capital and ask a favor.

Solution

To help get more excellent posts into the world, LessWrong is now providing feedback on tap. Any author with 100+ karma can ask for the kind of feedback they need, and the LessWrong team will make it happen. Quick, easy, free. Within a couple of days (or hours), we’ll have feedback on your post that will let you post with greater confidence that your post is good.

Getting Started

On the post edit page (create a new post or edit an existing draft), if you have 100+ karma, you will see a new button: Request Feedback. Clicking it will start an Intercom chat with a LessWrong team member; in that chat, describe what kind of feedback you’re looking for (proofreading, style, coherence, expert feedback, etc.) and the LessWrong team will make it happen.

You needn’t have even written anything to use the feature. Feel free to chat to us about post ideas you have.

The new button (left) appears when create a new post or edit an existing one.
Press "Request Feedback" to have the Intercom Messenger popup.

Quotes (fictional)

After getting a round of feedback through the new LessWrong system, I’m much less afraid that people will ignore or downvote my post. I’ve got evidence that it’s something good that people will want to read - Oliver Habryka

 

A great benefit from the LessWrong feedback system, now that I’ve used it several times, is that the detailed feedback has helped me improve as a writer. - John McPostALot

 

FAQ

Who will provide the feedback?

It depends on the kind of feedback being sought. For a quick sanity check or proofread, a LessWrong team member or volunteer might do it. If more thorough copy-editing is requested, we’ll send your draft to a professional copy-editor. And if you’re looking for comments from a domain expert (biology, AI, etc), we’ll find someone willing to provide such feedback.

These types of reviewers are our current guess at what we will provide, but that might evolve over time as we figure out what kinds of feedback people need.

How quickly will I get the feedback?

Depends on the kind of feedback being sought. The LessWrong team can get things back you within a day or two; copy-editor will probably be variable, but sometimes quick; for external domain experts, could be a bit longer.

How much does this cost?

Free to eligible users.

How many times can I use it?

We’re not setting any explicit limits on how many times you can request feedback; however requests will be prioritized at our discretion (hopefully we have the capacity to meet all requests). If you’re requesting a lot of feedback, we might prioritize other users ahead of you (unless your posts are like the best, in which case we’ll get you all the feedback you desire).

In short, requesting is cheap and free. No limit on the number of requests you can make.

What format will the feedback be in?

Depends on the feedback sought, but probably most of the time we’ll copy your draft into Google Docs (if it’s not already in Google Docs). That’s for now. We plan to upgrade our editor to have inline comments, suggestions, and live collaborative editing to make it so transfer to Google Docs in unnecessary.

Can I volunteer to provide feedback?

Please! Contact us via Intercom (bottom right) or email (team@lesswrong.com) and we’ll see whether you’re a suitable feedback reviewer. For those who produce great feedback and can reliably be available to do so, we might be interested in paying you to be an ongoing reviewer.

Can I ask for different feedback if I don’t like the initial feedback I get?

Yes. Our goal is to get you the feedback that helps you produce great posts. If you’re not happy with what we initially provide, feel free to ask for different feedback and we’ll try to make that happen.

I don’t have 100+ karma but would really like feedback.

Feel free to message us on Intercom and we might make an exception. We’re especially receptive to authors and researchers who although they’ve written a lot, are new to posting on LessWrong.

I have a different question.

Just ask here in the comments or via Intercom (bottom right) or by email (team@lesswrong.com).
 

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This seems like a really great initiative, I'm excited to see how it goes.

How high a bar should I set for using this service? I have basically no posts where I'd post this with editing help but would not post it on my own, but would generally appreciate editing help on basically every post I make.

You should feel free to request it on every post you make! I think that if we make it cheaper to write more and/or better posts, people will. And that's the goal: more and better posts via making it easier and more rewarding.

Maybe I'm wrong and editing won't result in more or better posts, but I would be surprised.

Wow!

I remember we had a few conversation about this problem and a few solutions came up, some of them fairly complex. But this just nukes the problem (in a good way). I love it. Now I want to write a post just to try the feature... :)

Anyway, I'm very curious to see how this works out, and how it will affect the posts that are published from now on. And I hope you'll manage the load.

And speaking of managing the load, I'd love to volunteer if I can be of help. I'll send a message on intercom.

btw there's a typo: "The LessWrong team can get things back to you within a day or two", the "to" is missing.

btw there's a typo: "The LessWrong team can get things back to you within a day or two", the "to" is missing.

Oops, how embarrassing!

There's also

unless your posts are like the best, in which caes we’ll get you all the feedback you desire

Thanks!

I thought I'd caught that one. It's possible I failed to save at some point. :/

Auto-save is a feature I hope to introduce soon.

Wow, this is really cool! I'm very keen to give it a go.

But it also sounds like you guys will be taking on a lot of load.  And I guess I wonder whether that will end up being worth it in the end or whether it would be better to focus on further developing the website instead. But I suppose experimenting is the only way to find out.

If there's a lot of load, then this will have been a successful initiative and we'll be very happy!!

But also if there's a lot of load, we'll scale our capacity to meet it. That's something we're in a position to do, so I don't think it trades off against other website development.

Just like everyone here, I am very excited to see this new feature, which sounds like a powerful aid I may like a lot!

About the bar of 100 karma, I view it positively for newcomers. I am well below 100 right now, but I feel like to start accumulating karmas after reading this post. It is like, I can aim for goal--definite and doable-- and unlock something as if I am playing a video game. So far my experience with Lesswrong was slack--I often stopped reading sequences, writing a post sounded like a distant goal, and commenting was a few time event. This is why I say 100 karma is a definite goal. I can aim at one point.    

Would you consider making such milestones on karma or something? It wouldn't be bad to add more :)

At 2000 karma you get moderation privileges for your posts. :)

Your voting power increases with karma.

Once things have stabilized and things like inline annotations are there, I'd love to see the following: (1) An easy way to add and remove yourself from a pool of available feedback providers. (Checkbox in settings?) And (2) a way for anyone (or nearly anyone - e.g. non-negative karma) to request brief / "basic feedback" on their posts, by automatically matching people from the pool to posts based on e.g. post tags and front page tag weights.

On (1): I have proofread a couple thousand pages by now, and while I'm usually pretty busy, in a slow week I'd be happy to proof-read a bunch of drafts. However, if that involves messaging someone to be added to a list and then messaging someone again to be taken off that list, that's quite a lot of overhead - I probably wouldn't bother and just look for other stuff to do. So I suspect automating that part might greatly increase the amount of available reviewers for feedback.

On (2): With some extra capacity from (1), I expect the main bottleneck for providing more reviews is matching reviewers to posts. If that's automated, the only cost is the time spent reviewing. With a scheme like "review two/three posts to get one post reviewed by two/three people", the reviewer pool should be even bigger (so with (1) you might even go "review 2 to get 3") and things should remain relatively fair. With multiple reviews, you should get some decent feedback even if one reviewer writes complete nonsense or doesn't understand anything.

At that point, the human overhead for having this extra "basic feedback" system should be near-zero, apart from from maybe having to manually filter people trying to abuse the system - no clue how prevalent that is. And looking at myself, (a) I probably wouldn't bother manually asking others for reviews, and (b) knowing that I can get guaranteed feedback, no questions asked, would make it more likely to actually start writing. (While I can't say for sure whether that translates into actual posts, I can clearly see that there are lots of other "very important" things, some of which only barely win out because they're less headache-inducing / uncertain.)

I plan to attempt making inline annotations happen soon.

The rest of what you describe sounds very cool. Maybe! If there's the demand and supply for it, we could probably build it.

Thank you for doing this. I just requested a proofread on a draft I'm working on.

When I first clicked "Get Feedback" it didn't do anything. I think this was because I had "Hide Intercom" turned on in my settings. When that setting was on, I saw the following error in my console:

PostSubmit.tsx:93 Uncaught TypeError: window.Intercom is not a function
    at onClick (PostSubmit.tsx:93)
    at Object.ein (react-dom.production.min.js:14)
    at rin (react-dom.production.min.js:14)
    at nin (react-dom.production.min.js:14)
    at cgt (react-dom.production.min.js:15)
    at min (react-dom.production.min.js:52)
    at GAe (react-dom.production.min.js:51)
    at ooe (react-dom.production.min.js:52)
    at Jgt (react-dom.production.min.js:56)
    at ygt (react-dom.production.min.js:287)
    at bgt (react-dom.production.min.js:19)
    at ZAe (react-dom.production.min.js:70)
    at loe (react-dom.production.min.js:69)
    at fc.unstable_runWithPriority (scheduler.production.min.js:19)
    at wM (react-dom.production.min.js:122)
    at vgt (react-dom.production.min.js:287)
    at Cin (react-dom.production.min.js:68)
    at HTMLDocument.n (helpers.ts:87)

When I turned off "Hide Intercom", the "Get Feedback" button worked and I requested feedback.

Good catch! I'll have to add something about this to the announcement and UI.

Love this initiative! I do have a question though. It seems that people with 100+ karma have most likely figured out how to write publicly with a decent quality. So this service would simply be a bonus for them.

Isn't it more important to enable this service for lurkers/readers on Lesswrong who haven't yet written many posts due to the reasons you've mentioned?

Disclaimer: I don't have 100+ karma and haven't written a lot outside as well - just privately in my note taking app.

No I don't think it's a good assumption that most people past a 100 karma have figured out how to write publicly with decent quality (though, depends on what you consider decent).

I'm well past a 100 and I expect this to be very useful to me when I write posts.

And if we're talking in general then even the best writers usually have proofreaders/beta-readers (take Paul graham for example, every essay he releases credits at least a few beta readers)

I do agree it might be especially important to new people that don't have karma, though. It'll be interesting to hear more from the team why they decided on that specific limit. My guess, though, is that they want to mostly review posts that are going to be good posts, and don't want to get spammed with low quality requests. And the 100+ karma filter does that pretty nicely.

One middleground I can think of is you can get a limited number of posts reviewed under 100 karma (even just 1), and at 100 that limit just goes away.

I have more than 100 karma and still get a lot of value out of feedback on posts.

Another advantage of the 100 karma minimum is it's an easy way to select for people who are members of the community. The point of this offer is to strengthen the community, after all.

True, though growing the community can also be part of strengthening it.

It's easy to get >100 karma from comments alone, without any top-level posts.

Example of one: I have ~200 from comments alone, and I only very rarely comment. I've been on LW for a long time though.

Case in point: right now your one-sentence comment has 27 karma, over one fourth of the needed amount.

I have over 2000 karma ~all from comments, and fear of not meeting the quality bar has definitely contributed to my lack of posts. (Two in ten years, and one of them was meta about the site itself.) So I am hoping I will find it in me to try using this and see how it goes!

Anecdata: I haven't figured out writing with decent quality or audience awareness and have been burnt multiple times. I get a cold sweat each time. It just doesn't keep me from posting. But I can totally relate to it, love the solution, and will definitely use it.

To answer people's questions about the 100+ karma limit:

As lsusr notes, 100 karma isn't that much and can easily be obtained be obtained by commenting. I think that's a very reasonable bar to ask of people before offering this service. While I do think we can build the capacity to handle a lot of requests, I expect that without the karma bar, we'd get a lot of requests from people who hadn't yet invested much in the site (or in their draft), simply because those are the most numerous. At least to begin with, I want to reserve the service for more dedicated users (and again, 100 karma doesn't take that much).

As per the FAQ, users with less than 100 karma are free to request the service via Intercom and we might offer the service I expect to look over any draft that anyone submits and provide some level of feedback; more if seems like it'll result in a decent post.

Separately from this initiative, I'm thinking about schemes to create more strong writers such as writing fellowships and writing guides (lsusr's recent post about how to write well stemmed from a conversation we had about the topic).

Editing can improve quality, or it can keep quality constant while reducing writing time, which is also pretty valuable.

Maybe they are trying to focus on improving the writing of people who are most likely to continue contributing to the forum in the future?

Yeah, I was also wondering about the minimum requirement. It seems feedback would be most useful to people writing their first posts, and there's no limitation on making a first post, is there? In the AI Alignment Prize I tried to write feedback to everyone and it ended up being a very valuable experience, both for the participants and for me.

The part about hiring proofreading brought a question to mind: where does the operating budget for the lesswrong website come from, both for stuff like that and standard server costs?

Our most recent round of funding was from OpenPhilanthropy and the Survival & Flourishing Fund.

I'm trying to get started on making a rationalist blog (here), and I've posted this to LessWrong before. I have several half-finished drafts for the blog; if I ever finish up those drafts, would it be bad form to ask about feedback from LessWrong, since it's not strictly speaking part of LessWrong? Or would it be fine, since I'm planning on posting it to LessWrong and partly (though not wholly) have a rationalist audience in mind?

If you're [cross]posting on LessWrong, I think it's totally fine to ask for feedback here.

If you're going to cross-post the posts to LessWrong, what makes them not part of LessWrong?

This is one of the things that makes this so awesome. As long as you cross-post to LessWrong and you have 100+ karma, you get access to free proofreading for your blogposts (And hopefully everyone gets to read more and better posts as a result).

This is an amazing initiative! Even aside from providing an excellent service, and also lowering the bar for those of us who feel less than confident writers, I also think it will help center the community around Lesswrong.

I am by no means a professional-level proof reader, but I might still find some errors here and there. I would be really excited to provide what help I can, as long as I don't feel like I'm the only one looking and all the expectations (and thus obligations) are on me. Is there a way for me to be one-among-several proofreaders? If crowd-sourcing isn't the model you are going with for now, then I fully understand.

Several people have volunteered already. I'll possibly set up some kind of system that lets people volunteer to take on pending requests. So if/when that gets set up, I could add you to it. It definitely wouldn't be all on you.