This post is part of my "research" series.
Wentworth, John S. How To Write Quickly While Maintaining Epistemic Rigor. LessWrong (blog), August 28, 2021. https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/Psr9tnQFuEXiuqGcR/how-to-write-quickly-while-maintaining-epistemic-rigor. Accessed 2022-04-08.
- In one paragraph
- Table of Contents
- An alternative outline
- General commentary
"How To Write Quickly While Maintaining Epistemic Rigor" sounds like a gift-wrapped solution to my research question. I didn't know the author, but I had to read this.
In one paragraph
Share partial results. While thorough research takes forever, you don't need to do it all in one go, or even all yourself. Correct conclusions matter, but writing something that can be evaluated, criticized, and integrated with new evidence matters more.
Table of Contents
(0 Introduction) 1 It's about the process, not the conclusion 2 Correctly conveying uncertainty 3 So should I stop researching my claims? 4 Bad habits 5 Takeaway
An alternative outline
Broadly, how this article reads from my perspective.
1 Motivation: crippling self-doubt (s0) 2 Transparency and extensibility (ss 1, 2) 3 Scope of the advice 3.1 Transparency is no substitue for research (s3) 3.2 This is anti-persuasive advice (ss 4, 5)
The good, the bad, and the extremely revealing. Direct quotations in no particular order. Some of these ideas may not be discussed at length, but it still seemed worthwhile to put them here.
There’s this trap people fall into when writing […] They have a good idea, or an interesting belief, or a cool model. […] So they go looking for evidence […] and soon end up down a research rabbit hole. Eventually, they give up and never actually publish the piece.
Perfecting the Art
As much as possible, I want to show the actual process by which I reached that conclusion. If my process is good, this will better enable others to copy the best parts of it. If my process is bad, I can get feedback on it directly.
Correct predictions before looking at the data are much more surprising (and thus stronger evidence) than correct predictions after looking at the data.
[T]he amount of uncertainty I should assign [to my conclusion] depends on the details of my process. It depends on the path by which I reached the conclusion.
Obviously researching claims still has lots of value. But you should not let uncertainty stop you from writing things up and sharing them.
It’s been pointed out before that most high-schools teach a writing style in which the main goal is persuasion or debate. Arguing only one side of a case is encouraged. It’s an absolutely terrible habit […]
(s4, emphasis in the original)
In academia-land, there's a norm of collegiality […] People calibrate their feedback based on context and relationship. Here, relationship is lacking and context is provided only by the content of the post itself. I think we're missing a lot of the information and incentives that motivate care in presentation and care in response.
(comment by AllAmericanBreakfast)
This article is less a guide to writing quickly, and more a description of an unusual mode of communication. The one issue I have with it is that its scope is not entirely clear. That this is not advice on writing persuasively is clear enough, but claiming that writing persuasively is "a bad habit" cannot be a general truth. So when is persuasiveness a bad habit? When is the advice applicable? I think the expression "epistemic rigor" is doing a lot of heavy lifting here. It describes the result, but also the context. Arguably, the post's advice is most useful when you are writing to yourself.