We're looking for change-driven work that considers the route to positive impact in every step of the research process, from selecting a research question to writing concluding remarks. This type of research is challenging, so we’ve listed some materials to serve as inspiration for potential research questions, as well as some tips for pursuing impact-focused research.
We think that the most impactful research addresses questions within certain problems or cause areas. Choosing which cause area to focus on will likely significantly influence how impactful your paper will be, and are aligned with the Effective Altruist approach of using evidence and reason to work out which are the most pressing problems to work on.
Whilst the resources listed on this page recommend potential cause areas to work on, we also welcome submissions that focus on questions outside these research areas, especially papers that argue for new cause areas or challenge our assumptions about existing problems.
Our main recommendation for anyone considering what question to research is Effective Thesis’ ‘Find a Topic Section’. For each of more than forty-five different causes they argue why they think it is important, share existing research, recommended research questions per subject area and further reading. They also offer 1-1 coaching for students working on undergraduate, masters or PhD theses, research agendas of impact-oriented organisations and selected finished theses.
Please note that as of 2022-12-07 the recommended research questions section appears to be down.
80,000 Hours publishes research on what it believes are especially high-impact cause areas, and we have linked each of its top ten recommended cause areas below. Many of these pages include suggested sub-areas for research.
Please note that 80,000 Hours recommends each cause as a whole, and this does not necessarily reflect its estimation of the value of research within each cause. Cause areas from their top ten in which they encourage research careers are:
They also recommend over 20 other career paths here.
80,000 Hours have also created a list of specific research questions within these problem areas, linked here. The list also links to many other pages with project ideas, so we strongly recommend you visit it.
To give you a flavour of their recommended questions, some we’d like to highlight are:
How does Chinese nuclear no first-use policy affect global stability and potential strategic doctrines for emerging technologies?
What case studies are there for legal rights or other protections being won for beings that didn’t and wouldn’t ever have the right to vote, and what lessons do these have for animal welfare?
What’s the best way to measure individual wellbeing? What’s the best way to measure aggregate wellbeing for groups?
What environmental problems — if any — pose existential risks?
What broad-spectrum drugs, especially antivirals, are most promising for tackling novel pathogens?
How can we design ML systems that are more transparent and whose models are more easily interpretable by humans?
Tips on writing an impact-focused paper
For guidance and suggestions on impact-oriented research, we like this article by Karolina Sarek. Aimed at professional researchers, it highlights the importance of reaching an accurate, action-relevant and formulated conclusion. Her three main guidelines are to:
Reach conclusions through your research
Compare alternatives with equal rigour.
Design research questions to affect decision-making.