Come On, Sisters, What’s the Take-Home Message?

I’m spending the weekend on a content and authorship analysis of the Ensign, trying to look at trends by comparing every fifth (maybe seventh) year of the magazine’s publication. I’m still in the first part of the coding, going through the issues from this past year. While it wasn’t originally part of the data set I’m collecting and I haven’t yet looked at any patterns in the numbers I’m getting, I’ve developed the subjective impression that women’s articles of any substantial length are almost certain to include with inset sub-articles which consists of a GA statement about the article’s topic. These are separate insets, mind you; they aren’t quotes contained in the articles.

When I first noticed this, it really bugged me, mostly because it’s comparatively rare that such insets are printed with pieces authored by men. “What,” I thought, “Men can make a point by themselves, but these women can’t just say what they’re going to say? They have to receive a clearer official endorsement than publication in the Ensign?”

I began to look closely at the articles with such sub-articles, though, and I’ve realized it’s more complicated than that. Female-authored Ensign articles are overwhelmingly written as personal narratives. While they are often moving, edifying, and well-written, they aren’t very likely to make any sort of general point about life, doctrine, or anything else. The supporting GA sub-articles seem to be included to provide readers of these articles with a generalizable idea, because the authors weren’t writing with such a purpose in mind.

Oh, the exciting world of Taryn’s weekends. Maybe later I’ll do something really thrilling, like cleaning my fridge out!


  1. Oh, but relish the ability to be so focused! How wonderful for you, and those of us more fractalized look forward to reading your findings…

  2. Kevin Barney says:

    I have a subjective impression that the depth of articles dealing with the scriptures has gone way down over time. In the early days of the Ensign (70s into the 80s), there would usually be excellent issues (generally appearing in January)devoted to the next year’s curriculum focus. There is still some of that, but it seems as though there is more of a marked effort to keep these articles at the very lowest common denominator possible, making them generally useless for long-time members.

    I would be curious if in the course of your study you were to find evidence for or against my subjective impression.

  3. Tracy, if I were focused I’d have got more than three hours of work in on this today. Unfortunatly, I got distracted by the siren song of Terry Pratchett books. :)

  4. Kevin, urgh, I didn’t even think about that. I’m currently checking mostly on the topic- and article-type by author’s gender thing that I’m so generally obsessed with.

    I can’t code for it – too much work – but I’ll keep it in mind as I go through the articles and tell you what I find.

  5. My OED says that a fractal is a “mathematically conceived curve such that any small part of it, enlarged, has the same statistical character as the original.”

    The OED doesn’t have an entry for fractalize (or even fractalise), but the headlong fall of the language into the bilge suggests that such an entry may be coming shortly. Even when that happens, it would seem that it should have a rather specialized meaning in mathematics that cannot readily be applied to our fractured lives.

    On the other hand, we should never forget what they did to our word “parameter”.

  6. ed johnson says:

    This sounds like a cool project, Taryn. I look forward to seeing your results.

  7. I cleaned the bathroom and went shopping.

  8. Pyotr Veliki says:

    the headlong fall of the language into the bilge…

    If I had a nickel for every time someone has made that claim in the last 500 years I could skip the day job thing.

    But for those who find solace in bemoaning the state of our language today, you might like John McWhorter’s book “Doing our own thing: The degradation of language and music and why we should, like, care.”

    At any rate, weak scholarship and a personal response approach to serious topics isn’t limited to the Ensign.

  9. Mark Smith says:

    Kevin’s observation is as correct as noting that the sun rises in the east, without any survey needed. It would be wonderful for the Church to provide more doctrinal substance in the Ensign.

  10. Except, of course, that the sun does not actually rise in the east. It doesn’t rise at all. Sometimes the things that seem the most obvious deserve the closest scrutiny.

  11. Um, like, I know “fractalized” is not a word, but, like, I’m an artist, and I really, like, liked the image of a fractal I have on a magnet on my refrigerator. It seemed kinda appropriate to my non-linear days. End threadjack now!

  12. I read that the Ensign usually only takes noncommissioned articles that are faith-promoting and relatively anecdotal. They say they don’t want doctrinal analysis because they have GA’s to write those pieces. Can anyone corroborate this? And I think women are more inclined to write these sorts of anecdotal pieces . . .

  13. The New Era has also lost a lot of rigor over the years. Very few articles now exceed 1000 words. Perhaps there are now enough alternate sources for “doctrinal substance” the the Church magazines are being targeted more at newer/less sophisticated members.


  1. […] few months ago, I began an authorship and abbreviated content analysis of the Ensign over the last 30 years. It was a follow-up to a similar but much smaller project I […]

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