Anyone want a research project?

A 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 did of Dialogue and BYU Studies early last Autumn.

The Ensign project is very large, and I never had a chance to finish the coding for it – that is, the categorization of authors and content – much less perform analysis. This is frustrating, because I’d like to know whether or not there’s a shortage of women’s voices in the Ensign, and I’d like to know whether women published in the Ensign tend toward certain subjects or types of writing. Such research, if it shows that there’s an actual gender imbalance in the magazine, could provide interested parties with the motivation to write and submit more to church publications. It might also provide interesting insight into gendered communication styles and subject matters within Mormonism, or at least that part of Mormonism which gets published in the Ensign.

While I still want to complete this analysis, I’m now swamped with my longer-term pet project, a modern-language Book of Mormon adaptation. I’m trying to get a really good jump start on the BOM project right now because I’m currently applying for grad school and I’m trying to get pregnant. With any luck, I’m going to find myself really, really busy in a year or two, and I want to ensure that I’ve got lots of forward-moving inertia on the adaptation before that happens. So I’m wondering whether anyone would like to coauthor the Ensign project with me. I’ve got a database set up, and I think I’ve done about an eighth of the coding. We could try to split the coding duties, though I’m not sure how much time I’ll have to invest in it.

This would be an opportunity for anyone interested in learning the basics of this type of research, as well as anyone who’s done it before. If you’re interested in being published, the project will certainly result in some excellent blog posts. It may also provide us with results worthy of peer-reviewed publication (perhaps even more than one article exploring different aspects of the analysis). So, is anyone game?

Serenity Valley


  1. That sounds so interesting, I just regret I’m not available to volunteer for such a worthy undertaking right now. good luck!

  2. Swisster says:

    What kind of qualifications are you looking for in a partner?

  3. Swisster,

    Can you read? :)

    If you haven’t done content analysis, will you let me teach you how?

    That’s all I’m looking for. You don’t need any research training or relevant education.

  4. Emily Larsen says:

    Forget all of you!!!!! The Mormon reiligion is not sexist. The only reason more guys are in the publication is because more men hold higher positions in the church. The members of the church want to hear from them rather than a woman with no importance in the church. And what on earth do you mean by a modern language Book Of Mormon. The one that we have now is just fine. I feel that if you have to constantly single out “faults” of the Mormon religion then you should really get a reality check. You should understand that it doesn’t matter what we practice, it’s not hurting you any and it has nothing to do with you in the first place.

  5. Emily,

    There are no women with no importance in the church, including yourself.

  6. You know, I’m interested in this and I’ve got my own project going with respect to church lesson manuals and the like. I think that in my far narrower field of inquiry, we all know that there’s an imbalance. The question is how to address it.

    But alas, I have my own time management challenges.

  7. Steve Evans says:

    Taryn, you should really listen to Emily. She clearly has a firm grasp on both her own sense of worth and how God runs his church.

  8. Taryn,

    I have some time available and am interested in the project.. Though I do research for a living, it’s of the scientific variety; however, I’d be willing to expand my analytical toolbox if you need some support.

  9. Emily,

    Whoa, it’s okay, I’m not accusing the Ensign of actively supressing female writers or anything. I’m not suggesting there’s some kind of conspiracy. In fact, some private conversations I’ve had with people who’ve worked for or with the Ensign actually suggest that any gender imbalance in authorship is likely due in part to the fact that women submit far fewer articles to the magazine and what they do submit tends to be along the lines of personal narrative or discussion of their internal religious experience (both of which are quite important in our tradition, of course; I just think we could branch out).

    I just think the topic is interesting, really, and I want to find out what this stuff looks like. It’s party a desire to encourage female contributions to our church’s publications (and to blogs, and hey, even letters to the editors of local papers). It’s partly curiousity.

    I do have to say that the explanation you suggest for any gender disparity – we’re not sexist, we just don’t put women in positions of authority or power in our church, so of course we don’t want to listen to them – is self-contradictory. If we’re basing the staffing decisions for our church’s programs on gender criteria, we’re sexist.

    Moreover, I’ve never heard anyone in any position of church authority suggest that it’s their position or their gender that gives them importance in the church. They’re Christians. We’re a Christian faith, Emily; we do teach that the first shall be last, and the last shall be first. Quite in line with the teaching of our scripture and our prophets, I believe that we are all of great worth to God and to each other; that importance comes not from our sex or from what our jobs are, but from our very being. I hope you can learn to accept that – you and I are important, to God, to our church, and to our church’s other members. To deny that is wrong.

    As far as the Book of Mormon adaptation goes: you didn’t actually read the introduction I linked on my bibliography post, did you? Here it is. My purpose has expanded a little bit – I’ve realized that I’m interested in the origins of today’s text; that is, I’m interested in the original version exactly as Joseph dictated it. And as I had hoped, the project has been very helpful in encouraging me to read and think about the scriptures. For that reason, I’ve decided to share the joy. I want to create a really carefully constructed reference I can use some day when I hear someone saying, “What, exactly, is a scarlet? And why are there all those divers in First Nephi? Are they swimming in the river, or something?”

    I’m doing what I can to preserve the beauty and structure of the text, but even if it weren’t scripture, I’d still lose something in the process. I don’t pretend to be Joseph. Certainly, I’m not advocating use of my reference adaptation for devotional reading. I’m not even working with our currently canonized version, after all.

  10. Mogget,

    What, you’re working on a dissertation and you don’t have time to follow up on other interests? What kind of wimp are you? I bet you’re actually letting yourself sleep almost every night. :)

    If you ever do the church manual project, I’d love to see it.


    Sure, I’d be thrilled to have you. I’m hoping the research group will be big enough that everyone can do a couple of hours’ worth of data coding a week – it looks like that would still get us through the data by the end of summer.

  11. Sterling says:


    I like this idea. A few questions:

    Do you think two people will categorize articles the same way?

    Are you already familiar with the official LDS Index to church periodicals?

    Have you seen this new database?

    Have you thought of using the subject terms that now appear at the end of each article in the Ensign?

  12. Sterling,

    Good question about categorization. Typically in this kind of research, a system of categorization complete with guidelines for each category code is proposed or provided to the people doing the coding. They read through the information and discuss any questions they have with the codebook’s author. They then practice coding on a sample of textual units (articles, in this case) which the codebook author has already coded, and which typically are not included in the analysis sample. Then, the codebook author compares the other coders’ categorization to their own, and the group discusses differences. In some cases, those differences are errors on the part of the trainees, and they need more clarification on the codes. Such clarification is added to the codebook. In other cases, the trainees may have had useful insights into codebook refinements or errors in the original system. The coding group discusses such instances, and refines or corrects the codebook accordingly.

    If this training process is carefully undertaken, you end up with a well-synchronized coding group. You periodically check the group’s calibration by having all parties code a unit of text – the same unit, I mean – which will be excluded from the sample. If you find that any of the coders are greatly variant from the others, that individual is retrained, and their work is recoded.

    In instances where the work has begun and one of the coders is unsure in which categories a unit of text belongs, or thinks none of the categories applies, the group debates the textual unit’s coding. This can lead to the emergence of new category codes; the group then reviews previous work to see if the code applies anywhere else.

    So basically, getting multiple people to categorize articles the same way requires some preparation, but it can be done, quite effectively. It’s really a useful process, too – having several people look at the categories and having ongoing discussions about the coding system can lead to new insights, and it helps the project avoid and eliminate bias and assumptions in data gathering.

    I’ve seen the periodical index and the database (thanks for the link – good blog ettiquete!), but it’s unfortunately not much use in this case. As we’re going through the individual articles for coding purposes, we can just as easily get authorship information (usually more complete authorship information) at the same time; and we’re selecting our data sample based on year rather than author, content, etc., so it’s pretty simple to just open up a given page on the magazine archive.

    At this point, I am tracking the Ensign’s subject terms, though mostly for analysis – the assigned categories are broader than my own, and they aren’t a great measure of the variables I’m interested in. I’m looking forward to seeing how my coding compares to the subject assignments the editors provide.