Clarity vs. prolixity, and a missed opportunity

Louie Crew, writing at his site, offers an insight on why it’s so important to choose your media channels wisely: the more wordy a given document (in this case, the report from the Joint Standing Committee), the less likely people are to actually read it. He does this by contrasting the document with Acts 15, which is an account of the Council of Jerusalem, the result of another disagreement in which “a relatively small group Christians has shocked the world by welcoming persons whose manner of life offends most Christians”:

Acts 15 is far more readable than the report of the Joint Standing Committee :

Acts 15 reports its conclusions in 35 sentences (923 words), an average of 26.5 words long.

The Joint Standing Committee reports its conclusions in 274 sentences (10,359 words), an average of 37.8 words long.

Only 2% of the words in Acts 15 are 10+ characters long.

8% of the words are 10+ characters long in the report of the Joint Standing Committee

Acts 15 facilitates its reading with some mark of punctuation for an average of every 8 words.

The Joint Standing Committee report has punctuation for an average of only every 12 words.

Implications of using punctuation for readability to the strict copyeditor aside, what of the more than 100 journalists that attended the Episcopal House of Bishops meeting? Here at the Café, we’ve seen countless examples of spin, misunderstanding and just plain bad journalism, and even written about some of them to try and facilitate understanding.

Crew notes that the densely written JSC document was most likely intended for consumption by the Anglican Consultative Council, but wonders about the “missed opportunity” when so much time was obviously put in to these declarations, responses and reports (emphasis ours):

… The Joint Standing Committee and the Episcopal House of Bishops missed a major opportunity. Over 100 journalists were registered at the meeting in New Orleans, and thousands more were following it from afar. There is not enough money in the advertising budgets of all 38 provinces in the Communion to buy the time that the press gave freely to cover this occasion, and yet those two august groups spoke no clear and welcoming word to the world, whose attention they so rarely command.

How refreshing it would have been had the Committee reported: “We conclude that God still is no respecter of persons, that God loves absolutely everybody. All are welcome in the Anglican Communion!”

The whole thing is here.

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