Contributing to the Ensign- Interesting Guidelines

EnsignI was looking for something in the Ensign, and noticed two little links at the bottom, “Submit an article to the Ensign. View our updated content submission guidelines.”

Really? Open submissions? Apparently so. How long has this been going on?

The submission guidelines have some interesting things. For example, under the “General Ongoing Needs” section, one sees the first of several desired categories is “By Study and by Faith: These Church history and other academic or scriptural articles are doctrinally sound and serve to edify members. We are particularly interested in articles written by members with expertise in academic fields.” (Italics mine.)


I’ve got some “expertise in [an] academic field] and several years worth of blog posts about scriptures and other stuff. Maybe I’ll rewrite and submit a few, or some of my Institute handouts. I doubt they’d reprint my posts on myth or encultured prophets; too academic, too much background required, perhaps.

While I have my criticisms of the Ensign, I’m also aware that several of those criticisms result from the institutional constraints, which are made somewhat explicit further down.  Under Other Tips, it says “Consider the style, voice, and purpose. The approach, tone, and style you take should be appropriate for a worldwide audience.”

On my mission, I really appreciated the section “I Have a Question.” There was often some lightly controversial issue or question covered, and they generally got better as one read older and older issues. Well, no more. RIP, IHAQ.

Queries for “I Have a Question.” This department has been discontinued. Instead of writing to the magazine staff with your doctrinal or personal questions, please counsel with your local priesthood leader.”

Local priesthood leaders are (with exceptions) simply not equipped to deal with doctrinal or historical issues, and often don’t even know where to look to find answers.

I happened to meet a sub-sub-sub-jr.-Ensign-editor at a party a few years back, or rather, she had the misfortune to meet me. I peppered her with questions about several aspects of the Ensign, from which I learned that there is quite a large lead time on articles, in many cases 12 months.  I sent the Ensign a question about that via the website, and heard a quick reply that they are already planning the 2012 issues. I’ll pass on Paul, then, and work on adapting some Book of Mormon material.

Oh, and “Manuscripts should be no longer than 2,000 words, and, where noted, may need to be shorter.” That’s tough.

What else strikes you about the submission guidelines?

  • Urbana-ite

    Any hope that you’d submit something on the documentary hypothesis (part 1) and how it would relate to the BoM (part 2)?

  • Rameumptom

    Have you noticed how the new Ensign restructure has most articles of just one double spaced page? First Presidency messages used to be 3 full pages long, and now barely cover one.

    It seems the Ensign is going to gospel light, because most people do not want/like to read anymore. They want a quick scan of the news or info, and leave it at that.

    How is one to understand deep doctrine (doctrine, not speculation), if you have less than 2000 words to write it in? I can do 2000 words in my sleep! But it wouldn’t be anything in depth. It would be a feel-good fluff piece, because anything deeper would require more explanation than there is space.

    Perhaps Ensign is going the way of Twitter?

  • Chris H.

    I may give it a shot.

  • Paul 2

    It may be worth pointing out that the use of Reformed Egyption gets around these word limitations and lets you make quite a treatise in the alloted space. Do the rules state you need to submit your article in a phonetic script? Or are they flexible with respect to ideographic/syllabic scripts?

    They are doing their best to be world-ready, but they are not there yet. The literacy rate in Mali is 26% (lowest in the world), so a world-ready Ensign should have about 26% words and 74% pictures. This could lead naturally to a more fully developed Mormon iconograpy. Have we considered what the iconography needs of the church will be for future Ensign articles? Can we learn anything from medieval Catholicism?

  • Ardis

    2,000 is the long form — some of the subcategories are limited to 400 or 500 words, less than the length of an abstract for a solid article in an academic journal!

    Those are tough limits for saying anything meaningful in an interesting way — but who has more practice at that than bloggers? I’ve considered submitting some of my historical story posts, but the enormous lead time, the lack of anything like them in the current magazine to know whether the editors would even consider them, and the work involved in cutting something down to skeleton form without any assurance that they would even be considered, has kept me from doing that.

  • Ben Spackman

    Urbana-ite, I would if I thought it had a snowball’s chance of being printed :)

    Rameumptom, I’m not sure if it’s people not wanting to read or rather more “simplification” of the Gospel. Judging by the bloggernacle and others I’ve known in person, lots of LDS want deep and thorough treatments of things they can’t get in the Ensign.

    Paul 2, you get a smiley.

    Ardis- That is really tough. I recently had to go through the exercise of reducing a 13-page technical article down to a 600-word summary with a Sunday School class as the target audience, and do it in 2 hours. Very tough.

    One of my issues with the Ensign is indeed the length. I fear that such short articles leave the impression that the Gospel is shallow, simple in every aspect, and doesn’t require deep thought or pondering. I don’t think that’s true. I’m not suggesting we should serialize Blake Ostler’s books in the Ensign, but at least some hint that although this is the “adult” Church magazine, it may not be the apotheosis of Mormon doctrine, thought, or exploration, and members should be reading externally on their own. See my earlier post by Marion D. Hanks on Theological Illiterates.

  • Mike Parker

    We’ve come a long way from the time when Nibley’s ‘An Approach to the Book of Mormon’ was the priesthood manual for the entire Church, and President McKay overcame objections to it by saying “Let them reach.”

    Sometimes I pull out my old Improvement Eras, leaf through the series “A New Look at the Pearl of Great Price,” and shed a tear. That was a twelve-part series. Each individual part was much longer than 2000 words.