Tips in Effective Writing for Science/Religion Committees
In mid-April, the science-and-religion committees from several Christian denominations in Canada and the U.S. met for the annual Ecumenical Roundtable on Science Technology and the Church. Hosted in Louisville, Kentucky, by the Presbyterian Church (USA) delegation, the Roundtable heard a presentation planned by the Episcopal Church Network. Since education and communication are priorities in the mission across all the committees, the Network invited Mr. Jim DeLa, Director of Communications for the Diocese of Southwest Florida, to present a plenary talk and lead a break-out practicum on effective writing. He conveyed a wealth of insight from his experience with the secular and religious presses, and everyone enjoyed his relaxed presentation, sense of humor, and know-how. Following is a sampling of DeLa’s wisdom.
Two questions to ask at the outset:
(1) What do you want to say?
(2) Whom do you want to say it to?
The average reader craves simplicity, clarity, and understanding, so:
(a) focus, focus, and more focus;
(b) narrow your subject matter down tightly;
The “fog index” provides a measure of what level you want to write for the audience you will be writing for. Take a typical passage of about 100 words (ending at a period); count the number of sentences, colons, and semicolons in the passage, and divide that into the number of words (to get the average sentence length). To that number, add the number of words of more than two syllables in the passage. Multiply that sum by 0.4 to get the “fog index.” Aim for 7-8.
For reference, the average newspaper comes out about 6-7; Time, about 8; The Atlantic, 13 or higher; the Bible, 5-6. (There is a “fog index calculator” and some other tips, Jim tells us, at the University of Minnesota Policy Library .)
Don’t edit your own copy; it is easy to overlook mistakes in grammar and spelling.
In writing for the web, articles should be shorter than those one finds in a printed source.
Suggestions for content of parish newsletters: (a) have parishioners submit questions; (b) provide partial answers in a short statement; (c) list web sites, different sites for different subjects; (d) on controversial topics, move from polarization to discussion and dialogue.
Four goals for communication:
- to inform: teach something new
- to enlighten: explain the reasons for the new information
- to entertain: make it painless
- to inspire: motivate the reader to greater interest or action
To learn more about the Ecumenical Roundtable on Science, Technology and the Church, see their website at URL: