Markus Gastinger / Henning Schmidtke

Measuring Precision Precisely: A Dictionary-Based Measure of Imprecision

Review of International Organizations | 2022

  • Abstract

    How can we measure and explain the precision of international organizations’ (IOs) founding treaties? We define precision by its negative – imprecision – as indeterminate language that intentionally leaves a wide margin of interpretation for actors after agreements enter into force. Compiling a “dictionary of imprecision” from almost 500 scholarly contributions and leveraging insight from linguists that a single vague word renders the whole sentence vague, we introduce a dictionary-based measure of imprecision (DIMI) that is replicable, applicable to all written documents, and yields a continuous measure bound between zero and one. To demonstrate that DIMI usefully complements existing approaches and advances the study of (im-)precision, we apply it to a sample of 76 IOs. Our descriptive results show high face validity and closely track previous characterizations of these IOs. Finally, we explore patterns in the data, expecting that imprecision in IO treaties increases with the number of states, power asymmetries, and the delegation of authority, while it decreases with the pooling of authority. In a sample of major IOs, we find robust empirical support for the power asymmetries and delegation propositions. Overall, DIMI provides exciting new avenues to study precision in International Relations and beyond.


    Review of International Organizations

    Number of Pages


    Dr. Markus Gastinger


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