royce doesn’t like 8-page papers

June 10, 2009 at 10:27 pm | | literature, open thread, science community

Royce Murray—the famous analytical chemist and great educator—has written an interesting editorial in Analytical Chemistry. Since 1995, the page limit for AC has been 7 pages, including figures. But papers are getting longer.

“In 1983, 1989, 1994, 2000, 2006, and 2008, the average length of papers published in our research section was 3.8, 6.4, 6.7, 7.1, 7.0, and 8.0 pages, respectively. I consider an average seven-page length already long, and an average of eight pages is alarming.”

royce1Royce is careful to acknowledge the various justifiable reasons papers might be longer today than before, including that figures have grown bigger. But he remains convinced that a 10-page paper is basically unreadable to most AC subscribers. His solutions are twofold. First, Royce implies that authors should write the same information with fewer words and smaller figures. Secondly, he explicitly suggests that authors take advantage of Supporting Information sections.

I am of two minds on this issue. On the one hand, I agree that an 8-page average means that causually reading AC is going to be difficult. On the other hand, I don’t think that dumping results into the SI is an adequate solution: SIs are less carefully written, refereed, and read, and therefore are not an appropriate medium to report scientific data or analysis. In 50 years, will SIs still be accessible? Will our generation of scientists be proud of them if they are? SIs are great for detailed methods as well as superfluous, tangential, or extra results. However, there needs to be a place to be able to publish significant scientific results, even if it takes 10 pages. AC should probably be one of those journals (as should J. Phys. Chem. ABC and others).

So here is my solution. (1) Allow longer papers when they represent a significant body of work. I think Royce agrees here. (2) For a very long but good paper, have the authors split it into two halves. Each half should tell a distinct story, but together could easily be read as a whole. These two halves would be published alongside each other. (3) If a manuscript is 10 pages of drivel and bullshit figures, reject it or require a significant rewrite.

Other thoughts?


RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

  1. I like “data not shown” better. it makes everything shorter and more credible:)

    Comment by gilat — June 11, 2009 #

  2. agreed: nonessential or unimportant or super-simple data need not be shown, in the paper or the SI.

    Comment by sam — June 11, 2009 #

  3. Splitting papers into two is an especially good idea, but forcing authors to rewrite long, non-groundbreaking work should be done a whole lot more too.

    Comment by Will — June 11, 2009 #

  4. The problem with options 2 and 3 are, a) if there’s really only enough new scientific content, the authors get a second paper for free and b) have you ever tried to get an author to condense his/her text by 20-40%? Some people are delightfully on board, but others will fight you all the way, and it gets tiring.

    Great questions, though!

    Comment by Catherine — June 12, 2009 #

  5. Wider margins. Smaller fonts. Nuff said.

    Comment by jordan — June 12, 2009 #

  6. Who cares if a paper is greater than 7 pages. There are plenty of famous papers longer than 7 pages. It should a be a guideline and not a rule. Scientists are simply getting lazy and want to triage like crazy, looking for any excuse to not read the paper. Analytical Chemistry is currently publishing papers longer than 7 pages, so their rule is arbitrarily applied if they reject us on being longer (which they do!). How about we all make it a rule not to read ACS publications or publish in them (for whatever arbitrary rule you’d like).

    Comment by Rob — June 8, 2010 #

Leave a comment

thanks for the comment

Powered by WordPress, Theme Based on "Pool" by Borja Fernandez
Entries and comments feeds. Valid XHTML and CSS.