Chris Blattman

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Brevity is the soul of science?

In recent years, a trend has emerged in the behavioral sciences toward shorter and more rapidly published journal articles. These articles are often only a third the length of a standard paper, often describe only a single study and tend to include smaller data sets. Shorter formats are promoted by many journals, and limits on article length are stringent — in many cases as low as 2,000 words.

This shift is partly a result of the pressure that academics now feel to generate measurable output.

…But some researchers contend that the trend toward short articles is also better for science. Such “bite size” science, they argue, encourages results to be communicated faster, written more concisely and read by editors and researchers more easily, leading to a more lively exchange of ideas.

…We believe, however, there are a number of serious problems with the short-article format.

The article is here. I share their suspicions, though the article itself provides more accusations and suppositions than actual evidence. A stronger case can likely be made.

I’m preparing an article for a medical journal with psychologist colleagues and am struggling with the word limit. Economics and political science articles may drag on, and be fewer in number, but with that space they explore the nuance and limitations and validity. Plus context.

I would not give it up, but on the contrary, prefer to see more packed into the same lengthy space.

2 Responses

  1. I like the econ model. You have an outlet for short pieces, Econ Letters (though it should be much, much quicker). Then you have outlets that accept pretty long pieces (Econometrica, JPE). And for those articles where things get cut out of necessity, a lot of the important work is on NBER or the web in a full-length format with lots of robustness checks, etc.

    I like AJPS in poli sci–relatively short-medium length articles, but lots of supplementary material for those interested. That’s not a bad set-up.

  2. This reminds me of the old saying, “I would have written you a short letter but I didn’t have the time so I wrote you a long one instead.” Nuance is important but efforts for brevity and clarity are appreciated by the readers.

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