We’re asking ourselves that question after reading a recent paper which shows that — in the ecology literature, at least — longer papers gather more citations.
In “Citations increase with manuscript length, author number, and references cited in ecology journals,” Charles Fox at the University of Kentucky and his colleagues found exactly what the title specifies — ecology papers published between 2009 and 2012 received more citations if they were longer, included more authors, and/or had a longer list of references.
It wasn’t a big difference, the authors note in Ecology and Evolution:
Although the proportion of variance explained by each of these variables is small (as expected given the high variance in citations among papers within journals), the observed effect sizes are moderate, with each additional 10% of manuscript length increasing citations by an average of approximately 1.8% (across all journals) after controlling for other predictors.
Still, they add, the reasons for the difference make some sense:
Longer papers are probably better cited because they contain both more and a greater diversity of data and ideas (Leimu & Koricheva, 2005b). We argue that the positive relationship between citations and both author number and references cited support this hypothesis. Studies that have more authors tend to draw on a greater diversity of expertise, whether practical or intellectual (Katz & Martin, 1997), and thus present a greater diversity of ideas and/or data types, especially when collaborations are interdisciplinary. Likewise, papers likely cite more references because they have a greater diversity of arguments to support or ideas to place into context. Alternatively, a longer reference list may make a particular paper more visible, as the study will show up on search results in citation databases more frequently (Didegah & Thelwall, 2013) or it may encourage researchers that have been cited to cite the paper (i.e., tit-for-tat citation; Webster et al., 2009).
And yet most top journals in ecology “indicate a preference or requirement for short manuscripts,” the authors write, “generally requiring manuscripts to contain fewer than 6000–8000 words.”
The authors conclude:
We suggest that the imposition of arbitrary manuscript length limits discourages the publication of more impactful studies. We propose that journals abolish arbitrary word or page limits, avoid declining papers (or requiring shortening) on the basis of length alone (irrespective of content), and adopt the philosophy that papers should be as long as they need to be.
Of course, there are many reasons why journals have to limit the length of papers, and some researchers have argued that authors include too much information, making it hard on editors, reviewers, and readers to sort through.
So what do you think? Tell us in our poll below.
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