How strict are journals about word counts?

27-May-20, 20:11
edited about 29 seconds later
Avatar for Tudor_Queen
posted about 3 months ago
I'm really struggling to cut my words drastically to fit the brief report word limit guidance. Are journals super strict / going to actually check? D:
27-May-20, 20:15
edited about 14 minutes later
Avatar for Tudor_Queen
posted about 3 months ago
Actually, here is a better question... the guidance says nothing about whether tables are included in the word count. Reckon they are?

Ps. I just pasted a brief report that was recently published in the same journal into word... they have gone over the word limit by 1782 and that's not even including their tables!!!

I wonder if I need to take the word count too seriously... I am worried about lowering the quality of the paper yet don't want to submit it as a longer paper as it isn't quite enough for that.
27-May-20, 23:05
by rewt
Avatar for rewt
posted about 3 months ago
I don't think tables are included but I have heard conflicting advice.

I was coauthor on a paper that got returned by an assistant editor for the introduction being too long (it was stupidly long). This was before the manuscript was assigned a real editor. The introduction was shortened and the re submission was then sent to the to an editor for review. So I think they check before the review process, so you might be able to submit and see.
28-May-20, 01:09
edited a moment later
by abababa
Avatar for abababa
posted about 3 months ago
Often, the lesser the journal, the stricter the count, but with some important provisos. I say this because a good venue won't kick out good science because it's expensive to print; a bad venue will accept bad science but only if it's cheap to print (or the author pays $ for extra pages).

Provisos: the academic reason for minimising word count is that good science doesn't need waffle. To an experienced academic, wordiness is often equated with 'there's no actual novel science here but they're trying to hide that fact in words'. There's an old quote I think attributed to Pascal - 'I'd have written a shorter letter, but didn't have enough time'. Point being, it's harder and more time-consuming to write succinctly. The clearer you are, the more any flaws are laid bare. As an author it's a routine struggle to cut things you've written, and appreciate the time wasn't wasted, but it's necessary if you want to write really good (or in target driven culture speak, 'well-cited') articles. The best articles start off far too long, and are carefully edited down.

Consider how long you, as a reader, spend reading articles in the same journal. Do you really appreciate - or even read - those extra 2000 words (which often repeat literature you know), or would you rather see clear and succinct method, results, & evidenced conclusions? Reducing length rarely makes an article lower quality, it's usually the opposite.

I would not aim to hit the word count out of fear of arbitrary rejection if it's a good journal, but because it's a likely indication your article is longer than a typical publication and therefore, unless there's (comparatively) some groundbreaking science going on, probably isn't as concise as it could be.
28-May-20, 11:06
Avatar for Tudor_Queen
posted about 3 months ago
Thank you, both!

I have to disagree with you abababa... I get your gist in that of course good science should be succinctly written up. I agree that (to a degree) writing tends to get better the more you refine. However, a paper that is a typical length versus a brief report in the same journal does not mean that the former contains waffle! It just means it was written with the appropriate level of detail to fit the word requirements. I need to figure out what detail I can cut without affecting the quality as in the transparency of the methods etc. I am also thinking I might just be a bit cheeky and steal a couple hundred words as I am finding it extremely difficult to do so in this case!

In this particular journal, brief reports are reserved for science that is novel and interesting but might have a smaller sample than usual, for example. They allow half the number of words compared to the full empirical papers in the journal. The science to be written up is the same but you have half the space to do it in.

I think my best bet is to just look at the other brief reports published in this journal and see how they do it. There must be an acceptable level for omission of detail in brief reports like this – and I guess that is the balance I need to strike.


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