7 Apr 2014

This article is a guest post by Paul Braidford. He continues the discussion opened by his fellow editors at RSRS – Early Careers Papers Section, regarding the format and content of Early Career papers from the article length perspective.

In the last RSRS Early Career blog, Sabrina Lai set out what the editors are looking for from a proposal: meeting the instructions in our call, making sure that you have a regional focus, and aiming for excellence in your proposal and your paper.  I’m going to add an extra little wrinkle, prompted by an aspect of the Early Career Section that many of our authors have found challenging: the length of our articles.

Innovation, concision, communication

Or, to be more precise, the shortness of our articles. Say you’ve just written your own version of War and Peace in the shape of your PhD.  What we don’t want is the Reader’s Digest version of that. Nor a summary of the main findings of your research.  In the RSRS Early Career Section, you only have 3,000 words to get your message across. That’s less than half the length of a ‘typical’ journal article, if such a thing even exists.  So, the basis of an ideal paper is a good, fresh idea (and we do usually mean idea, not ideas).  One that lends itself to a short, punchy explanation which gets the main points across clearly but with an economy of expression.  We want something new, that gets the readership talking and gets your ideas noticed in the wider academic world. The article needs to show them that you can communicate the kernel of this idea, locate it within the relevant academic debates and tell us why the research matters for policy and practice, and contributes to taking our discipline forward.  And does all that without waffle, without needless digressions, without a ten-page literature review.

Focus, focus, focus!

That’s not too much to ask, is it?  Well, yes, it very easily can be.  Concision of expression is a skill which needs to be honed – and learning the techniques will serve you well in your future career.  One of the common comments to authors is that the proposal makes it look like the paper is trying to do too much.  There are three or four ideas vying for valuable space, and it is impossible to do them all justice, leading to an unsatisfying and shallow treatment of the research.  Or the author gets lost in a tangle trying to identify the real heart of the research, and ends up cramming in as much detail as possible in their allotted word count – which again leads to shallowness, and confusion.  The key to a good RSRS Early Career paper is to think hard about that core research idea right from the start, and cut away everything other than the most relevant details, and the most relevant debates in the literature.  Of course, there’s more to it than that – the editorial team still looks for scientific excellence, logical reasoning and everything else that journal articles require.  We just need all that in 3,000 words.

Paul Braidford (@chigley2) is a Senior Research Fellow at Durham University and Editor for the Early Career Papers Section of Regional Studies, Regional Science.