15 Dec 2014

In this guest post Paul Braidford talks about the difficulties of publishing easily understandable econometric research in Regional Studies, Regional Science journal and the difficulties encountered by authors, especially early career authors, in reducing the size and complexity of their work so that it can be published in a 3000 word or less article. 

Looking back over the 16 Early Career articles published so far in Regional Studies, Regional Science, it’s noticeable that – in comparison with the non-EC articles – very few employ any form of sophisticated statistical modelling or econometric analysis as the main basis of the paper.  Laura McKim uses logistic regression, but without any detailed reporting of the variables, equations or results and with only a brief discussion of the choice of method.  Maxwell Douglas Hartt discusses the use of a spatial-temporal modelling tool, but - again - the actual modelling results are only briefly reported.  Compare this with the non-EC articles.  Out of a similar number of papers, four (Otsuka et al, Aguiar et al, Cebula et al and an de Meulen and Mitze) focus on modelling or econometric analysis, with more details of results, variables and methods.

This is, it should be stressed, merely an observation, rather than any sort of judgement on the quality of papers, nor should any judgement be implied.  Nonetheless, it is worth investigating the reasons why this apparent divergence might have come about.  It is also worth noting that there are several more econometric-based EC papers in the pipeline.  But there’s always room for more...
What, then, are the important lessons to bear in mind for EC researchers potentially looking to submit a paper which uses econometric techniques, statistical modelling or similar?  And why are more such papers not being submitted?

There are, as far as I can see, two main factors which may discourage authors from submitting this type of paper. Neither is an absolute barrier, and they are to an extent inter-related, but both require some careful thought about how to report findings and structure the article.

First, there is clearly the length restriction.  To qualify for the fee waiver, EC papers must be 3,000 words or less.  This poses a difficulty in fully reporting results, and, equally, fully describing variables and techniques.  Second, the Early Career section of RSRS, in both its current form and its earlier incarnation as Regional Insights, has always stressed that we aim to publish articles on new ideas and fresh thinking, accessible to readers from the wide range of disciplines which fall under Regional Studies.  This may, unfortunately, discourage some potential authors from submitting papers based on novel statistical techniques, or which rely on the application of specific techniques in order to derive results, as they may believe they are too specialist or not accessible.

To take the second point first, it is clear that some papers are not right for the EC section, and would fit better in other journals. For example, papers which seek to develop methodological points would probably be more appropriately submitted to Spatial Economic Analysis.  But submitting to RSRS involves a different take on the issues; learning to communicate your ideas to a wider audience in a succinct manner is a valuable skill.  ‘Generalist’ readers interested in Regional Studies can understand even fairly complex techniques, as long as there is a clear explanation accompanying them – the trick lies in how you write the paper for this audience, rather than in how you do the analysis, necessarily.  Note the techniques you used, and a brief explanation of why they are being used, as well as any pros or cons.  Do not ‘dumb down’ the explanations but – at the same time – use common sense to guide you in what a generalist reader would be expected to know or would need to know in order to follow your arguments.  Anything more complex can be paraphrased, with a reference to be followed up by those desiring a fuller explanation.  RSRS mainly publishes papers which have clear implications for policy or practice, and articles should reflect that – i.e. clearly, but briefly, explain the methodology, variables and results, highlighting the most important points of relevance to policy makers or practitioners, with the full data available on request to those interested. Focus more heavily on the implications of the analysis.

In turn, this helps with problems of length. In summarising the statistical portions, this should leave sufficient space to concentrate more on the literature and implications, showing the reader – and the editors – that the author has understood the issues.(Alongside, of course, providing the full analysis to the reviewers, as you would expect, so that they can check for omissions or inadvertent errors.)

In short, then, we would welcome the submission of more EC abstracts using econometric techniques. Importantly, though, they need to make the effort to be accessible to non-specialists; to judiciously select the most relevant points to include in order to get the argument across; to include sufficient detail about the econometrics to make it clear how the analysis has been performed; and to clearly and concisely highlight the contribution of the paper to the wider field of Regional Studies.

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