How Long is a Piece of String?

Digressing from our review template blogs (although word length is part of the review process), this week I want to talk to you about article length.

Here in Australia (and possibly elsewhere), when asking a question about how much of something might be required, or how long something might take, the frivolous answer might well be ‘how long’s a piece of string’? Another less than useful aphorism is the response of some teachers to a student questioning how long an essay should be: ‘as long as it takes to answer the question’! Both are used as an indication that there is some uncertainty. However, when it comes to a journal article there is no uncertainty: the IAFOR Journal of Education and most other journals, specify the length of the article. Journals may vary on this length and on what is, and isn’t, included, but for an individual journal a length is specified.

What is the word length?

In the author guidelines (you do all read the entire page closely, don’t you?) you'll find the following statement: Contributions should be between 4,000 and 7,000 words in length (including references, but excluding the abstract).

They give you some ‘wiggle room’, but are clear about the minimum and maximum length. We also make the same statement, as a reminder, on the submission page. Despite this, there are still submissions which are vastly under (1,300 words) or over (11,000 words) being submitted.

Why have a word length?

Word length is not imposed by journals just to make things more difficult for authors. Just as a word length is given for titles for good reason (see the previous blog), so is a word length for articles and abstracts.

You want as many people to read your article as possible. However, most academics are very busy people and they read several articles a week in between the rest of their work. They want to read an article that is concise, but which also includes the relevant material. A quick sweep of the word range for education journals will show that 4,000 to 7,000 words is fairly normal. This length allows you to explain the rationale, provide a literature review, describe your methodology and findings, and discuss the results.

Your email is included at the end of our articles so that interested readers can contact you if they want more information. Don’t feel that you need to include everything in one article, but also don’t presume you will be contacted and therefore write too little.

The art of being concise

A good journal article is one where you are concise. This means that you avoid unnecessary words. One simple example is;

There are two galahs which are sitting in the gum trees outside my window.

This could be more concise and convey the same information by being written as:

Two galahs are in the gums outside my window.

No meaning has been lost and you have saved five words. The example may seem trite, but the same process can remove many excess words from your articles.

Having written about not being wordy, I will take my own advice and finish here. Meanwhile, all stay well and we continue to look forward to your papers,


Dr Yvonne Masters
IAFOR Journal of Education

Read the previous posts on the Review Process –

JoE is an internationally reviewed and editorially independent interdisciplinary journal associated with IAFOR’s international conferences on education. Like all IAFOR publications, it is freely available to read online, and is free of publication fees for authors. The first issue was published in May 2013, and the journal will publish four issues in 2020.

Indexed in: Scopus, DOAJ, ERIC, EBSCO Discovery Service, MIAR, TROVE, Scilit, SHERPA/RoMEO, WorldCat, Google Scholar, and Ulrich's™. DOIs are assigned to each published issue and article via Crossref.


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