Obviously, there are no hard and fast rules for the number of pages an author needs to convey research findings accurately. How many pages is enough? How many is too many? Authors need space not only for describing the results of their research, but also for laying down the background and explaining out how their findings contribute to the current sum of knowledge in their fields. Most journal editors, on the other hand, probably would tell you that authors tend to write too much rather than too little, and that setting page limits encourages submission of more succinct (and more readable) papers.
These are matters mBio has wrangled with over the last year, and after much deliberation we’ve come up with a policy for page limits: Research Articles are limited to eight pages, Observations are limited to four pages, and so on: http://mbio.asm.org/site/misc/authors.xhtml.
But why should mBio set page limits? After all, if articles are being published online only and not in a printed journal issue, the case certainly could be made that an article should be “as long as it needs to be” to present and explain the author’s findings. There are two main rationales underlying ASM’s decision to impose a page limit on mBio papers: cost and readability.
The costs of printing a journal on paper are minor compared to the costs of supporting peer review and performing necessary preproduction work before a paper is published online, and longer papers make for more work and higher costs. The costs of XML tagging, copyediting, composition, creating proofs, and converting files all are based on the number of pages, figures, and tables in the article. In addition, many of the costs of publishing and maintaining journals online also are tied to file size and the number of web pages. Since mBio is ASM’s first open access journal, we wanted to charge a reasonable and competitive publication fee, while still fully covering costs. By adopting new technologies to drive production costs down and limiting the number of final pages, we could afford to set the publication fee at $2,000 per article for ASM members, without compromising the quality of either the editing or the presentation of mBio articles compared to the other ASM journals.
Another consideration is the role envisioned for mBio with the family of ASM journals. mBio encourages submission of cutting edge papers, even before the “full story” is ready for publication in a longer paper, so shorter articles make sense for the Research Article and Observation categories. We’ve also set some ambitious goals for reviewer turnaround time, with the expectation that by submitting more succinct, tightly written papers, authors can help reviewers readily grasp the critical aspects of a piece of work. When a paper requires a longer treatment, we hope authors will choose to submit it to another of ASM’s nine highly respected research journals.
Open access is relatively new, and the rules for it are still being written. We’d like your input on how to make open access work for ASM. What do you think of our page limits policies? Would page limits prevent you from publishing with mBio? Or do you think folks are more likely to read an article if it’s short but sweet?