The other day we tried to submit a journal paper summarizing the PhD work of one of my students. He had published a couple of conference papers and one workshop paper covering specific parts of his work and, after the PhD, he wanted to write a journal paper presenting the complete method. This is, I would say, a typical publication pattern.

The problem came when we tried to submit this paper to a journal. The paper was long, to be precise, 16.000 words long. This didn´t seem like a problem to me. This was the complete overview of 3-year work period and, IMHO, deserved this space in order to provide enough details of all the components and the relationships between them (remember that a typical 15-page LNCS paper is around 5.000 words so we’re talking about a paper just triple that size).

But, as usual, I was wrong. Journals do not seem interested in publishing high quality works regardless their size (not saying that mine was a high-quality work, but they don´t know either, they didn´t take the time to check). Journals just want to publish the more papers the better. The editor-in-chief immediately replied

The paper comes across as very long. This means that it will be difficult to find reviewers for the paper. Furthermore, the contribution of the paper will be judged in relation to its length. I would strongly suggest that you try to shorten the paper.

In a posterior email, the editor clarified that by shorten he meant no more than 11.000 words so basically he was asking to remove one third of the paper.

And it turns out this is a common requirement. The ACM TOSEM journal says:

Extremely long submissions — as a general rule, those that exceed approximately 11,000 words — may be returned without review at the discretion of the editor-in-chief. If placed into the review process, such submissions are not guaranteed review or publication in a timely fashion.

Since when a 11.000 words paper is an extremely long submission? Researchers always say that it´s a bad practice to publish only small increments over previously published works but journals are forcing us to do exactly that and stick to the minimum 30% novelty rule. Specially now that conference papers are following the complete opposite path and get larger and larger (many conferences now accept papers up to 18-20 pages in LNCS format).

And yes, there is an answer to my initial question. I could publish the complete research work in an open repository like arXiv but, unfortunately, that’s not a valid option for my student.

(btw, if you wondered what happened with the paper, we managed to reduce it to 12.500 words, it’s now a worse paper but hopefully still good enough to be published, and at least this time the editor sent it out for review).