I am currently working on a paper in the field of image reconstruction, or computational biology if you will. Now matter how I slice or dice it, it is one of these stories that cannot be told in 3500 words or so. Not only are there several equally important methodological points that need to be discussed to get a complete story, there is also quite a bit of background required to point out the subtle flaws in the currently popular ways of approaching this particular problem; and it takes some words to clearly point out what may appear to be a subtle problem from a distance, especially while making sure to be fair to everyone.

I don't intend to butcher what I feel is a solid and profound story for the sake of cramming it into some word budget. I am no fan of needless verbosity, but I really am going to need about 20 pages to do this right. I strongly prefer to publish in an open access journal. And I would imagine that an open access online journal does not have as much of an incentive to be stingy with word counts, no? PLOS computational biology would be a logical choice, yet they do have a restrictive word count. I can't find any open access journals that appear to be sympathetic to my plight.

Am I missing something? Or should I just write the whole article first, make that into the supplement, and then write a 3000 word teaser with nonstop references to the supplement to substantiate my claims? I am somewhat afraid that people will actually miss the point without an explicit disclaimer at the start of the 'article', along the lines of 'hey, if you want to read the actual story with a good flow to it, you need to start reading the supplement. this is basically just a drawn out abstract.'. If you are referring to the supplement, the convention is to refer to a figure of secondary importance; not to three pages of text you kind of have to read first to understand the rest of the article.

Does anyone have a helpful perspective on such a situation?

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    20 pages is not a particularly long journal paper.
    – JeffE
    Commented Feb 11, 2014 at 6:47
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    I know; longer papers have been published. But as for my field, which journals would you suggest? I don't know of any that will take it. Commented Feb 11, 2014 at 7:31
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    20 pages is suspiciously short to be the longest format a journal is willing to accept. Are you sure the restriction in PLOS Computational Biology applies to you? Having read their author instructions, the 3500 word count only seems to apply to software articles. Alternatively, can't you move parts of the article to supplementary files? Commented Mar 5, 2014 at 16:59

2 Answers 2


Plos One do not have an explicit word count limit, and computational biology should be on-topic for them:

There are no explicit restrictions for the number of words, figures, or the length of the supporting information, although we encourage a concise and accessible writing style.

For further info see http://plosone.org/static/guidelines

Also, have you seen that Plos Computational Biology has two types of articles, Research articles and Software articles, and that the 3500 word limit only applies to the latter (see http://www.ploscompbiol.org/static/guidelines). For Research articles they only say:

Although we have no firm length restrictions for the entire manuscript, we urge authors to present and discuss their findings concisely.

  • thanks; that is very helpful information. I must have read their info page too rapidly. Plos One is also a good match for my target audience and has an impact factor which I think matches well. Commented Feb 11, 2014 at 23:25

Have you considered arXiv? They are open-access and handle quantitative biology e-prints. Here's an excerpt that may interest you from their "Oversized Submissions" help page:

If you have trouble submitting a very long paper, such as a long review article with many small figures, or a thesis, AND you are sure that you have efficient figures, then contact the archive administrators to ask for an exception (be sure to quote the automatic rejection identifier and to explain the large size).

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    I have considered arxiv; but I would like to publish in a peer reviewed journal. Many good non-biologist scientists I know are perfectly happy to publish only on their personal website; and so would I. But biology as a field is VERY conservative in this regard, and my coauthors wouldn't have any of it. sum of impact factor == grant money; at least that's the perception. Commented Feb 11, 2014 at 7:34
  • I don't suppose your coauthors have any ideas either... :\ Commented Feb 11, 2014 at 16:15
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    A colleague today suggested journal of microscopy. Indeed it appears they would take the subject matter and length; although it isn't a big step up from self-publication, impact-wise ;) Commented Feb 11, 2014 at 16:28

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