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After submitting a paper, receiving comments back from reviewers and revising, the paper manuscript may be longer than the given word limit due to the additional content added (even if it was at or below the word limit in the original submission). For the sake of argument, say the revised paper is 10% or 20% longer than the word limit.

Shortening the paper without loosing any information may be difficult. Moving some paragraphs into the Supplements may be possible, but may make it more difficult to find relevant information or be aesthetically displeasing, such as writing "Additional discussions can be found in the Supplements." in the middle of the text.

Are there any guidelines on how willing journals might be to accept papers above the word limit after revisions? Is word length still strictly enforced or is this mainly checked upon initial submission? Would simply submitting and hoping for a quick response from the editor (in case this is unacceptable) be a good strategy? Or is this a bad idea since either it highly unlikely to be acceptable or has a risk of annoying the editor? Do you have any experience with this issue either from an author's or an editor's point of view?

  • In my opinion, this question appears to be off-topic because it refers to the specific policies of an editor, that we can't possibly know. – Davidmh Sep 18 '14 at 17:15
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    I am interested in the general issue, so please feel free to take this as a general question. I would imagine other academics might find themselves in a similar situation and some general advice might be useful, even if the specific journal policies may vary. – Rob Hall Sep 18 '14 at 17:19
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    Not really an experience and thus not an answer: But think about what would happen if journals generally allowed for this. All the horrible authors, who submit drafts instead of finished manuscripts anyway, would intentionally leave out important details or scale down their figures ridiculously just to meet the word limit. – Wrzlprmft Sep 18 '14 at 20:22
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    @Wrzlprmft: You are making an excellent point. Journals definitely would not advertise having a lenient policy after revision and would probably have to change it if it became widely known. However, I could imagine that they simply are not too worried about it as long as people do not seem to abuse it. – Rob Hall Sep 19 '14 at 11:24
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    Comment from a referee's point of view: I reviewed an article submitted for a special issue of a journal. In order to meet a page limit, the author had left out some auxiliary results that he had previously published in a Russian-language journal that was not available online. I recommended the paper be accepted only if the editors granted an extra 2-3 pages to allow those results to be included. The editors accepted my suggestion and waived the page limit. – Senex Oct 2 '14 at 6:34
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I can now provide an answer to my own question (I hope this is alright): I recently submitted a revised article that was about 15% longer than the word limit to a small biomedical journal. The original version of the article kept to the word limit. In the rebuttal letter, I explained that the article had become longer due to the reviewers' question. This article was accepted without further comment from the editor.

So it seems that at least some editors do not see a problems with longer articles, as long as the original submission keeps to the limit. I suspect that the rules may vary greatly between disciplines and journals and that no journal will ever explicitly state "we do not care about length for revised submissions". My PI was very confident that the article would be accepted, so it may be advisable to ask an experienced colleague in the field for their opinion.

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Note — my answer is from an author's point of view with experience publishing in IEEE Transactions-type journals. Your mileage may vary.

Are there any guidelines on how willing journals might be to accept papers above the word limit after revisions?

The guidelines for revisions are the same as those for the initial submission; that is, there are no separate guidelines for revisions.

Is word length still strictly enforced or is this mainly checked upon initial submission?

The guidelines I've encountered on manuscript length have dealt with page count specifically, not "word length." So, yes, the page count is strictly enforced on the initial submission and any subsequent revisions. In your case, there is probably a hard limit on word count for the journal you are submitting to regardless if it is a revision or not.

Would simply submitting and hoping for a quick response from the editor (in case this is unacceptable) be a good strategy? Or is this a bad idea since either it highly unlikely to be acceptable or has a risk of annoying the editor?

You can submit your over-length paper if it makes you feel better; however, the opportunity to annoy is always present when someone doesn't follow the rules. Having said that, the editors I've worked with in the past have been fairly quick to send back to me submissions that did not follow the guidelines.

For example, one journal I submitted to had just changed it's maximum page count while a paper of mine was undergoing the last stages of an internal review. I had not checked the page limit prior to submitting as I was already familiar with what the guidelines said regarding this matter (after all, I structured my paper to be compliant with the guidelines). Sure enough, the editor sent it back within a couple of hours.

In conclusion, there is a balancing act of sorts that goes in to revising papers such that they address referee comments sufficiently while maintaining compliance with the journal's guidelines on manuscript length, etc.

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    Thank you for your insights. Journals I typically deal with do the final layout themselves, so they have a word count rather than page limit. The resulting page count can vary quite a bit, due to different figure sizes and things such as figure legends and references not counting. I can imagine journals being strict about the page count, but could imagine them being more lenient with word count, as the final product might still vary in length quite a bit. – Rob Hall Sep 19 '14 at 11:38

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