I wonder why so many publishing venues limit the length of paper submissions. I understand that such page limits were first created when papers were published offline, but nowadays, what are the reasons? One important downside of page limits it that authors often crop useful details out, which hinders reproducibility and/or understanding.
Earlier this year, I attended an editor’s panel at a conference, which included some editors of letter journals, i.e., journals with a strong length limit and higher relevance threshold (e.g., PRL with a limit of 3500 words, if you have no figures). In their presentations and answers they implied the following benefits of a length limit for these letter journals:
- It accelerates the peer-review process, as the reviewers need to read less.
- It makes the papers more attractive for readers (and thus increases the impact), as they need less time to read them and focus on the central results.
There are a couple reasons I can think of why page limits might be imposed:
- "when papers were published offline, but nowadays"...I've got six physical journals sitting on my desk. Papers are still published offline.
- Even if they don't arrive in bound journal form, many people, myself included, still print journal articles. How an article is distributed and how it is actually read are not the same thing.
- For journals that provide typesetting, copy editing, etc., the amount of work they're required to do will scale upwards as the length of articles gets longer. Having a page limit at least imposes some sort of ceiling on that.
- It imposes a kind of discipline on the paper writing process that hopefully makes a paper more acceptable. Long, undirected digressions, spending a lot of time in the metaphorical "weeds' in the methods section, etc. are discouraged with size limits - again, hopefully promoting papers appearing in a way that's of general interest and readable to the audience of the journal. As some people have mentioned, unstructured supplemental material is often offered for those longer form sections that are only of interest to a much more narrow audience.
An additional reason is that it may become impossible to secure reviews, or decent reviews, if the paper is too long. I would decline to review any paper that is longer than 50 pages unless it was clearly superb, and many reviewers would accept, but then not do a high-quality review. However, if an article contains large amounts of supporting data which does not need to be scrutinized piece-by-piece, then greater page length might not be an impediment for reviewers.
Page limit in conferences and/or symposiums are based on the research field. For example a full paper in a high rank electronic journal is 4 pages, where in computer science is 10-12. Two main reasons:
Enough Information: The page limit is given by the conference organisers and it should be enough to provide enough information about a topic in that field.
Not a Journal Nor an Abstract: They should draw a line somewhere, if there are too many pages, then the publication become journal. If not then it becomes an abstract. Most of the time the page limit is somewhere in between.