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.

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    Anyway, I'm absolutely in favour of page limits, even with online publications. There are authors who seem unable to reasonably limit themselves and try to put everything they've done in a paper, even when it is barely connected to the title. And really, I don't want to read 50 page long papers, unless all those 50 pages are really significant. – Massimo Ortolano Oct 28 '15 at 18:31
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    ...and some authors go on and on at length about unrelated garbage without limits. – Bill Barth Oct 28 '15 at 18:32
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    In many journals, you can use the Supporting Information document, which has no page limit, for technical details. – Marat Talipov Oct 28 '15 at 18:35
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    Thanks. Shouldn't it be up to the reviewers do give such feedback, rather than enforcing such page limits a priori? Also, do venues that have no page limit actually have this kind of issue (prolixity)? – Franck Dernoncourt Oct 28 '15 at 18:36
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    The hardest thing to write is a short paper. It really makes you refine everything until you are sure that each sentence and word is necessary to make your point. And, you have to figure out what your point really is. You are trying to take somebody through an exposition so they understand something at the end of it, not write another Faulkner or James Joyce novel (which are good, but not a technical paper). – Jon Custer Oct 28 '15 at 20:04

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.
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    Before anybody begins to argue: These are the journal’s/editor’s arguments, not mine (in fact, I think there are some serious practical flaws to them). – Wrzlprmft Oct 28 '15 at 21:19

There are a couple reasons I can think of why page limits might be imposed:

  1. "when papers were published offline, but nowadays"...I've got six physical journals sitting on my desk. Papers are still published offline.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
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    I think number 4 might be the best reason to limit length. – APrioriRainbows Oct 28 '15 at 20:35
  • @APrioriRainbows They are definitely not listed in order of importance :) – Fomite Oct 28 '15 at 20:35
  • Oh yes--just adding my two cents (airing my grievances about much academic writing). – APrioriRainbows Oct 28 '15 at 20:36

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.

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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.

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