With the exception of a few disciplines, most studies indicate longer articles tend to gain more citations than shorter ones. Of course, length is relative and the studies compare articles only within their disciplines. Thus, while 20 pages may be considered long in some fields, the legal field would classify it as short. When following this tip, make sure you understand what’s considered “long” in the area you write in.
There are several possible explanations for the favorable treatment authors give long articles. It could be that more content simply offers more opportunities for citations. Perhaps a longer article with several tangents, gains its additional citations from cites to the tangents, while a shorter article, relying solely on its main argument, ends up with fewer citations. In the SEO world, there is a technique to write on tangents in hopes of increasing traffic.
Another theory is that longer articles give the appearance of authoritativeness, leading more authors to cite them. Google, who has access to more data than any of the studies included here, appears to favor longer form content. Finally, at least one study has suggested that it is not length itself that drives citations but factors that are positively correlated to length. This study found that more references, figures, tables, and equations meant more citations and longer papers tended to have more of these items then shorter ones. According to this study, additional pages would only increase citations if they had additional references, figures, tables, and/or equations.
Whatever the reason, we recommend increasing article length when it makes sense. The exception would be for those authoring papers in terrorism, mass extinction, complex network analysis, knowledge domain visualization, and some branches of engineering, life sciences, and natural sciences.
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As touched on above, exploring tangents to your main argument can provide opportunities to lengthen your article. It’s likely that readers who are drawn to your main point will also have some interest in items that relate to your main point. If you do these tangents well, you’ll give your article additional opportunities for citations.
Strive to make your paper comprehensive on your main topic. Presumably, you’re writing on something unique. Being the first to write on a topic affords you a great opportunity to establish yourself as the expert. If you can write the paper that everyone cites, even for one narrow point, you greatly increase your chances of being cited often. Further, SEO experts believe that Google favors authoritative content. This means (a) your article will stand a better chance of ranking well within Google’s algorithm and (b) Google’s algorithm likely accurately reflects what readers are after.
If possible, refute all data or arguments that cut against your thesis or findings. Not only will this give you an opportunity to lengthen your article, it will also strengthen your paper and give you a chance to cite others' work, which is also another way to increase citations.
Finally, if you’re working in a discipline where something other than text tends to increase citations, make sure to include the item(s) as you add additional length.
Shi Young Lee, Sanghack Lee, Sung Hee Jun
George A. Antoniou, Stavros A. Antoniou, Efstratios I. Georgakarakos, George S. Sfyroeras, George S. Georgiadis
major vascular and general surgical journals
Ian Ayres, Fredrick E. Vars
53 pages is optimal length according to this study. It looked at articles published between 1980 to 1995, in three top law journals.
Christiana E. Hilmer, Jayson L. Lusk
Found that advantage of long articles disappeared when conference / proceedings papers were excluded.
Matthew E. Falagas, Angeliki Zarkali, Drosos E. Karageorgopoulos, Vangelis Bardakas, Michael N. Mavros
general medicine journals
Study only had 226 articles.
Barbara J. Robson, Aurélie Mousquès
Nick Haslam, Peter Koval
social, personality psychology
Yassine Gargouri, Chawki Hajjem, Vincent Larivière, Yves Gingras, Les Carr, Tim Brody, Stevan Harnad
General / interdisciplinary
Maarten van Wesel, Sally Wyatt, Jeroen ten Haaf
sociology, general & internal medicine, applied physics
Nick Haslam, Lauren Ban, Leah Kaufmann, Stephen Loughnan, Kim Peters, Jennifer Whelan, Sam Wilson
Looked at articles from 1998.
Tai‐Quan Peng, Jonathan J.H. Zhu
Minho So, Jiyoung Kim, Sangki Choi, Han Woo Park
science and technology, including natural sciences, life sciences, and engineering
This was the largest study we looked at. It included over 45,000 papers.
terrorism, mass extinction, complex network analysis, and knowledge domain visualization
Found negative impact of longer papers to be very small.
Pamela Royle, Ngianga-Bakwin Kandala, Katharine Barnard, Norman Waugh
life and health sciences
Natsuo Onodera, Fuyuki Yoshikane
condensed matter physics, inorganic and nuclear chemistry, electric and electronic engineering, biochemistry and molecular biology, physiology, and gastroenterology
Found that although length had a positive correlation with citations, it was not a significant predictor because it had a positive correlation with other explanatory variables - i.e. references, figures, tables, and equations. The authors concluded that this meant those other explanatory variables were better predictors.
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