Published on Development Impact

10 journals for publishing a short economics paper

This page in:
In the middle of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, I noticed that there were numbers being released on the number of orphans the outbreak was creating, but no transparent methodology for where those numbers were coming from. My colleague Anna Popova and I constructed numbers based on age- and gender-specific mortality and fertility rates, and we submitted the paper to the Lancet. It was a short but – we thought – useful paper. The Lancet published it as a “letter,” which means a short paper of 400 words, up to 5 references, and 1 table or figure. ( Here it is!) Later, we teamed up with Markus Goldstein to examine the likely impact of the epidemic of maternal mortality (via health worker mortality) and published that as a letter of similar proportions in the Lancet Global Health. ( Here’s that one!)

Good ideas don’t have to be long ideas. (I have a lot of short ideas.) But researchers can feel adrift as to where to send short papers. Here are some ideas, culled from my experience and that of the Twitter hive mind.

What is a short paper, and where can I publish it?
I identified 10 journals that publish short papers. I’ve listed them below, with links to the journals, what they call their short papers, and a link to a recent example.
Journal What they’re called Guidelines Example
Applied Economics Letters Manuscript ≤ 2,000 words “Adding value through the mechanization of post-harvest cassava processing, and its impact on household poverty in north-eastern Zambia,” by Abass et al.
Economics Bulletin Notes, Comments, or Preliminary results 7 printed pages (single spaced) “Public spending on education in Togo: Do the poor benefit?” by Djahini-Afawoubo
Economics Letters Manuscript ≤ 2,000 words Choice and Happiness in South Africa,” by Szabó & Ujhelyi
Economics of Education Review Short communication 2-5 printed pages I could not find a recent example. The editor confirmed that they publish few.
Health Economics Letters ≤ 2,000 words “A Short Note on Economic Development and Socioeconomic Inequality in Female Body Weight,” by Deuchert et al.
Journal of International Development “Short notes or ‘field reports’” ≤ 1,000 words “The Allocation of Capital in Rural Credit Markets,” by Burlando & Candidio
Lancet Letters 400 words (1 table/figure, 5 references) “Instability adversely affects HIV care in Haiti,” by Honoré et al.
Lancet Global Health Letters 400 words (1 table/figure, 5 references) “Effect of package insert language on health-care providers' perceptions of influenza vaccination safety during pregnancy,” by Top et al.
PLOS One Manuscript No restrictions on word count “Invitation Choice Structure Has No Impact on Attendance in a Female Business Training Program in Kenya,” by Diwan et al.
Science Reports ≤ 2,500 words (4 figures/tables, 30 references) “One-Time Transfers of Cash or Capital Have Long-Lasting Effects on Microenterprises in Sri Lanka,” by de Mel et al.

Okay, but where is the best place to publish short papers? 
Here are the same ten journals, ranked by the number of cites per document over two recent years, from Scimago (since it calculates for all journals). For journals for which it’s available (economics-related journals), I include the RePec rank, which is an aggregation of multiple impact measures.
Journal Cites / doc (2 years) RePec rank
Lancet 26.55 --
Science 18.05 --
Lancet Global Health 14.26 --
PLOS One 3.03 --
Health Economics 1.67 62
Economics of Education Review 1.37 126
Journal of International Development 0.91 287
Economics Letters 0.58 37
Applied Economics Letters 0.34 178
Economics Bulletin 0.20 56

Of course, for journals that don’t exclusively publish short papers, these numbers may not be very representative (if, for example, short papers are cited less frequently). Indeed, the three journals on the list that specialize in short papers – Economics Letters, Applied Economics Letters, and Economics Bulletin – have the lowest 2-year citation count per paper, although Economics Letters and Economics Bulletin do better on the aggregate mean (RePec rank). This shouldn’t be depressing: Hopefully short papers take less of your time to write, so a lower return (in terms of citations) may be okay.

Let’s complement that with a few examples. The Lancet letter on Ebola orphans, published in 2015, has 10 citations. The Lancet Global Health letter on Ebola-related maternal mortality has 23 citations, also published in 2015. De Mel et al.’s 2012 report on cash transfers in Science has 62 citations. Well, you might argue, these are all on topics of high interest in the highest ranked journals on the list. That’s true. (Also, at least with the first two, we wrote blog posts to promote them.)

If you publish in Economics Letters or Applied Economics Letters, are you destined to 0.34-0.58 citations? (What would a third or a half of a citation look like? Replace “Evans and Popova 2016” with “Evans a” or “Evans and P”; not very satisfying for my co-author.)

I checked a few 2012 issues of Economics Letters, 5 years old so there has been time for citations to level out (so, longer than the 2-year horizon above). Here is what I found for empirical development papers – which are not so common in Economics Letters. There are some, but there are a small minority of total papers in the journal. 
Paper Total Citations
Intelligence and Corruption, by Potrafke 75
Fertility choice under child mortality and social norms, by Battacharya & Chakraborty 14
Child gender and parental borrowing: Evidence from India, by Agier et al. 11
A back-door brain drain, by Stark & Byra 9
Accounting for the effect of health on cross-state income inequality in India, by Sperling & Kjoller-Hansen 1
Land reforms and social unrest: An empirical investigation of riots in India, by Roy 0

Schady and Rosero had a paper on cash transfers there in 2008 that has 122 citations. Hanushek and Woessman had an education paper there in 2011 that has 38 citations. These non-representative examples are intended to demonstrate only that there is a right tail, so if you have a paper that is of interest to the broader research community, it can still get cited if it’s in Economics Letters.

Isn’t this a lot of trouble? Why not just publish on a blog?
If you can get your work featured on a popular blog, then overall exposure might be higher than merely publishing in a journal, with less work. But I see several reasons to continue to try and publish short papers in journals.
  1. Different audiences: The journal and the blog post may well reach different audiences. Development Impact will likely reach a very different group of people (with some overlap) than the Lancet. Depending on the people you want to reach with your research, the journal may be a better fit.
  2. Adding audiences: If you publish the paper in a journal, you can still write a blog post about it. You’re much less likely to publish a paper about your blog post. Impossible in the 21st century? Surely not. But less likely.  
  3. Quality improvement: With our Lancet letter, we first submitted the paper elsewhere, where it was rejected but with very useful comments. The letter published by the Lancet was much better as a result of the peer review process.
Is it worth it?
If you believe there is value in expanding the audience, in the quality improvement, and if the citations are useful for you professionally, then it may be worthwhile. My two published letters came out quite quickly and were improved by the publication process. I have another letter that’s been sitting at a journal for 9 months, which seems like a lot for 5 pages.

Of course, if you have a really short idea, you can always go for the Journal of Brief Ideas. Or just tweet about it.


David Evans

Senior Fellow, Center for Global Development

Join the Conversation

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly
Remaining characters: 1000