On Choosing a Format

So I’m in a bit of a pickle here. I am currently working on a study with another graduate student, and we are writing up our results right now. The study is a mathematical analysis with large-scale biological implications. As we are writing it up, I am torn with a decision that happens at least once to every academic trying to publish. Letter or Article?

To those who don’t know, there are two formats for publishing scientific research: the monograph, the article, and the letter (sometimes called note or report). The article is the standard format. Intro, Methods, Results, Discussion. Moderate length and plain speaking, it is the default for any person willing to publish their research. Monographs are larger, more detailed, and more comprehensive than articles. They are articles on steroids. Letters are short, quick to read, and pithy but assumed to have broad consequences. For any person doing any research, it is quite tricky to determine the category of write-up where their research belongs. Length obviously gives an upper-bound. If there is not enough for a monograph, it must be an article or letter. If not enough for an article, then definitely a letter. But when deciding between multiple formats it can be tough to decide. Which results are important, which are extra? Who is my target audience? Are my results significant enough? Especially in an era where any extra information can be tossed into an online appendix, the question of formats becomes really difficult.

Currently, I’m struggling with whether our study should be in a note format or an article format. There are reasons for it being a note, some valid, some not. Some invalid reasons are that I’m lazy, and I’d rather not do the work required (I can admit to my faults). A valid reason is that I am appropriately lazy though. This work is in a field that is not mine. Though I am interested in it and would like to continue exploring it, I don’t think I should do the necessary work to understand it especially when I am working on finishing up my studies, a far more important task. Another (potentially) valid reason is that this is (I think) a significant study with wide implications. I want academics to read this, and human nature states the longer an article, the less people read it. Furthermore, I want biologists of all kinds to read this, and this is a mathematical study. While there are mathematical biologists, I don’t want non-mathematicians reading equations and getting lost especially considering the implications affect them the most. Online appendices allow us to still offer those necessary equations if people want to see it. Lastly, I don’t want to have to beat around the bush. I want to get to the point quickly and simply. Why do I need to say something in 40,000 characters if I can say it in 20,000 or less?

On the flipside, one can come with a series of reasons why to keep it as an article. If I am interested in this field, I should do the necessary research, if just for the fact that I can continue and find interesting studies. As well, who’s to say biologists won’t be able to understand or even enjoy the math? I may be underestimating a broad swath of people. And if the math is so necessary, why chuck it into an appendix? It’s the meat of the study; it should be prominent. As well, one of the mathematical analyses uses a specific function. I think the results may be generalizable, but I have not proved it. The equations certainly matter in that part of the analysis. And can I be so cocky to think my work is so important it must reach the widest audience possible?

I’m not sure what to do at this point. My emotions drag me towards a letter yet I still remain with the article. I don’t know what to do at this point. I don’t think I can come to an easy answer…


If you were expecting a nice resolution, I think you’re at the wrong blog.