AJPS Editors’ Blog

December 1st marked our first six months as co-editors of AJPS. We want to thank our associate editors, board members, authors, and reviewers for a very smooth transition. Now that we have some experience under our belts, we thought we’d offer some thoughts about several topics that might be helpful to reviewers and authors alike. So, on occasional Tuesdays, we’ll post a short entry about some aspect of the journal submission, review, or publication process that we’ve had to address over the course of the last six months. While these issues are probably relevant to most journals, we only speak for ourselves and our expectations for AJPS.

Appendices, Supporting Information, Supplemental Materials, You Get the Picture

In the old days – like the early 2000s – most articles appeared exclusively in print. Authors struggled with word counts because submissions had to include all relevant material, including appendices. Online supplemental appendices now allow authors to focus the body of the text on telling the main story. Details about survey questions, experimental treatments, alternative model specifications, robustness checks, and additional analyses can be relegated to the appendix. The upside is that articles themselves can be shorter, crisper, and more straightforward, but readers can still find clarifying information in the appendix. The downside is that some authors have taken a “more is better” and “better safe than sorry” approach to appendix compilations. In our six months on the job, we have received 10,000-word manuscripts that are “supported” by 50, 75, even 100-page appendices. Most appendices aren’t this long, but almost every manuscript now comes with significant supplemental materials.

We understand why authors do this. Why not preempt any concern a reviewer might raise, provide every alternative specification possible to model, and share every detail about the research design and protocol? The problem is that while appendix space may seem “free” to authors, it comes with a substantial cost to reviewers, who are now often faced with a 10,000-word manuscript and an equally long or longer appendix. Anything that increases the burden on reviewers makes an overworked system even more precarious.

At AJPS, we limit supplemental appendices to 20 pages. We believe that this gives authors sufficient space to provide additional information that might not belong in the body of a manuscript but is still important to the paper’s central contribution. In enforcing this limit, we ask authors to think carefully about what they really need to include in an appendix verbatim versus what they can summarize. If you run three experiments with identical treatments, you only need to offer the script of the treatment once. If you’re providing alternative analyses, you don’t have to provide every model you ever ran or think a reviewer might anticipate. If the additional material doesn’t merit some discussion in the main paper, then the more elaborate discussion doesn’t belong in the appendix either. As a general rule, we believe that a manuscript must be able to stand on its own. A reader must be able to understand it and find it convincing even without the appendix. The appendix, in other words, should be a place to provide information about “housekeeping” details, not a way to back door in thousands of words you couldn’t fit in the paper itself.

We know that limiting appendix pages can be anxiety-inducing for authors. That’s probably why so many of you request exemptions. But we’ve found that requiring authors to distinguish between what’s essential and what might be extraneous improves the quality of the manuscript and makes the task of reviewing that much easier and more reasonable – something every author appreciates when wearing the hat of a reviewer.

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The American Journal of Political Science (AJPS) is the flagship journal of the Midwest Political Science Association and is published by Wiley.

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