how long should asa papers be allowed to be?

My last post noted that ASA changed its rule from having a 20 page limit to having now saying 15-35 pages. I think this is a good change. Fabio dissents:

Dissent here: I oppose paper bloat. Thus, I always praised the 20 page limit because it forced people to get to the point. You only have 15 minutes to present, for crying out loud.

My view on this is that I would never write a paper just so I can present at ASA, and I wouldn’t advise anyone else to, either, except maybe people who are in positions where they have no interest in publishing but are really desperate for travel funds. In my preferred world, ASA would allow people to submit slide decks, as well as something much more promissory than a full paper if it’s going to be due over 7 months before the conference. Specifying “working/draft paper” is definitely progress.

In the end, ASA does require papers. In that world, I’m for whatever minimizes the extent to which people end up doing work that diverges from the paper they are writing for publication, simply for the purpose of pleasing the one person that will end up looking at the abstract and possibly skimming the paper (i.e., the ASA session organizer). The problem with the 20-page rule is naive folks would spend irrational amounts of time cutting or revising longer papers in order to meet the page limit. This makes no sense.

Author: jeremy

I am the Ethel and John Lindgren Professor of Sociology and a Faculty Fellow in the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University.

14 thoughts on “how long should asa papers be allowed to be?”

  1. Key here is “naive folks.” It’s awful to think of anyone hunched over their computers cutting to create an ASA version of a masterpiece, but I bet this change does little to alter the average length of submissions given how many people ignored the previous limit (as evidenced by the earlier discussions we’ve had at scatterplot).

    As far as the 15 minute limit goes, one should never underestimate a sociologist’s ability to turn even a short paper into a long-winded talk or assume that someone who follows a rule about page limits will necessarily demonstrate the same restraint when the presider is flashing a giant zero scribbled on a hotel writing pad.

    To answer your original question, I prefer a limit to a range, as sometimes I have submitted full papers, but other times I’ve submitted more of an extended abstract with the key components of a paper (minus an in-depth lit review and/or detailed discussion of analyses/results).

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  2. I was one of those “naive folks” for my first ASA submission. And that wasn’t too long ago. I spent way too much time trying to cram a diss chapter into the 20 page limit. I thought that is what everyone else was doing.

    I can’t say I agree with allowing PPT slides or something too rough, though. My regional conf. (Southerns) accepts somewhat longish abstracts, and it’s pretty clear that most of the presentations haven’t really evolved beyond that.

    What I like about having to submit an actual, semi-polished paper is that it helps me keep the ball rolling on projects (been working on my ASA15 submission the past week more than I would have had I been able to submit slides).

    Not really sure what the answer is, unfortunately. I’ve presented at about 6 or 7 ASA paper sessions, and I’ve never really gotten any useful feedback at them. Ever.

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  3. Still dissenting:

    1. Many fields that sociologists publish in have short papers. So 35 pages PLUS extras is way beyond the pale for informatics, biomedical research, and some other social science fields (i.e., ethnic studies journals usually do short papers and public health). Thus, it is erroneous to think that everyone is automatically writing 35+ page papers for the ASR.

    2. Ask yourself, how many soc papers truly need 35+ pages of explanation? Basically the new rule is a strike against the philosophy of Soc Science, which emphasizes short papers.

    3. Who said that all ASA papers will be journal articles? Many (most?) will never get published. Some are MA and dissertation papers. Some might be research notes, etc.

    4. Many of us are naive. We write articles first and then trim/expand for conferences. Personally, I found trimming to 20 way easier than expanding to 35 because long papers almost always have “reviewer protection” fluff not real material. Taking a simple analysis and puffing up lit review and what not is a serious effort.

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    1. I wouldn’t mind if the discipline moved toward shorter papers for a lot of applications, but the place for leadership from that is from paper destinations (i.e., journals) not an intermediate point. If anything, ASA conferences shouldn’t have a policy that discourages the modal paper accepted by an ASA journal.

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  4. As we speak, I am unnecessarily puffing up a methods section with details I have already published, just to make it look more legit. analysis new, but it is simple. But since people want long windedness, I must repeat myself.

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  5. I think I agree with Jeremy here. If you want the Soc Science option (or Nature/natural science option) you just submit a short paper (20 pages). If you don’t, you submit a full manuscript. The current standard allows greater flexibility. I have also wasted time trying to cut a paper to match the ASA restriction. I think the methods standards have also increased in the discipline sufficiently to warrant more room to write about them. We also require fairly elaborate theory sections in most of our professionally published outlets (AJS, ASR, SF). How else can you cite and explain some argument in “Distinction” without room to write? Do people remember how long the ASA 20 page rule was in effect? Have these standards changed over time?

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  6. ” I’ve presented at about 6 or 7 ASA paper sessions, and I’ve never really gotten any useful feedback at them. Ever.”

    This.

    It’s fun to jaw about paper length restrictions and 7-month lags and “number of appearance” rules that penalize the discipline’s most productive scholars and algorithms for assigning sessions that benefit declining and low-membership sections and a system for allocating overflow sessions that creates a strong incentive for authors to submit to regular sessions over section sessions. (At least one large section actually instructs its members to list regular sessions as their first choice, instead of its section’s own sessions.)

    Wait, where was I?

    Yes, the real problem with the ASA meetings is that the median quality of papers is low, session attendance is poor, and the odds of getting useful feedback are tiny. This feeds on itself: without intellectual or exposure benefits to presenting, there’s little incentive for established scholars to present, which lowers median quality and, in turn, the payoff to attending sessions. (Yes, established scholars can sometimes offer up stinkers, and less established scholars can sometimes offer up brilliant work; I’m talking about central tendencies, not universals.)

    Not all large disciplinary conferences have this problem. I’ve been to other flagship social science conferences, and was struck by the much higher ratio of tenured professor to grad student/assistant prof presenters. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that these conferences also had a much higher ratio of session attenders to lobby mill-ers and barflies.

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  7. Some of us are frantically finishing our new papers before three pm today because yes, we need the travel funds, and yes, we want to publish, but we have not seriously had time for research since August, and even the most organized among us cannot manage to write next year’s ASA paper before we finish presenting this year’s. Personally, I wish that the submissions were in the 5-10 page range, enough to be able to tell if this is a real thing and not just an unrealized abstract but short enough so that we were not writing entire papers that we would not be able to touch on half of at the conference.

    In any case, counting paper length in terms of page numbers makes absolutely no sense. The paper I am working on right now is currently 20 pages including tables and references; if I slightly adjust the paper formatting, it becomes 38 pages. I had a paper returned from an ASA journal several years ago because the submission standards listed a page length but did not clarify that the page length would only be assessed once the paper was converted to 12-point Arial, and I write in the much-smaller Garamond (This policy has subsequently been clarified, though spacing is still not addressed). Now that we all write in word processing software with word count functions rather than pecking out our pages on typewriters, it seems to me that length guidelines would more usefully be expressed in word counts.

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  8. In decades of going to ASA it’s been a rare presenter who had 20 pages of ideas to convey, let alone 35. I’m with Krippendorf above: the devil of ASA’s problems don’t lie in page limit and related details. Let’s get realistic and recognize that many (most) presentations are essentially work in progress reports and stop making all sessions pretend to be a panel of finished work.

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  9. i agree with @mikaila above — 10 page max. that’s more than what you can actually present on in 15-20 mins. 20-35 pages is a journal draft ms that you then have to shrink back down to 8 pages or so to present. other conferences (like aaa and apsa) just want short or long abstracts. why is asa so special?

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