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News Feature: Article Standardisation

Four authors, two from Leiden University in the Netherlands and two from York University in Canada, raise the question in the title of their London School of Economics blog entry: “Does increasing standardisation of journal articles limit intellectual creativity?” The article begins by citing Rob Warren’s article with the interesting observation that “researchers in American sociology departments have published almost twice as much in recent years compared to the 1990s.”¹ Trying to maximise their own publications affects “how scientists decide which research projects to pick, which collaborations to seek out, and when research projects should be considered completed.”¹ In a scientometric study, the authors found that “perpetual growth in the production of articles is accompanied by a homogenisation of article characteristics. Articles increasingly converge at around 20 pages, they contain between 50 and 60 references, and they are increasingly the product of collaborative authorship (although sole authorship remains prominent).“¹

One consequence of standardisation appears to be that journals in the past had a greater number of “essays, opinion pieces, and more literary writing”.¹ The standardisation has practical advantages for early-career authors in potentially precarious employment situations: “Juggling term-limited project contracts becomes more manageable when treated as the production of a typical form of output, since it allows for calculating investments and payoffs.”¹ Format “homogeneity” also “reduces effort when resubmitting a manuscript to a journal after an initial rejection…”¹ The authors use the term “black-boxing” as a way of labelling research methods to make reuse easier without having to engage in the details of the method too actively. The space saving can be a plus, but also reduces the opportunity for discussion.

In the end the question about whether a higher degree of standardisation affects creativity remains open. A highly structured research paper is easier to read, because the reader can anticipate where to find key information without struggling though long and sometimes poorly written paragraphs. The authors worry nonetheless this could discourage “varied intellectual traditions and concepts”¹ The risk is certainly there, but the blog format that the authors used to present their article may also be one of the ways in which creativity can live on. The question for early career researchers is: would a blog post count?


1: Kaltenbrunner et al. (2022). The great convergence – Does increasing standardisation of journal articles limit intellectual creativity?


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