Journal Article Length: How Long should my Academic Manuscript be?

journal articles peer-review Oct 23, 2022
How long should my journal article be?

You've finished your research, are writing the manuscript and now you need to know how long it should be. While there is no universal format for academic manuscripts, on average they are between 4,000 and 7,000 words in length (although this will vary for many reasons discuss below). So how do you know where your paper falls with respect to these guidelines and what makes a good length?

The strongest factor influencing article length is about communication

The best journal article length is the minimum number of words you need to convince your readers of your main argument. It includes the details required to make your main argument and no more than that. Remember, your number one goal is to effectively communicate the results of your research.

This means your Introduction only covers topics that are directly relevant to your main argument. The Results section contains the analyses that are directly relevant to your main research question. The Discussion section succinctly revisits the topics in your Introduction, acknowledges the limitations of your research, and makes suggestions for future research, without being repetitive.

The length of your academic paper is first determined by how many words you need to communicate your main message.


(PS. For more information about how to structure your journal article you can check out this article).

Beyond communicating your message, there are, of course, other guidelines to consider when determining journal article length.

On average, manuscripts are between 4,000 and 7,000 words in length, but there is a lot of variability

In general, academic articles are between 4,000 and 7,000 words long. However, there is a lot of variability depending on the discipline, article type, and journal.

For example, medicine and science articles tend to be shorter than social science and humanities articles. Original research articles tend to be shorter than Review articles. And articles in high-impact journals like Nature and Science are short format (~2500), much shorter than in other discipline-specific journals.  

Shorter journal articles are usually better

The last thing you want to do is write a longer paper because you think this will help it get published. It won’t. Keep in mind that short papers are more concise and focused, and thus easier to read. This makes editors, reviewers, and readers happy.  

The researchers that will read your published paper want detail – what you did, how you did it, what you found out, but only the details that matter. How can you ensure your paper has the proper balance of concision and detail?

Write succinctly. This is the most important rule for any academic writer, but it's especially relevant when you are preparing a journal article. Get rid of anything that isn't essential to your argument or doesn't improve clarity; don't be redundant; use simple language instead of jargon; and leave out unnecessary background information and explanations. Avoid the tendency to include everything you know about your research topic.

Know which journal you are submitting to and its word count limits

Early in the writing process you should decide which journal you will submit to and check their word count limits.

Most journals have word count requirements included in their “Guide for Authors.” You can usually find this on the journal’s website by clicking on the “Submit Manuscript” page. The guide will also talk about formatting guidelines and what they expect authors to include in their manuscripts, so it is worth looking through these before you get too far into the writing process.

Every journal has different word limit requirements. You can check this by going finding their “Guide for Authors" on the journal’s website.

There are exceptions to these rules…sometimes

Instead of thinking about word counts as rigid rules for how long papers should be, think about them as guidelines for how long papers should probably not go past.  

If you're writing a manuscript and the word count is slightly over the journal’s limit, it may be okay. Your research needs to be shared, and sometimes it may require more words. If this happens, don't panic! Word lengths can sometimes be negotiated if you can demonstrate that you need more, especially if you are over by just a few hundred words or so. However, make sure you really consider whether you can cut something – there should be no extraneous information that does not relate to your main argument.

If you are significantly over the word limit, you may consider moving some material into the Supplementary Information of Supplementary Files section, if your journal supports that. Or, you may consider submitting to a different journal with a higher word count.

There are two situations where word counts really cannot be negotiated. First, each journal has slightly different requirements for the Abstract which can range from about 150-300 words. Generally, this is a hard limit and you must not exceed it. Likewise, journals that publish shorter format articles like Nature and Science are strict about not exceeding word limits.

Found this helpful? Pin this article for later.



In sum, journal article length will depend on what you need to communicate your main argument and requirements of the journal you are submitting to. Aim for conciseness and clarity above all else.

I hope you are now better equipped to write that journal article and share your awesome research with the world! If you find yourself struggling with any aspect of the process, don't hesitate to reach out for help.

For more tips about publishing journal articles, check out The You Can Publish That Guide

Happy writing!

Dr Jayne


Hi! I'm Dr Jayne Wilkins.

I'm a research scientist and academic publishing coach. I've been writing, reviewing, and editing academic publications for 12+ years.

In 2021, I achieved my long-time ambition to publish in Nature (woot woot 🎉).

Want to publish your research?

I can help you finish and submit that manuscript.

Learn More About Me

Grab the Free Guide

Learn how to submit a high-quality academic journal article the simpler and faster way.

You can get published and it doesn't have to be as hard as you think.

You have actually done A LOT of the hard work already!

In this guide, I show you how to leverage the work you've already done to create an awesome journal article that you will be proud of.

Send it to me!