No one can read everything others write in one’s field.
One of the reasons is that we use too many words to express our thoughts. Papers start with theories and explanations that the reader either knows or doesn’t need – because we want to write papers, not abstracts. Books are usually much longer than they could have been because we want them to be books, not papers, and books can’t be shorter than… – many publishers will even provide you with exact number of pages.
Most books are 270 pages long. Some are 900 pages long. Some time ago I had to review a book that was 1400 pages long. Who can read all this carefully, not simply scan the text, if books come out at the rate of ten per month? Papers are shorter, miserable 40 pages each, but they come out a hundred per month. Meaning that we can only read attentively in a very – very! – narrow sector of our discipline.
Efficiency factor of our work is lower than that of the Watt’s steam engine – that is, less than 7%.
Can we do something about it?
I think we can.
Let’s start a bi-monthly journal – VSP Journal in… – for example, …in Arctic Social Studies. Or …in Linguistic Anthropology. VSP stands for Very Short Paper. Let’s set the limit for papers at 800 words maximum. With bibliography – 1200 words. Containing ONE paragraph describing the research question, ONE describing the data sources, ONE describing the methodology, THREE about the experiment (if any), THREE with discussion, and TWO with results and conclusions. Eleven paragraphs, two pages. Hard to write, easy to read. With references that will help the reader to find the theory that the paper is based on, the previous research on the topic, alternative opinions, and other things that the author thinks the reader may need.
But the body of a VSP should contain the new information. For example:
This VSP is about ethnolinguistic vitality (ELV) (see X, Y and Z if you don’t know what it is). Most papers about ELV are based on minority languages in English-speaking countries (see X, Y and Z if you want to make sure that this is so). We base our paper on a new kind of data – minority languages of China (see X, Y and Z if you don’t know where China is, or what minorities she has). We used this definition of ELV (see X and Y for other definitions if you are interested). We used this method to collect data (see Y and Z for description of the method and its strong and weak sides). And lo and behold! – here are the results. Amazing, isn’t it. References.
Yes, a VSP is hard to write. And it is contrary to all instincts and many traditions. But imagine how many hours, days and months of our lives we could save.
Who is brave enough to try?