Alongside triviality, unoriginality and, nowadays, dishonesty, one attribute for which journal editors are particularly vigilant in papers is obesity. Some research reports are, of course, necessarily bulky documents. This is especially true in fields such as high energy physics, where a collaboration of several dozen physicists and machine staff may be necessary to describe the design, outcome and analysis of experiments that take many months. At the other end of the scale, few if any worthwhile contributions to the literature today can be as effectively succinct as the Nature letter in which Francis Crick and Jim Watson first revealed to the world their discovery of the DNA double helix and its biological implications.

Yet unduly detailed or prolix accounts of work that is otherwise acceptable and publishable continue to arrive through editorial letterboxes, provoking both editors and referees to demand appropriate surgery. Neither they nor readers and purchasers want gratuitous...

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