When you need to publish important research results quickly or present a vital reanalysis of a previously published paper to an interested audience, a brief communication might be the perfect answer. Brief communications, also known as short or rapid communications, allow researchers to effectively report high-quality findings that may not be suitable for a full research article and to debate recently published articles.
Brief communication basics
Brief communications appear in scholarly journals in many forms, such as correspondence, commentaries, opinions, abstracts, notes, and research briefs. These types of short communications have always played an important role in academia, although recently their popularity has been diminishing.
The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the crucial role that short communications can play.1 Because of the need to understand the nature of the virus, to facilitate the creation of a vaccine, and to enact policies to keep the public safe, the rapid publication of research and information was essential. Many high-quality academic journals, such as the Journal of the American Medical Association, Lancet, and the Journal of Public Health, published peer-reviewed short communications quickly, thus, providing an invaluable service to researchers, experts, and the public.
However, due to changes in publishing technology and in the perception of prestige, the popularity of short communications has been declining within the academic community.1 Researchers who are under pressure to publish often do not believe brief communications will help advance their career as much as regular research articles can. Journal editors frequently place a low priority on short communications as being detrimental to journal metrics such as impact scores. Additionally, as the publication of preprints has increased, the rapid nature of short communications has become less of a difference maker.
Short communications that report primary research are typically peer reviewed and published with the same high-quality standards as longer research articles. In most journals, the difference between brief communications and regular research articles is in the amount of research reported and the complexity of the results.2
Writing effective brief communications
The types and requirements for short communication publication varies by journal. If you’re planning to submit any type of brief communication, be sure to carefully check the submission guidelines from your target journal. Although each type of article will have different specifications, those reporting original research have the strictest requirements. A few typical requirements for research briefs are described below.
- Structure: Short communications reporting primary research usually include a title page (similar to that of a standard research article), abstract, and main text, which is written under a findings heading without any subheadings or with short informative headings, depending on the journal. The submission guidelines from Acta Veterinaria Scandinavica state, “The first section should briefly explain the background and aim, followed by sections mentioning materials, methods, results and their discussion and finally a very short conclusion.”1
- Word count: The word count requirement again varies by journal but is usually limited to 1,500-2,500 words.
- Length: The maximum number of pages allowed by short communication journals varies greatly. However, they are generally limited to between 3 and 10 printed pages.
- Figures/tables: The number of figures and tables included in a brief communication are also typically limited by the publication journal. Usually, only 2 to 4 total figures and tables are allowed.
- Declarations: For articles reporting on primary research, the declarations required in standard research articles are also required for short communications. These include conflict of interest, funding, availability of data, authors’ contributions, and acknowledgements.
- Ethical issues: Even brief communications, if the research involves human participants, data, or tissue or animals, require a statement on ethics consent or approval, similar to what is needed in a standard research report.
- References: The number of references included should also be restricted. Journal guidelines for short communication submissions generally put the limit at 20-25 references.
General tips for writing brief communications
Finally, in preparing any type of brief communication article for submission, it might be useful to keep in mind a couple of general tips.
- All scientific writing requires clear, concise, and grammatically correct language to be understandable and effective. However, because of the compactness of the form, this is especially important for short communications. It is always helpful to get a colleague, language service or smart editing tool to review your article for language quality.
- The most important tip for effectively writing brief communications is that the short communication journal guidelines should be read and followed carefully, as the submission requirements and processes are different for every journal.
If you’re planning to submit a piece to a short communication journal, congratulations! You will be participating in a long and valuable tradition in academic publishing.
- Joaquin, J.J., Tan, R.R. The lost art of short communications in academia. Scientometrics 126, 9633–9637 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11192-021-04192-7
- Acta Veterinaria Scandinavica. Brief communication. https://actavetscand.biomedcentral.com/submission-guidelines/preparing-your-manuscript/brief-communication [Accessed December 19, 2022]