QJPS Style Guide — Required Reading!

26 June 2009

I received today the best style guide for a journal that I have ever received… from politcal scientists, no less.

Here are a few excerpts (and my comments) from the style guide of the Quarterly Journal of Political Science:

Acknowledgments. Please be brief. Avoid hyperbole and effusive expressions of debts of gratitude to family, friends, pets, etc.

HA! I wish they’d also added that one shouldn’t include that craven caveat “All remaining errors are the responsibility of the author,” or somesuch stupid thing. Even worse, in my opinion, is the cryptic “The usual caveats apply.” Duh! Of course the errors are the responsibility of the author. If I give someone comments, they can take them or not… but it’s their name that’s on the byline, not mine.

Put another way — If you’re an economist (or political scientist), I’ll be happy to share authorship on any paper if you’re willing to let me take part of the blame if you’re found to have screwed up. Unless you’re Steve Levitt.

Reporting of Data

  • Please use three significant digits in tables and text.

I agree. This is usually sufficient.

  • We prefer the reporting of standard errors, because QJPS readers can divide. We
    frown upon stars and daggers not only because they are unsightly but also because
    QJPS readers have inalienable rights to choose their own critical values.

YES! I’ve been saying this for years (something I got from Gary Solon in grad school, I think). Ironically, the paper I submitted to the QJPS actually had asterisks in it… but only because we thought political scientists liked them. Now I know that the opposite is true, at least among the serious empirical political scientists.

  • Because the alternative hypothesis β ≠ 0 is not as interesting as β ≥ 0, p-values should be one-tailed in most instances.

Here I disagree. It depends on what’s appropriate to the underlying theory being tested. A priori, I’m not sure you can say that one is more interesting than the other.

One correction, though. If the null is β = 0, then the strong inequality should be used in the alternative, not the weak inequality. What if the coefficient were identically zero, would you reject or not reject the null?

  • In text and tables, avoid abbreviations in the names of variables. Modern typesetters can accommodate upper and lower case fonts and words longer than eight characters, so full descriptive words or phrases are preferred.

    •  Opaque: The coefficient for DINVTSHR is positive.

    •  Clear: The coefficient for Democratic incumbent’s vote share is positive

Again, YES! I hate it when people use variable names in their tables and in the text of their papers. You have to spend all your time reading the paper flipping back between the table that defines the variables (if there even is one) and the table you’re interested in. In my experience, the Industrial and Labor Relations Review is especially egregious in this regard.

So, hats off to Keith Krehbiel and Nolan McCarty, the chief editors of the QJPS. Everyone doing empirical work should adopt these guidelines, whether they’re in political science, economics, demography, public policy, or other fields.


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