How to Find Debate in Academic Journals (Quickly)

JSTOR’s advanced search can be used to provide a rough estimate of the number of debate articles in academic journals.

In a previous post I presented estimates of the percentage of articles in the five major economics journals that consisted of ‘debate’ – that is, direct discussion of other articles that appeared in those journals. Here I just want to elaborate on how I got those results using JSTOR’s advanced search form.

I estimated the number of articles by searching for those with ‘comment’, ‘reply’, or ‘rejoinder’ in their titles, as follows:


I then narrowed the search to articles in a particular year; for example, 1950:


The search was then further narrowed to the relevant journals; for example, the American Economic Review:


The search was then run to arrive at the number of ‘debate’ articles for that year in those journals.

To get the denominator, that is, the total number of articles, the search terms were modified to look for ‘a’ or ‘the’ in the full text, as all articles contain these words:


The search was then run using the same settings for item type, date range, and publication title to arrive at the total number of articles.

To arrive at a time series, you then have to repeat these searches for each year.

The result of this methodology is to provide an estimate of the number of ‘debate’ articles. Its principal merit is that is relatively quick, although to confirm its validity, it would need to be compared to a manual count of such articles, perhaps just for one journal.


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