Faculty & Research -Writing Energy Economics Research for Impact

Writing Energy Economics Research for Impact

This study highlights the importance of effective writing in energy economics for generating impact from research. Our results show that 20 percent of the future impact of research, measured by subsequent citations to a research article, are derived from non-topic aspects of how research is structured and written. We apply these findings, integrated with prior research on effective economics writing style, to recommend how energy economics articles should be written to increase their impact. These recommendations center particularly around the importance of initial article information provided to the reader and article structure.

Energy economics researchers, like all researchers, are motivated to generate impact from their research. Impact can be defined both broadly in terms of the beneficial contribution of research to, as well as more narrowly in terms of the contribution the research makes to the development of knowledge within a discipline. Our focus in this study is on the latter definition and we measure research impact, through citations to a published article. We investigate the non-topic drivers that contribute to these future citations and interpret our findings to advise authors of energy economics articles on effective writing style and article structure.


Citations to an article generally demonstrate that the research has stimulated theoretical, empirical, or policy discussion in future research. As a result, citations to a researcher’s body of work are important in career promotion processes as part of an assessment of research contribution. They also act as a form of intrinsic motivation by showing the researcher they are contributing to the development of knowledge in their field. Researchers are, therefore, motivated to produce research that generates citations. Primarily this involves creating contributions that advance knowledge and understanding. But individual articles must also attract the attention of researchers who might build on their ideas.


Consider a reasonable peer group of reputable sources for energy economics research comprising The Energy Journal, Energy Economics, and the Journal of Environmental Economics and Management. There were over 2,000 articles published by just these three journals in the last five years. There is a crowded marketplace of energy economics ideas, and new research somehow needs to attract the attention of researchers who will cite that research to build their research arguments.


In this study, we systematically analyze articles published in The Energy Journal to show how non-topic factors can influence future citations in energy economics.  Our working sample is all articles published in The Energy Journal between 1996 and 2013. For these articles we measure citations received after publication as an indicator of research impact. To determine non-topic drivers of this impact we include 19 features of how an article is written. These features include the initial information that a potential reader sees when deciding what article to read. For this, we highlight the importance of title construction and abstract readability.


We next examine the article itself and explore the importance of the readability and writing style of the article. An active voice in writing, use of visual aids, and writing towards the least sophisticated rather than the most sophisticated potential reader of the article, is highly recommended. We also show the importance of references within the article. These should be plentiful (with justification), recent, and include significant references drawn from peer journals, including The Energy Journal. Lastly, we show the importance of research teams with experienced authors who have generated research impact in the past.


We show that about 20 percent of the variation in future citations is related to non-topic aspects of how research is structured and written. Our findings, therefore, cover an important range of factors in determining research impact: writing style and article structure matters. In addition, we are conscious that an important overall finding of the scientometrics literature is that there is no one size that fits all approaches that works in writing impactful research (Tahamtan, Afshar and Ahamdzadeh, 2016). For example, papers in sociology with short titles receive more citations than papers with long titles, while the opposite is true of medical research (van Wesel, Wyatt and ten Haaf, 2014).


Using Scopus, we identify all articles published in The Energy Journal from 1996 to 2013. Information. We only include documents of type ‘articles,’ thus excluding other document types that the journal occasionally publishes such as ‘reviews’ and ‘editorials.’ Excluding also articles with incomplete information for at least one important variable, we are left with a final sample of 504 articles. The main dependent variable (DV), 5-year Citations, includes all Scopus citations to an article except self-citations, in the first five years following publication. To test shorter time-period citations, we use 3-year Citations, and for a longer period, we construct 10-year Citations. We also test, using a dummy variable construction, whether the top 25 percent of most cited articles have particular features that are related to citation success. The testing approach is OLS regressions of the asinh-transformed counts of citations DVs and probit regressions of dummy DVs coded 1 if an article is among the top 25 percent most-cited articles and 0 otherwise.

Applications and beneficiaries

Our article is written as a guide for future writers and is of benefit to those seeking to publish in energy economics journals, but also those engaged in wider writing in energy economics. Our writing approach blends statistical analysis with prior published advice on writing effectively in energy economics, to offer a refined and tailored approach for energy economics writing. The overall message of the article is that the normal drivers of impact matter – topic, research question, and testing – but also that how research is presented and structured makes a difference in how a research study will be perceived.

Reference to the research

Dowling, M., Hammami, H., Tawil, D., Zreik, O. (2021) Structuring energy economics research for impact. Energy Journal, The , Vol. 42, May 2021, No. 3., pp 29-52

Consult the research paper