Friday, July 01, 2011

Odd SODA Rules, and Other Conference Paper Complaints

Suresh points out we have some strange new SODA submission rules this year: 

Full submissions should begin with the title of the paper, each author's name, affiliation, and e-mail address, followed by a succinct statement of the problems considered, the main results, an explanation of their significance, and a comparison to past research, all of which should be easily understood by non-specialists. More technical developments follow as appropriate. Use 11-point or larger font in single column format, with one-inch or wider margins all around. The submission, excluding title page and bibliography, must not exceed 10 pages (authors should feel free to send submissions that are significantly shorter than 10 pages.) If 10 pages are insufficient to include a full proof of the results, then a complete full version of the paper (reiterating the material in the 10-page abstract) must be appended to the submission after the bibliography. The length of the appended paper is not limited, and it will be read at the discretion of the committee. A detailed proof in the appended complete version is not a substitute for establishing the main ideas of the validity of the result within the 10-page abstract.

This is totally bizarre.  11-point single column-format?  Then an appended paper beyond the abstract?

I wish I was submitting a paper on my own.  I'd just submit a standard opening abstract and my "10-page paper" would be, "Hey, I've just told you what I'm going to prove, why don't you go read my real paper, which is attached to this?"  Because, really, I'm not clear on what the point of all this is.

Having recently finished an ICALP paper and having worked today on an ESA paper, I didn't think it was possible to choose a worse format that 10 or 12 pages in LNCS format, which gives you just enough space to say, "Here, I've done something interesting, but if you want any details, go read it on the arXiv."  And I suppose this isn't really worse.  [Really, can't we all just protest the bizarre LNCS format?  Or fine, keep the format, but paper limits should be 20 pages.]  It's just strange.

Most other conference I'm involved with outside of theory have the sensible approach that you submit something that looks pretty much like what your final paper is supposed to look like.  You may only have a 5 page limit (double column, 10 point font, which I think is still well over 12 pages in LNCS format), but the reviewers sees what the paper will be.  Some conference even give a page or two extra for the final version, so you can actually address reviewer comments.  (Of course, those conferences also make a point of giving detailed reviewer comments, in some cases even having shepherds for the final papers.)   

Theory conferences are messed up with this whole page limit/paper format thing.  Someone should figure out a simpler, more coherent system.  It seems like it would be hard to come up a system that was any more random and arbitrary. 


Anonymous said...

I have nothing to do with SODA, but I think I would actually like this submission format.

Most current submission guidelines are annoying, they waste a huge amount of time, and they make the submitted product worse. Here's why: let's say I have a 30-plus-page paper (the norm in many areas of TCS), and I've sensibly written it as a "full version" with self-contained sections, full proofs, etc. (You know, the way we all say papers in TCS should be written, but too often aren't.) The abstract and introduction, which lay out contributions and relation to prior work, is maybe 6-8 pages.

The submission guidelines usually tell me that the submission is limited to 10 (or 12, or 14) pages, and that anything else in the appendix will be read at the discretion of the committee. Now, I could just submit the intro alone as the 'paper' and move the remaining sections wholesale into the appendix. This would take about 2 minutes, it would keep the paper readable and organized in the best way I know how, and ... it would look completely foolish. The PC plainly wants to see some technical content and substantiation in the first 10-14 pages, and without that my paper stands a good chance of being dismissed.

So now I have 4-8 pages left to fill, using the 20some remaining pages of content. There is no good way to do this. It takes hours of gruntwork to produce an output that will never be used again, and it still usually ends up as a complete hash, with pointers back and forth to the appendices. On top of that, I can't count the number of times I have gotten back reviews saying "why did you put such-and-such in the appendix, it's important" -- well yes, but so is everything else I managed to squeeze into the main body, and I'm only allowed 12 pages.

At least with the new SODA submission guidelines, I can submit my intro as the 'paper' and then stick the full paper at the end of the bibliography. Simple, fast, and no missed expectations. I think the PC would prefer to read a paper organized this way, and I sure would prefer to write it that way.

Michael Mitzenmacher said...

Anon #1:

I'm not clear why at all you think this changes expectations -- if you didn't feel comfortable submitting the intro before and putting the rest as an appendix, what makes you comfortable doing it now? I don't see how the rule change suggests any difference here. That is, I don't see this preventing the hours of gruntwork.

Also, why not just make submitting an arXiv link an optional alternative if we're going this rather bizarre route? (That is, you CAN submit a full version attached to the back -- if you have patent concerns, for example -- or you can just say, "Here's the arXiv link if you want the full glory." at the end.) Since these often get printed it will save paper, etc.

Better still, just have the submission be what the paper is going to be when published, and allow arXiv pointers (or appendices/attachments for full versions if needed for patent concerns as above).

Jouni said...

I find the LNCS format quite reasonable. Small pages and short lines make the paper readable on screen or a Kindle, and the fonts are not too bad either.

On the other hand, two-column formats are a relic of an era when you had to print the paper before reading it. Nobody should use them ever again, as they are painful to read on screen.

Anonymous said...

What about entirely removing the page limit (and thus, no longer publishing the "physical" copies of the proceedings), and using the same (one column) format for all the TCS conferences?

The only drawback of this policy is that it encourages submitting not-so-polished, half-baked (even if technically "complete") material. But this problem should be addressed by the PC, which could assess the "maturity" of the submission. Utopian?

(To be clear: quite often 50+-pages submissions, even if technically complete, can be shrink into 10-or-so pages of well-thought, mature content, that are really worth reading. My impression is that too many authors think that publishing a just-good-enough paper is better than publishing a well-written paper. Unfortunately, this strategy is popular since the (especially TCS) conferences are beauty contests... )

Anonymous said...

This is clearly an intermediate measure. The ideal submission format is a well-written paper, as long as it needs to be to contain all the details. See, in a well-written paper, the abstract and introduction serve the role of the classical "extended abstract." This isn't some new-fangled idea; this is what introductions have been meant to do for hundreds of years in most genres of literature, including scientific ones; it's just that people often suck at writing.

But the committee felt they couldn't just say "send us a full paper" because they would get many horribly-written submissions that think it just fine to jump directly into some very technical argument without offering motivations, an overview, and a historical perspective.

So, while not ideal, I think this is an important first step towards being able to (and being required to) submit full papers. The question of what "appears" in the proceedings is also antiquated; it is almost universally acknowledged that there is no more need for page limits or printed proceedings.

Anonymous said...

I must be missing something. What is bizarre about "Use 11-point or larger font in single column format, with one-inch or wider margins all around"? The whole thing doesn't seem unreasonable to me. Yes, the LNCS style sheets are terrible.

Anonymous said...

What about submitting a 10 pages long extended abstract, and then, as the whole paper, 10 pages text (same as extended abstract) + rest in appendix?
This would lead to the same format as in the previous years and wouldn't violate the requirements in the cfp.

David P. Williamson said...

I like the FOCS 2011 submission format that allows the authors to submit any length of paper they want, but notes that the committee may confine themselves to reading the first 10 pages. To me this gets rid of the process of hacking a paper down to 10 pages just to satisfy the page limit that is now only for the convenience of the PC (and no longer needed for the proceedings version).

However, there is an issue with long proceedings versions that may start to bite us. It seems that if one believes (as I do) in submitting a conference paper to a journal in order to have a thorough reviewing process, then the justification used to be that the full version had not in fact appeared in the proceedings; some proofs were omitted, etc. What happens when the full versions are in the proceedings? In particular, I know of one recent case in which a paper was rejected from multiple journals on the grounds that it was too similar to the proceedings versions (even from one journal that had not had a problem with such submissions before). Are there going to be copyright issues with the paper appearing in a conference proceedings then in a journal when the versions are nearly the same? (One imagines the referees usually ask for enough changes that the journal version ends up being different, but the judgement about similarity is usually applied to the paper before refereeing).

Claire Mathieu said...

Here's a solution: why should the special issue be restricted to 10 papers? If the journal is electronic, then why should not the entire collection of SODA accepted papers be invited? All of those that pass the refereeing steps then get published in that journal.