Guide for Publishing in Computer/Information Science Venues

This guide is part of my Advice for Students.

Read This First

I created this guide to help students understand how to publish their research in computer science and information science venues. This guide focuses on conference submissions, since conferences are typically the preimer publication venues in computer science and information science ("CS/IS" below for brevity). Toward the end, I include some information on how journals and workshops differ from conferences.

Important preliminary notes:

  1. My Guide for Scholarly Writing and Guide for Citations and References are important companions to this guide. You should read them too.
  2. Typically, the first time you're a lead author on a submission will be the hardest. The upside is that most of the knowledge you gain is transferable to other venues and papers, so that future submissions will be easier.
  3. I've organized this guide into steps for the publication process. I recommend reading the complete guide once and then checking in with it at the beginning of each stage.
  4. Publishing expectations can vary radically by discipline, and sometimes by research community. This guide contains norms that my advisees should become familiar with, and they're fairly common across CS/IS, but your mileage may vary.

Finally, if you're not a member of my lab and you find this guide useful then please email me (see "Contacting Me" instructions) or let me know on Twitter.

The Guide

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Salisbury Crags. Edinburgh, Scotland.

Before You Write

Finding the Right Conference

You'll want to find a conference that's both the right fit for your work and has a submission deadline that is compatible with when your work will be ready. I recommend signing up for your research community's email lists long before you plan to submit a manuscript. This will help you to become aware of the conferences in your field and what time of the year their deadlines tend to be.

Many conferences are held on an annual basis, but some are held every other year or every few years. Looking at the proceedings from recent years is helpful to determine whether your research will fit in.

Talking with your advisor is also a helpful part of choosing right venue. They will know if a conference is reputable (i.e., it's a worthwhile place to publish) and if it has unwritten themes or quirks to be aware of. If your advisor haven't published in a particular conference before, they may be able to help you evaluate it by looking at the list of organizers or recent proceedings.

Do You Have Enough Material for a Paper?

There's no simple way to determine this, but you can ask yourself questions like:

Some "yes" answers to the above questions are a good sign, although they're neither necessary nor sufficient. Again, your advisor can help you decide.

Reading the Call for Papers

A call for papers (sometimes CFP) is an announcement issued by a conference with information on how to submit a paper. If you're planning to submit to a conference, you should keep its CFP bookmarked and check in on it often in case it changes. A CFP contains lots of useful information, including:

Sometimes a conference issues an updated CFP (e.g., a "second call for papers") with new information such as deadline extensions.

You can find the CFP for a conference on the conference's website. Third-party CFP aggregators such as WikiCFP exist, but there is no guarantee that they are accurate or up-to-date. It's best to rely upon the conference's own website instead.

tree silhouettes against a sunset above a river, with circular lens flare around the sun
Trees and Nile River. Luxor, Egypt.

Assembling the Submission

First Steps

Some things you should do as soon as you decide to make a submission:

  1. Download the template in the CFP and use it to create an empty document for your manuscript: This is easy, in the sense that it requires relatively little thought (compared to writing). Importantly, it makes it as easy as possible for you to begin writing or to drop in figures whenever you are ready. If you're using an online editor, share the project with your co-authors.
  2. Register on the submission site: Getting this out of the way early saves you from technical problems later. Submission sites occasionally malfunction, especially close to deadlines for busy conferences.
  3. Choose submission tracks and/or topics: Once you're logged into the submission site, look at the thematic tracks and topics. Choose the best options with help from your advisor. Good selections will guide your paper toward the reviewers that are most receptive to your work.

Naming the Manuscript's Project or File

Immediately after you create the manuscript from the template, rename the project (e.g., if using Overleaf) or the word processing file (e.g., if using Microsoft Word). I prefer that my advisees use the convention "[conference abbreviation] [year] - [first author's first name]". For example, a name like "EMNLP 2015 - Alan" helps me distinguish between my students' manuscripts. It will also help you stay organized if you are involved with more submissions in the future.

You should keep a copy of the original template around to refer to it, but you should immediately customize (as above) the name for the project or word processing file that contains your work. This allows you to quickly distinguish between the template and your own work. Occasionally, confusing names lead to mistakes with disasterous results (i.e., deleted work).

Writing Well and Avoiding Plagiarism

If you didn't already, check out my guides about those topics.

If there's a question about style that you can't resolve, check the papers that received the best paper awards from prior years of the conference you've chosen.

How to Organize the Paper

The structure of your paper (e.g., what sections to include) will depend in part on the nature of your contribution. Are you showcasing results from a computational experiment? Are you sharing the outcome of a user study? Did you perform an exploratory analysis of a dataset that you're sharing with the research community? Are you writing a survey paper to provide an overview of research on a certain topic? Find papers in the conference you've chosen that make contributions of a similar nature to yours, and consider following their structure.

Preparing Supplementary Materials

A conference may ask that you submit supplementary materials, such as your dataset or source code, alongside a manuscript. You should plan on providing supplementary materials if at all possible, and you should also prepare documentation to accompany them. The documentation should explain what the materials are to an audience that has only skimmed your paper. It should be well-written, but the format typically can be as simple as a text file.

If the full dataset or source code is too large to upload, submit an illustrative subset of it instead and explain in the documentation.

Determining Authorship and Author Order

The author list should contain all people who made substantial intellecutal contributions to the paper. These contributions can include research guidance, software development, examination of results, writing, obtaining funding, and other major activities. Sometimes people who make minor contributions (e.g., provided useful feedback once in a conversation or an email) are listed in the acknowledgements.

A common CS/IS convention on author order is to list students first, in order by significance of contribution, and then to list faculty afterward. Typically the last author is the first student author's advisor or the leading faculty member for the overall project. There are exceptions to these rules, though; sometimes all faculty (or all authors) are listed in alphabetical order. Sometimes a faculty member comes first if they contributed more than the students.

Anonymity for Peer Review

Many conferences use peer review to select papers: this means that other researchers review your paper to determine whether it merits publication. To avoid personal biases or conflicts of interest, most conferences use double-blind review: the authors don't know the identities of the reviewers, and the reviewers don't know the identities of the authors. Occasionally a conference may use single-blind review: the authors don't know the identities of the reviewers, but the reviewers know the identities of the authors. The CFP will specify the review procedure and whether you need to anonymize your submission.

Leave out the acknowledgements section when preparing a manuscript for peer review. You can add it for the final version of the paper if it's accepted.

Tell Your Co-Authors When You've Completed the Submission

Once you've submitted the manuscript, the submission site will send you a confirmation email. Forward the email to your co-authors immediately, and attach a copy of the manuscript to it. This serves as an important confirmation to your co-authors that you completed the process.

tree silhouette and sunset over a lake
Mogadore Reservoir. Kent, Ohio.

After Submission

Keep All Your Co-Authors Informed About Publication Progress

If you are the corresponding author for a submitted manuscript (i.e., the person who communicates with the publication venue), promptly forward to your co-authors copies of submission confirmations, peer reviews, submission outcomes, and other official emails. These notices will help your co-authors to understand what is happening to the manuscript and to plan for their obligations.

Participating in an Author Response Period

Some conferences allow authors of submissions to read and respond to the reviewers' comments prior to a final decision being made. Carefully follow the instructions from the conference for the author response period. Typically, you are called upon to respond to reviewers' questions and to correct factual misunderstandings. You should not express disgareement with reviewers' opinions or argue with them; such responses will not sway them, and you risk alienating other reviewers or the conference organizers.

I always recommend a "soft touch" for author responses: be helpful and cordial, but be brief. Typical reviewers must read author responses for several manuscripts. A short response maximizes the likelihood that your reviewers will read all of it. Long responses rarely sway reviewers, and they are not worth your investment of time and energy.

It's also customary to use the author response to thank reviewers for their feedback.

If the Submission is Accepted

Congratulations! Talk with your advisor about what changes to make prior to submitting the final version of the manuscript. The final version is sometimes called the "camera-ready" version for historical reasons. You're not strictly required to make any changes, but you should use the reviewers' feedback to improve the paper.

Remember to de-anonymize the manuscript if necessary. Also, if your research was supported by a grant, the grant number and the funding agency should appear in the acknowledgements. Your advisor can provide the appropriate information.

If the Submission is Rejected

Don't take it personally. Rejection is the most common outcome for submissions to competitive conferences, sometimes by a factor of four or more. Good papers are sometimes rejected simply because a conference doesn't have room to accommodate them.

When revising a rejected paper for submission elsewhere, it's helpful to make a spreadsheet listing reviewers' criticisms and changes you will make to improve the paper. Share this with your co-authors, and they can provide feedback on the changes you propose. A spreadsheet like this also helps co-authors divide up the work.

As a graduate student, my first three first-author submissions were all rejected.

As a postdoc, one of my publications was rejected twice before it was both (1) accepted by a conference and (2) a finalist for the accepting conference's best paper award.

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Adriatic Sea. Portoro┼ż, Slovenia.


How Are Journals Different From Conferences?

In CS/IS, conference papers are often seen as more important than journal papers. (That's unusual: in many disciplines, journal papers are more important than conference papers.) Still, journal papers play an important role. They accept longer papers than conferences, permitting authors to document longer trajectories of work. One approach to a writing journal article is to integrate results from a conference paper (or multiple conference papers) with additional, unpublished results.

Journals are more likely to be single-blind than conferences, which tend to be double-blind.

Journal articles tend to take longer to publish. More than a year (or two) may pass between submission and publication. Submissions will sometimes go through multiple rounds of peer reviews and author revisions before the journal decides the manuscript is acceptable.

PhD students should aim to submit one or two journal papers before graduating.

How Are Workshops Different From Conferences?

Compared to conferences, workshops are more receptive to manuscripts that describe work in progress or preliminary results. They tend to be smaller events than conferences, with a greater emphasis on providing feedback to presenters and discussion amongst attendees.

Major conferences sometimes have workshops attached to them, i.e., the workshops use the same registration process, location, and other infrastructure as the main conference. Alternatively, sometimes workshops are independent events.

If you have a paper accepted to a conference that has workshops, you should browse the workshop list for opportunities to submit more of your work. Often the workshop submission deadlines are after the main conference's acceptance notification date.

Workshops are less likely to be archival than conferences or journals. When one isn't archival, you can use the opportunity to gather feedback on the ideas in a manuscript prior to submitting it to a conference. If the archival status is unclear, ask the organizers.

About the Pictures

I added them to break up the text; all of them are mine. I am a photographer in my spare time.

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Cadillac Ranch. Amarillo, Texas.