Tuesday, July 12, 2011

How to get your paper accepted: Short paragraphs

July seems to be the month for reviews, so I thought I'd organize some of my observations on scientific writing into bite-sized advice posts.

1) If you want to get your paper accepted, please, for the love of all things, use short paragraphs.

I was reviewing a two-column ACM format paper recently, and a few paragraphs took up the entire left-side column and half of the right-side column. My eyes went blurry by the end, and frankly it negatively biased me against the authors.

If authors are concerned about space, they should either use less words or make their diagrams smaller. I'd much rather see smaller diagrams and more readable text than huge diagrams and squished prose.

Also - putting hundreds of lines of code into a paper is rarely necessary. (And XML is never necessary*). Use small chunks. Just the important idea behind the awesome algorithm. If the code paragraphs are taking up more than half a page, please consider an alternate presentation style. (See Justin Zobel for nice presentation ideas).

(*) <meta>I'm sure there's a good xkcd comic out there for this sentiment, though my Google fu is weak today.</meta>


  1. My favorite pithy advice to writers: "the reader is always looking for an exit." Meaning, don't assume that the reader is going to give you their undivided attention for as long as you need. Instead, assume they're going to bail on you the first chance you give them, and make sure that when they do, they're at least leaving with a positive impression.

    This is especially true when writing for over-burdened CS conference reviewers. So many authors don't seem to understand that when they submit a paper they're asking for a very valuable resource---the time of the reviewers. They seem perfectly comfortable wasting that resource. I have little sympathy for authors that don't realize that.

  2. Agreed. Nothing puts me off the benefit of the doubt on a marginal paper than a wall'o'text that makes my eyes bleed. Makes me not want to finish the thing.