What to do when your conference paper get rejected?

Today, I will discuss what to do when a paper that you have submitted to a conference get rejected.

paper rejected

When submitting papers to a conference there are generally many papers that are submitted and get rejected. This is especially true for competitive conferences, where less than 1/4 of the papers get accepted, or sometimes even less than 1/10.

In the event where your paper get rejected, it is easy to take it personal and think that your research is not good or that you do not deserve to be published.It is also easy to blame the conference or the reviewers. However, a better attitude is to try to understand the reasons why your paper got rejected and then to think about what you can do to avoid the problems that lead to the rejection of your paper so that you can submit it somewhere else and that it can be accepted.

First, I often hear the complaint that a paper got rejected because the reviewers are not specialist and did not understand the paper.  Well, it may be true. Sometimes, a paper get assigned to a reviewer that is not a specialist in your domain because you are not lucky or that a reviewer do not have enough time to read all the details of your paper. This can happen. But often the real reasons are:

  1. The paper was submitted to a conference that was too broadly related to the topic of the paper. For example, if you submit a paper about a data mining algorithm to a general computer science or artificial intelligence conference, it is possible that no data mining expert will read your paper.  Choosing a conference is a strategic decision that should not be taken lightly when planning to submit a paper. A good way to choose a conference is to look at where papers similar to your topic have been published. This will give you a good idea about conferences that may be more “friendly” toward your research topic.
  2. Another possible reason is that your paper did not clearly highlight what is your contributions in the introduction. If the contributions of your paper are not clearly explained in the introduction, then the reviewer will have to guess what they are.  From my experience, the top three parts that needs to be well-written in a paper are :  (1) introduction, (2) experimental results and (3) conclusion. I have discussed with some top researchers and they have told me that they often first just look at these three parts. Then, if the paper looks original and good enough, they may also look at the method section of your paper. For this reason, introduction and conclusion should be very clear about what are your contributions.
  3. It is also possible that the reviewers did not understand why your research problem is interesting or challenging. In this case, it may also be a problem with the presentation. Your introduction should convince the reader that your research problem is important and challenging.

Second, another complaint that I often hear is that the reviewer did not understand something important about the technical details of your paper.  Some reasons may be:

  • It may be an issue with the presentation.  Even if you are right that all the details were correctly presented in your paper, it is possible that the reviewer got bored reading the paper because of a poor presentation, or the lack of examples. Don’t forget that a very busy reviewer will not spend days reading your paper. Often a reviewer may just have a few hours to read it. In this case, rethinking the presentation of your paper to make it easier to read or more clear with respect to what the reviewer did not understand  is a good idea.
  • Another problem may be that the reviewer is not an expert in your field and that he may have some misconceptions about your field because he has not read much about it.  For example, recently, a paper about itemset mining got rejected and the reviewer said something like “oh, this is just like the algorithm X from 20 years ago”.  Well, this shows that the reviewer did not follow that field since a long time.  To avoid this kind of bad reviews, a solution is to add some text to avoid the common misconceptions that a reviewer that is not specialist in your field may have.  For example, recently, I was writing a paper about Itemset-trees, and I added a few lines to make it clear that this kind of trees are not the same as FP-Trees because many non-specialist will confuse them although there are very different because non-specialists usually only know the FP-Tree.

There are also some more serious reasons why a paper may be rejected. It may be  that your paper is technically flawed, that your experiments are not convincing, that the data or results do not look good or original, that your method is not well explained or not compared with other relevant methods, that the paper is very badly written, etc.  In these cases, the problem is more critical and it may be necessary to take the time to make a major improvement of your paper before submitting it. In this case, it may be better to take the time to seriously improve your paper instead of resubmitting it right away.

In any cases, if your paper is rejected, you probably already have spent a great deal of time on your paper and therefore it is generally a good idea to improve it and submit it somewhere else.

Lastly, I will give you a short story about one of my papers to give you hope if your paper got rejected. A few years ago, I submitted a paper to the conference Intelligent Tutoring Systems. It got rejected with bad reviews. Later, I almost submitted the same paper to EC-TEL, a good e-learning conference with an acceptance rate of about 1 /5. Then, the paper got accepted and it was even invited for a special issue of a good IEEE Transactions journal, and it was rated as one of the top 10 papers of the EC-TEL conference that year. So this is to tell you, that sometimes, it is possible to not get lucky and also that the choice of the conference may have a huge impact on if your paper get accepted or rejected. In my case, the same paper got a reject at ITS and was reviewers as one of the best papers at ECTEL, just by choosing a different conference.

So these are the advices that I wanted to write for today. Hope that you have enjoyed this post.  If you like this blog, you can tweet about it and/or subscribe to my twitter account @philfv to get notified about new posts.

Philippe Fournier-Viger is a professor of Computer Science and also the founder of the open-source data mining software SPMF, offering more than 52 data mining algorithms.

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13 Responses to What to do when your conference paper get rejected?

  1. Dang Nguyen says:

    Dear Prof. Philippe,

    Again, you posted a very helpful entry. I thought all reviewers must be experts when reviewing a paper 🙂 In the future, I should introduce general definitions before the problem statement to avoid common misunderstandings.

    By reading your papers, I’ve learnt how to clearly clarify the contributions. If you have time, could you please describe a good structure for a paper so that it can get more chances to be accepted? For example, what we should include in the Introduction section or what we should not mention in the Experiments section…

    Thanks so much,
    Dang Nguyen

    • Hi Dang,

      Thanks for your feedback and suggestions. I will try to write about that in the near future.

      Yes, for conferences that are too general, it is often the case that the reviewers are not specialist on your topic. For example, a conference about AI may not have many reviewers that know much about association rules since it is a very specific topic in AI. However, a conference about data mining will likely have a few reviewers that are specialist on this topic.

      For a journal paper, it works differently. For a conference there are usually a set of reviewers that is called the “program committee” of the conference and your 3 reviewers will be 3 or 4 persons from that committee. For a journal, there is no “program committee”. When the editor receive your article, he generally will search in a database of reviewers or even on Google, or from the references of your paper to invite an expert on your topic to review your paper. For the top journals, that is often how it works. The reviewers or at least one of them may be an expert on your very specific topic. For less popular journals, the reviewers may not be experts on your topics.

      In any cases, it is best to add a few lines to avoid misconceptions that a non specialist may have. But at the same time, we should not add too much text. If there are too many explanations that are too obvious, then the reviewers may complain that some text in your paper is trivial and can be removed. So there has to be a balance between avoiding misconceptions and explaining obvious things.

      Besides, writing a paper is an art that takes time to master. I consider that my writing has improved a lot since my first papers, 10 years ago. But it can still be improved. The more that we read papers and write, the more we get better at it. Ok. I will not discuss that too muc now. I will keep this for another blog post 😉

      By the way, I went to your website and it is great that you share code/binaries and some datasets.

      Best,

      Philippe

  2. Dang Nguyen says:

    Dear Prof. Philippe,

    Thanks for your encouragement. I share the binaries of my algorithms to help other researchers save time and effort if they want to compare their algorithm with mine.

    When I submitted my paper to a journal, I thought that general and basic knowledge didn’t need to be added. However, one reviewer asked me to mention it in the manuscript. Fortunately, he still allowed me to revise my paper 🙂

    I have just started researching one year ago. So, I lack lots of necessary skills for writing a good research paper. I have to learn by myself and your blog and papers are reliable resources I often refer to. Thus, I’m very happy if you post entries providing useful information such as what is a good structure of a paper, what should be included in Introduction, how to clearly clarify the contributions…

    Again, thanks so much for your post.

    Best,
    Dang Nguyen

  3. ritesh says:

    if there is change in my result then previous paper and other things are the same , then should i submit my paper to conference.

    • I’m not sure that I understand well. But I think that your question is whether you can submit the same paper to another conference but just change the result? If this is your question, than I would suggest to not do that. In my opinnion, each paper should be at least 30-40 % different.

      There is however some exception. If you publish a paper in a national conference that is not in English you may also publish the same paper in English later, and generally it would be ok

      Also, you can publish a conference paper and then submit a new version to a journal. This is ok. But generally for a journal paper you should add more content compared to the conference version.

      Or you could write a conference paper and extend it to a book chapter.

  4. Dom says:

    Hi Philippe,
    nice post. Hope that will help young researchers to improve their submissions.
    Another underlying problem which is severe in CS conference is about :
    * evaluation of conferences through acceptance rate
    * bad reviews
    * and more generally the reviewing process
    (And the data mining field is not spared…)
    Several discussions can be found on the web, e.g. :
    http://youinfinitesnake.blogspot.fr/2011/08/whats-wrong-with-computer-science.html
    (with several insightful links inside)
    And, some solutions are suggested … not sure if will be applied one day :
    http://yann.lecun.com/ex/pamphlets/publishing-models.html

    I hope to read what you think about that in a next post 😉

    Regards,
    Dom

    • Hi Dom,

      Very interesting comment. I agree that many things could be improved with respect to the reviewing model, etc. I will try to write something about this topic in the future. This is a good topic since there is a lot of things that are wrong and could be improved. For example, recently, we had a paper submitted in a top journal. The reviewer asked us to cite several of his own papers (to increase his citation count). I have seen this happen many times. Another example is some researchers reviewing their own paper at a conference or the papers of their friends (I have seen that and told the organizers of the conference). Besides, we could also think about all these publishers requiring very expensive publication fees for publishing articles written and reviewed by researchers for free, about research funded by the government.Those are just a few examples of bad things that are happening. There is certainly a lot of things that could be improved! And I think that it is good to think about solutions. However, there is some inertia in academia that makes it hard to make changes.

      Thanks for reading and commenting the blog.

      Cheers,

      Philippe

  5. Hello All,

    I am a recent graduate in Electrical Engineering from The University of Texas at Dallas, with a focus in RF/Microwave and Wireless Communication and I am currently working as an RF System Design engineer at Apple, Inc. I was hoping you could help me with a few basic questions as this is my first try in submitting a conference paper.

    I worked on a design project as part of my graduate studies and would like to convert this to an IEEE paper as the simulation results of the project look very promising. I would like to have a few of my questions answered with respect to registration and paper submission.

    1) As I have already completed my graduate studies and currently working, what would be the appropriate way to go about the submission process i.e., should I go through the university as the project was completed during my graduate studies ?
    2) Since, I am no longer a student, will I be required to pay the conference fee out of my own pocket ?
    3) How much does publishing in one of the IEEE journal approximately cost ?
    4) Are there any organizations that sponsor enthusiasts like me who are just out of college and still interested in presenting papers in conferences/journals ?
    5) The project has only simulation results. Will IEEE journals accept these or is it mandatory to have hardware results as well ?

    I know that all of the above discussions were related to Computer Science but answers to some of these questions might help beginners like me. I would like to take it forward once I get the above questions answered as it would give me a better picture about the whole process. I would be glad to answer any further questions and look forward to hearing from you all.

    • Hi,
      1) If the project was done under the supervision of a professor, you should contact your supervisor and tell him/her that you want to publish a paper about the project.
      2)Normally, the supervisor will be happy that you submit a paper. And the supervisor may have funding and could pay for the registration fee and other expenses for presenting the paper at the conference. But it depends on the professor. Not all professor have funding or if they are not interested, they may not pay. Sometimes the department at your university may have funding to help to help students for presenting papers but if you are not student, maybe that this is not an option. But you may always ask.
      3) Publishing in a journal is often free.Some journals will have a given amount of pages free and then you will need to pay for extra pages. For IEEE, it depends on the journal. Personally, I have published in a few IEEE journals and I have paid nothing because I did not pay for extra pages.
      4) Some top conferences will have funding to support student to attend conferences. But since you are not student anymore even if you did the project as a student, I think it would not work. I think that if money is an issue, the best option is probably to publish in journals. Top journals are often free (for example, many IEEE, Elsevier and ACM journals).
      5) I think it depends on the journal. There are some top journals and some journals that are less famous even whithin the IEEE. Before submitting to a journal, you should check other papers in that journals to see the writting style and how good the other paper are to see if your paper would meet the requirements. You may also always contact the editors for specific questions. In my opinion, if it is a simulation but it is well-done, maybe it could be accepted but I don’t work on the same topic as you so it may or may not be true. Of course, if you had real results if would be better. In general a top journals requires good experimental results.

      Best,

  6. John says:

    Hi Professor,

    I am a recent graduate and my paper has been accepted at an IEEE conference this month.

    I did not give the name of my supervisor/professor in the paper and he has little contribution in the paper; I took help from my senior. I once wanted to try to publish the same paper under him but he did not help.

    My question is .

    1. Will the accepted paper get rejected during conference program for any reason since my work has no name of professor in it?

    2. Will there be any problem with letter of recommendation from the same professor if he finds out that my paper has been accepted WITHOUT his name?

    Thanks.

    • Hi,
      Congratulations for the acceptance of your paper.
      1) It should not be rejected. In general, a student should always put the name of his supervisor or inform his supervisor before submitting a paper. But it is not a strict requirement. For example, sometimes you will see some papers entirely written by people working in the industry. In that case, it is ok that there is no professor on the paper. Besides, the conference organizers don’t have the time to check names and authors’ status. In my opinion, it is thus highly unlikely that your paper would be rejected for thatreason.

      2) Now the big question is whether you should have put the name of your professor or not on that paper. I think it depends on your situation. xDid you do the research for the paper when you were working in his lab and were you paid by the professor to work in his lab ? or did you write the paper on your own during week-ends and evening without using the resources of his lab? Also, did you write the paper during your studies, or did you finished it after your studies? And did your professor ever read a first version of that paper? If you were paid, and you did it in the lab when you were paid, or if you used some of his ideas, or resources such has his data or computers, he has probably a good enough reason to expect that you put his name. In general, a student should always tell his supervisor before submitting a paper. I have seen a few times student who submitted papers without the approval of their supervisors and the supervisors were quite angry about it, but in the end the supervisors just gave them a warning to not do it again. In your case, you are not a student anymore, so I think that it depends on the above questions (whether you did it in his lab, used his resources, or if you were getting paid, etc.). I don’t know how good is your relationship with your supervisor but if you want to avoid any problems, it is perhaps best that you tell your supervisor about the paper and put his name. Actually, putting the name of someone on a paper does not cost anything and it will make him happy.

  7. Dear Prof. Philippe,
    Recently my one paper rejected from A* conference. My algorithm is faster than the state-of the art algorithm both theoretically and experimentally. The problem being addressed in the paper is NPC problem. The reviewers did not raise any technical fault of my algorithm, they are asking to run for larger set of inputs. But for larger set of inputs my algorithm would take much time whereas state-of-the art algorithm did not consider larger set of inputs. Another reviewer asked to shift the problem because community is not working on it anymore. Please give me your valuable advice what to do next.

    • Hello,
      For the top conferences, it can be very hard to get published. Sometimes they have some quota. Even if your paper is quite good, they have to reject some papers. In my field (data mining), for the top conferences, they are usually more interested in papers that solve new problems rather than papers that present faster algorithms. Designing a faster algorithm is important but sometimes reviewers will call this an “incremental work”, and may not be so interested in that. I think that this is the concern of the second reviewer. For the first reviewer, since your algorithm is really faster, then it is not a problem to try with more data, I think. You may do some scalability experiment where you use some synthetic data an increase the size of the data to see how your algorithm and other algorithms perform for more data. Even if your algorithm is much slower when there is more data, if the other algorithms are also much slower, then it should be fine.

      Besides, I think you should try to submit the paper to a journal perhaps. For journal, there is generally no very strict quota on the number of papers to be accepted. This would help for the concern of reviewer 2 which think that this topic is not so interesting.

      But, of course, you should revise your paper and submit it again. Since you have done this work and you have good results, you need to try to publish it again.

      Also, sometimes you can be unlucky with some reviewers but next time the reviewer may like your paper more perhaps.

      Philippe

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