The problem with Short Papers

Today, I will talk briefly about short papers at academic conferences, and the problems that they create (in my opinion). For those who don’t know, several conferences can reject or accept papers as short or full papers. A short paper means that the paper has fewer pages in the proceedings than the full papers. For instance, someone may submit a 12-page paper to a conference, which may then be accepted as a short paper that must fit in 6 pages.

Why there are short papers? The reason is quite simple. It allows conference organizers to accept more papers for their conference and thus to have more attendees, which means to earn more money through the registration fees (because it is the same price anyway for a short or a full paper). Short papers also allows conferences to accept some papers that are sometimes of low quality (almost rejected in some cases).

Why I dislike short papers? I think they are not a good idea. Let me explain why:

  • They force authors to remove many important details to try to squeeze their content in a small number of pages. For example, I recently got a paper accepted as short paper, and to make it fit within the page limit, I would have to either remove much of the technical details or remove some experiments. Either way, this will decrease the quality of the paper and the reader will miss some important details.
  • Not able to address the reviewers’ comments. In many cases, reviewers will give feedback on the paper saying that content must be added such as additional experiments. But if the paper is accepted as a short paper and the paper must be reduced by several pages, authors will be unable to address these comments, and authors may even have to do the opposite and remove experiments and details.
  • Quality control. Many conferences that accept short papers will not send the revised papers to reviewers again to ensure the quality of the revision. But after cutting let’s say 50% of the content, the quality has a good chance to decrease.
  • Less chances of having an impact. Short papers are less likely to have an impact or to be cited.
  • Probably less reproducible. Short papers are generally harder to reproduce because authors may have to left out much details.
  • The authors have to spend extra time to shorten their paper. To make a paper shorter, it can requires a few days of extra work.
  • It will likely not be possible to publish the results elsewhere as a full paper. Generally, if someone publish some results or ideas in a short paper, it will likely not be possible to make a full paper on the same idea at another conference (due to the overlap). Someone people may still do this by splitting their ideas into multiple papers but this is not a good practice.

For all these reasons, I dislike short papers, and often withdraw my papers if they are accepted as short papers, and then improve them and submit them to other conferences.

There are also some publishers such as Springer that acknowledge in some way the problem of short papers by mentioning that conferences are not expected to have too many short papers and that it is encouraged to not put a strict limit on the number of pages to avoid reducing the quality of papers.

That is all for today. If you have any comments, you may post them in the comment section below.

Philippe Fournier-Viger is a distinguished professor working in China and founder of the SPMF open source data mining software.

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