Away with Page Limits on Submissions
The FOCS 2013 PC is currently working on the call for papers (cfp). Our basis is the FOCS 2012 cfp. The main change we are contemplating is getting rid of the page limit for submissions. In fact, FOCS 2012 and previous conferences already took a step in this direction. For example FOCS 2012 cfp says: “There is no bound on the length of a submission, but material other than the abstract, references, and the first ten pages may be considered as supplementary and will be read at the committee’s discretion.” While this was in my opinion a step in the right direction, I feel it did not go far enough (and it does not answer all of the concerns that I will mention below).
I want to emphasize that there will be no change in the proceeding version (which will still be a two-column extended abstract). The hope is that authors will work on a full version of the paper, and submit it when it is already well written (e.g., ready to be posted on the authors’ web pages and on on-line repositories). Authors of accepted papers will still have to go through the unfortunate exercise of reformatting the paper for the proceeding version (which very few will look at).
Why the change? In essence, I think that the 10 page limit on submission is fiction. It is as if we have an agreement: authors write everything needed for the evaluation in 10 pages and reviewers will read these 10 pages carefully. The reality is different:
* Authors bypass the page limit by using less line spacing, denser fonts, shrinking the margins, separating abstract into a separate page, moving figures to the appendix, moving proofs into appendix, having 11.5 pages instead of 10, etc. All these things make it more difficult and unpleasant to review the paper (e.g., reviewers can skip proofs on their own rather than flipping back and forth between the body and the appendix). Reviewing papers in their natural structure is easier.
* Reviewers do not usually read the 10 pages carefully (by the way, we never promise in call-for-papers that they will read the 10 pages, but rather just state that they are not required to read the rest). On the other hand reviewers may need to read beyond the 10 pages, as we expect reviewers to reach some level of confidence regarding correctness. So in fact, the “legalistic approach” does not reflect reality (as reviewers read both less and more than required).
* The 10 page limit gives authors an excuse to submit papers that are half baked (deferring proofs etc. to the “full version” that may or may not ever appear).
* Authors waste time reformatting their paper. I personally hate doing it, and I’m sure I’m not alone on that.
The best argument I heard for page limit is that it forces authors to invest some thinking into their presentation and to make it accessible. But I’m not sure I buy it for 10 pages (whereas I may buy it for 2 pages). I think that turning a paper into submission is usually done mechanically and those that invest thought in it would also invest thought in their presentation regardless. A paper that is well written is well suited for conference reviewing whereas a badly-written paper will usually not improve by turning it into a 10-page submission.
The change: simply remove the page limitation! We will give additional guidance on how a paper should look like in terms of presentation (rather than in terms of format) and will give concrete guidance to sub-reviewers about their commitments. At the end though authors
should apply common sense in writing their papers (taking into account the limited resources of the review process) and reviewers should apply common sense in reviewing it.
My prediction: this will make the vast majority of papers easier to review. Some papers will be very hard to read (this happens a lot with the 10 pages too). To make the PC work feasible, it is important that the PC allow itself the freedom to reject papers due to inadequate presentation (this sometimes does good for the paper and authors, as well as the community at large)