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Longer or shorter conference papers?

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The past few days have seen the review deadline for IJCAI papers, SIGIR papers, and SIGIR posters, of which I had 11 (mostly farmed out), 10, and 4 (all done myself), respectively. IJCAI had a six-page limit, whereas this year, SIGIR expanded their papers from the usual eight pages to ten.

I don’t know what the reason for SIGIR’s expanded page limit was, but I don’t think it was a good idea. It’s arguably kind to authors, but it’s unkind to readers, and rather cruel to reviewers. For the papers I reviewed, the extra pages seemed to add padding to weak papers and remove concision from strong ones. If conferences provide anything worthwhile as a publication venue, it is early exposure for novel and interesting ideas; and there are few interesting ideas that need more than six double-column pages to convey.

One argument I have heard put forward for increasing the page limit on conference papers is that the shift to soft-copy distribution removes the physical constraint on proceedings size. The cost of paper, however, is hardly the main concern. A far rarer resource is attention: the volume of literature that a researcher must keep up with is constantly growing, and our time to read it is generally shrinking. SIGIR itself has expanded from 28 papers two decades ago, to 47 papers ten years back, to 87 papers last year. In the face of literary inflation, the importance of concision increases. Conference organizers should be tightening, not loosening, their allowances.

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