Choosing a venue: conference or journal?
by Michael Ernst (firstname.lastname@example.org)
(Also see my advice on writing
a technical paper.)
(Note: This webpage is oriented toward computer scientists. The information
is not necessarily accurate for other scientific fields.)
Should you publish your work in a conference or in a journal? Each is
appropriate in certain circumstances. This webpage lays out some of the
tradeoffs. (Note: I should expand it to discuss workshops as well.)
This information is accurate to the best of my knowledge, and it agrees with
what top researchers tell me. However, it is not intended to impugn any
particular conference or journal — there are always exceptions to a rule.
Why to prefer a conference
In computer science, your preference should be for conference publication.
Here are some reasons.
- Conferences have higher status. In part this is a historical artifact of
the field of computer science, but it is self-perpetuating since that makes
the best researchers want to send their papers to conferences rather than
- Conferences provide higher visibility and greater impact. Many people will
attend your talk, you will have the opportunity to answer questions, and
people will talk to both you and to one another in the hallways. Even
disregarding the event itself, more non-attendees read conference proceedings
than read journals.
- Conferences have higher quality. Acceptance rates to good conferences are
often around 10% (at least in software engineering, which is my field),
whereas even the best journals are less selective. Naturally, there exist
low-quality conferences (and journals), but if your c.v. is cluttered with
them, then you will appear to be incapable of good work (even if the work you
published in those venues really is good!), and your good publications will
not stand out. A good rule of thumb is that the best conferences are sponsored
- Conferences are more timely. It can take years for a journal publication
to appear (or even for reviews to come back), whereas the turnaround time for
conference reviews is a few months, and the proceedings also appear quickly.
- Conferences have higher standards of novelty. Journals often only require
20-30% of the material to be new, compared to an earlier conference version.
Why to prefer a journal
There are situations in which journal publication is desirable.
- Journals may have longer page limits. If you have too many experimental
results to fit in a conference publication, then a journal affords an
opportunity to include them. You can also include proofs that are too long (or
boring) for a shorter publication. A journal paper could recap or given an
overview of an entire research area.
- Journal reviews tend to be more detailed. A journal reviewer may spend
days on a paper, whereas a conference reviewer cannot afford to do so for each
of the many papers he or she is assigned. This is in part because conference
reviewers often believe the authors' claims (regarding a proof, for example),
whereas journal reviewers are expected to verify them. It may also be in part
because of the expectation that the paper will be revised and re-submitted to
the same journal. In any event, the extra details can help you to improve your
work or to understand its shortcomings.
- Journals give the opportunity to revise your work and re-submit it for
review. Actually, conferences give this too: if a paper is rejected from one
conference, then you can revise based on the reviewers' comments and submit to
a different conference, or the same one the next year.
- Journals have higher acceptance rates, giving the opportunity to get your
research published. The same is true of workshops. These are particularly good
venues for people who are just starting their research careers.
- Some lesser-ranked universities evaluate faculty on the basis of journal
publications, because the Dean of Engineering is unable or unwilling to
understand computer science. In most scientific fields, journals have higher
standards than conferences; computer science is a rare exception. A top-ranked
CS department can convince the dean to use the proper evaluation metric. A
lower-ranked CS department cannot (the dean may think the department is trying
to fool him or her). If you are at one of these universities, you will need to
publish in journals, probably by submitting slightly revised versions of your
conference papers to journals. The rush for people at lower-ranked
universities (some of whom are excellent researchers, and some of whom are
not) to submit even marginal results to journals is another regrettable factor
that tends to lower the overall quality of journals.
The best papers at a conference are often solicited for expedited journal
publication. I frequently decline these opportunities, but your circumstances
may be different. Whether you accept this invitation should be based on the
factors above, such as whether there is value to the community of an expanded
version of the paper, and how much more work it is to prepare the journal
version. (For example, is there a thesis, technical report, or other document
with additional material beyond the conference paper? Even better, are there
additions that were suggested by reviewers or during discussions at the
The journal version of a publication will be cited more than the conference
version, because the journal version has a later date and thus seems more
authoritative. This is a good thing if the journal version adds real value (or
corrects problems!). However, if you have cluttered the paper with a lot of
details that aren't crucial (like extra tables of results, experiments that
support your point slightly less strongly than the main ones, or discussions of
tangential issues), then your paper may actually have less impact because
readers will get mired in the irrelevant details. Good
writing can avoid such problems.
Regarding the impact of conferences vs. journals, see the CRA Best Practices
Computer Scientists and Engineers For Promotion and Tenure and Bertrand
Meyer et al.'s CACM article Research
Evaluation for Computer Science.
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compiled by Michael Ernst.