Choosing a venue: conference or journal?
by Michael Ernst (email@example.com)
(Also see my advice on writing a
technical paper, and a letter to the US INS making the point that
in computer science, papers in
peer-reviewed conferences are accepted as high-quality scholarly
(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
(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 all top researchers say. However, it is not intended to impugn
any particular conference or journal — there are always exceptions to
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 by ACM.
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
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
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
I sometimes 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 conference?)
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 Memo,
Scientists and Engineers For Promotion and Tenure and Bertrand Meyer
et al.'s CACM article
Evaluation for Computer Science.
Back to Advice compiled by Michael Ernst.