5.7 -- Publishing a Paper
Memo from a Chinese Economic Journal:
We have read your manuscript with boundless delight.
If we were to publish your paper, it would be impossible for us
to publish any work of lower standard.
And as it is unthinkable that in the next thousand years we
shall see its equal, we are, to our regret, compelled to return
your divine composition, and to beg you a thousand times to
overlook our short sight and timidity.
When To Publish
A common progression:
- Give a talk about a neat idea
- Write up the talk into a short paper
- Give your friends/colleagues a draft to read
- Submit the draft to a conference
[The paper will be 5-8 proceeding pages, and will have
obvious limitations. You will, however, get valuable
feedback and publicity.]
- Rework the draft, and do more research. Develop a journal
- It is often not clear whether to publish soon, or wait for
better results and publish later.
- If you wait too long, you may wind up writing too long of a
- If you try to publish too soon, you may get a reputation for
- It may be a bad idea to spend months revising the paper to
be "perfect," because the referees may ask you to
completely rewrite the paper.
Paul Halmos's Comments on What to Publish
From P. Halmos, Selecta: Expository Writing,
Springer-Verlag, 1983, pp. 192-195.
G. H. Hardy's criteria:
- Is it new?
- Is it true?
- Is it interesting?
might mean that your paper contains:
- A new fact
- A new proof
- A new method (or algorithm)
Example of new fact:
Answering an open problem definitively
(e.g., mechanically prove that 22**7 +1 can be factored).
Example of new proof:
Do in one paragraph what previously others took many laborious
Example of new method:
Proof a well known fact with the same length proof as previous
authors, but use a new proof method that opens up a whole new approach
Other constraints on what to publish...
You'd like to publish deep
results, but it can be hard to judge when something is deep:
- A complex proof does not imply a deep theorem
- A complex algorithm does not guarantee that the original
problem was inherently hard
- A short proof or simple algorithm does not mean the
original theorem or problem is trivial!
- Sometimes a "surprising" result can be a deep one --
even if it is obvious after it is discovered.
What people publish is often guided by which topics are "hot,"
which is guided by the current
Halmos's informal survey:
- When asked what percentage of the math literature should have been
published, respondents answers ranged from 50% to only 2%.
- Less active, less motivated mathematicians reported about
the great pressure to publish, publish, publish.
- Give a talk without a proceedings paper
- Give a talk with a proceedings abstract
- Write an unrefereed proceedings paper
- Write a refereed proceedings paper
- Write a refereed Journal paper
- Invited talk
- Invited paper
Choosing a Journal
Questions to Ask...
- Which journal is appropriate?
- Compare the journal's objectives to your paper's content
- See which journals you cite in your references
- Ask the editor -- send an abstract or even the full paper
- Ask colleagues to read your paper and make suggestions
- What is the prestige and quality of the journal you select?
- High quality journals have lower acceptance rates, so
publishing a paper can be difficult
- Acceptance rates could be 50% to only 20%
- High quality journals are cited more often
- What is the circulation of the journal you select?
- If you publish in a new journal with small circulation, most
libraries might not even subscribe! So very few people
will see the work.
- The first issue of most journals lists circulation figures
- Circulation may become irrelevant in electronic journals
- What is the audience of the journal you select?
Suppose you write a paper on a new parallel algorithm for
searching. Consider the prestige/circulation/audience of:
- Journal of the ACM (very formal, theory-oriented)
- IEEE Transactions on Parallel and Distributed Computing
(readers work in one discipline of CS/EE; formal research results,
theory or experimentation)
- IEEE Computer (CS part of EE graduates, plus CS graduates;
>20% of paper must be tutorial)
- IEEE Spectrum (any EE graduate; no math allowed!)
More on choosing a journal...
- What is the delay from submission to publication?
- Some editors are better than others at nagging referees
to finish their reviews in 3-6 months.
- Some journals have a longer backlog for publication.
- Some journals publish the dates of submission and
revision for each paper, so you know the exact delay.
Note on Special Issues:
Special issues have a lower delay, possible more prestige
(because they are selective), but are more competitive.
Submitting a Manuscript
Where to send the manuscript:
Look at the inside cover. Read the instructions for authors
(usually in one issue each year).
For some journals, submit to the editor; for others, and area
editor. Choose the area editor carefully (possibly consider
sending e-mail if you are unsure of whether you've chosen the
correct area editor).
Be sure to get the address from the most recent
Editors move, and new editors are appointed.
- the journal to which you are submitting the paper
- the title
- the address for correspondence
-- just one author
- a note that your address might change (if this is a
- Double space the manuscript with wide margins!
- Submit single sided, stapled copies
- Consider putting a running head (with date) on each page
- Always put a date on the cover (helps identify different
versions if your manuscript is revised)
- Be sure that cross references are correct (especially with LaTeX)
Number of copies to send:
The instructions for authors will state the number of copies
Keywords and Subject Classification:
Some journals require key words and subject classification.
However, it is a good habit to put these on all papers. These
may be used by the editor to assign the paper to an area editor,
or to assign referees.
If your manuscript cites unpublished work:
You may consider enclosing copies of unpublished work that is
critical to the submitted manuscript, or copies of omitted proofs
(which are likely to be in technical reports).
Contact the editor if you do not receive an acknowledgement in
The Refereeing Process
- If paper was submitted to editor-in-chief, editor assigns to area
- Area editor assigns paper to two to five referees.
- Referees are asked to return paper in one month.
- Three to twelve months later, the area editor receives the
reviews, recommends action (accept, accept with minor changes,
ask author to prepare major revision, reject) to editor-in-chief.
- Editor-in-chief (but sometimes area editor) informs author.
- Author revises, if necessary. Returns manuscript (with original
art work) as instructed in step 5. Include letter stating how referee
comments were addressed. Possibly summarize differences
between original and revised manuscript.
- Editor may review paper on his/her own, or asks referees to
- Repeat steps 4 and 5. Possible repeat steps 6 and 7.
Submitting a Revised Manuscript
This may be the last manuscript version you submit. Be sure
that it is completely polished and error-free.
If you see a non-trivial error later (e.g., months later when you
read the page proofs), you may not
be able to correct it --
so proofread carefully!
Send the editor:
- Original art in a separate envelope marked as such.
Consider printing the art larger than true size, so that the
typesetter can reduce it to a high quality figure.
- An original laser printer copy of your paper.
Why do this? The typesetter might treat a table or algorithm as
artwork and merely photograph it, rather than typesetting it!
- Memo detailing how you addressed the referees' comments.
The Role of Copy Editor
After your manuscript is accepted for publication, it goes to the
The copy editor will:
- do limited rewriting or reorganization of material to make
the paper more readable
- edit to correct grammar, syntax, and inconsistencies
- impose the journal style
The copy editor tries to minimize the number of changes to
preserve the author's style.
Typically you will receive the copy-marked manuscript when you
are sent proofs of the paper.
- Most marks are instructions to the typesetter concerning
- A note marked "Au." is a question to you, the author.
- If you are unhappy with a change to wording or grammar,
you can attach a note to the proof or even reverse the
change on the proof.
(Sometimes a copy editor misunderstands your wording:
Original: "stable in a sense weaker than"
Copy-marked: "stable, and in a sense, weaker than"
Author's revision: "stable in a weaker sense than"
Checking the Proofs
Months after your manuscript is accepted, you'll receive page or
galley proofs showing your paper in typeset form.
Galley proofs: Sheets without page breaks
Page proofs: Sheets with page breaks (used with TeX)
You must return the proofs in 48 hours to 1 week, or the journal
will postpone publication of your paper.
Often the copy-marked manuscript is enclosed.
- compare line by line the marked manuscript to
the proofs to find errors
- read the proofs by themselves "for meaning"
- check globally equation numbers to look for omissions
- check for consistent use of fonts and spacing for changes
that the copy editor made
- check the correctness of running heads
- check the correctness of the submission date, because it
may help to establish priority if similar work is published
by other researchers
- check any tables, algorithms, or programs that were
See [H] Figure 8.2 for a list of errors to check.
See [H] Figure 8.3 for list of standard proofreading symbols.
Greatest number of authors of a refereed paper:
P. Aarnio et al., Study of hadronic decays of the Z0
boson, Phys. Lett. B, 240 (1990), pp. 271-282.
This paper has 547 authors from 29 institutions. The list of
authors and their addresses occupies three journal pages.
The shortest title:
Charles A. McCarthy, c_p, Israel J. Math, 5 (1967),