Guide to Successful Submissions: Papers
Considerable effort can go into preparing a paper for the CHI conference. No one wants to see this effort go to waste, especially if it involves a potentially valuable contribution that could bring credit to authors and fresh insights to readers. However, CHI is very popular as a place to present work, and this inevitably means that a large proportion of submitted papers — typically 80 percent — get rejected. For authors such as you, this means taking special care to submit your work in a manner that guarantees the best chance of gaining acceptance. This Guide has been prepared to help you.
Like most high-profile conferences, CHI relies on a panel of reviewers to assist the selection of papers. Your paper will be subjected to thorough reviewing by five or more experts in the relevant field. The process by which these reviewers are selected, and by which their assessments then influence the final decision, has been reworked and refined over the years in order to ensure that papers are treated as fairly as possible. Reviewers receive guidance, too, on how to prepare their reviews. Particular care is made to ensure that the instructions issued to them are consistent with the instructions to authors in the Call for Papers and in this Guide.
A major step towards guaranteeing authors fair treatment was made prior to the CHI 99 conference. That year and every year since, reviewers have been asked to assess submitted papers in terms of the contribution made to HCI, and the benefit thus gained by the target audience. Some minor changes have been introduced to the review process to ensure that papers offering strong contributions are indeed more likely to be accepted than those that do not.
The Review Form
We start this guide with a brief overview of the on-line form used by reviewers to submit their reviews of your paper. You may have been asked to review papers for CHI2004, in which case you will need to become very familiar with this form! That's not why we describe it here, however. Rather, we suggest that familiarity with the questions on the review form will help you to decide what to include or emphasize in your paper.
The questions on the review form (reproduced in full in Note 2 at the end of this Guide) ask the reviewer for the following:
Reviewers can also add further comments that they want you or the Papers Committee to see. But for you, the main concerns to keep in mind are those numbered 2, 3, and 4: you should offer the reviewers a strong, well-presented contribution to HCI that meets the criteria in the Call. If you do this, your paper should get a high rating.
Making a significant contribution
Your paper's reviewers will be asked to focus on the significance of the paper's contribution, the benefit others can gain from its results, the validity of the work, and its originality. Of these, the contribution and its significance are the most important. CHI papers are expected to offer contributions that clearly and significantly advance the field of HCI. Your paper should offer CHI2004 attendees, and readers of the proceedings, something that adds to what they could have learned from existing publications.
HCI is a very broad field, and it opens up a correspondingly broad range of possible contributions. The complete list of contribution types is given in Note 1 at the end of this Guide. Thus your paper's contribution may be a design briefing, a new design for an interactive technology or system, a new method or tool, an analysis of an HCI issue, results from fieldwork and ethnography, results from laboratory studies, or a theory or model. This list is not exhaustive, but it encompasses the vast majority of past CHI paper contributions.
CHI asks for just one such contribution. You may be tempted to offer more than one, for example, a new design and a new method by which you evaluated it. You are advised to resist this temptation, and focus on presenting one strong contribution really well. If you offer several contributions of different types, reviewers may be confused as to which is the paper's primary focus. Furthermore, you will probably find it difficult to do justice to more than one contribution in eight pages. Should you find you have several strong contributions to offer — and you have time to spare — consider submitting them as separate papers.
Offering benefit to the reader
If you are in a position to make a contribution to HCI, there will be people who stand to benefit from it. For example, if you are presenting a new interaction technique for small screens, it will be of potential use to people involved in developing handheld computers. A case study describing how you developed a new interactive product will probably catch the eye of HCI educators looking for teaching materials. The benefit thus to be gained from your paper will be one consideration that reviewers take into account.
As you write your paper, therefore, keep in mind the kinds of people you think might benefit from reading it. Think also about how this might happen — what kinds of problems might readers be facing to which your paper could provide the solution. Try to make sure that the paper explains the contribution in sufficient detail for the full benefit to be extracted.
This is an appropriate point in our guide to mention an item you will need to provide when you submit your paper: a statement of contribution and benefit, in 30 words or less. This statement is not part of your paper, and is not seen by reviewers. If the paper is accepted, however, a statement of contribution and benefit will be included in its entry in the conference proceedings' Table of Contents. It will be based on the statement you provide with your submission. We suggest it may be useful to draft this statement before you begin writing your paper, to help keep the contribution and benefit in sharp focus. Hints on writing the statement will be found in Note 3 at the end of this Guide.
Ensuring results are valid
The validity of your paper's contribution must be adequately supported by appropriate arguments, analyses, evaluations, or data. Otherwise readers will find it hard to judge whether they can confidently take up your ideas, and thus gain the benefits you are claiming to offer. Reviewers are therefore asked to assess the validity of the results you are presenting.
Demonstrating validity is one of the most troublesome aspects of writing CHI papers. Reviewers often cite problems with validity, rather than with the contribution per se, as the reason to reject a paper. For this reason it is risky to leave validity issues (for example, evaluating a design) until the last minute. Instead you should consider, when planning the work and certainly before embarking on the paper, how you will demonstrate your contribution's validity. There are many ways to do this; they mostly fall under two headings:
Your choice of how to demonstrate validity will depend on what kind of contribution you're offering. Is it some kind of empirical result — a finding or some guidelines, for example, drawn from analyzing experimental data? If so, you will almost certainly want to demonstrate "sound methods" validity by showing that the experiment was sufficiently well designed, and the data sufficiently carefully analyzed using appropriate methods, to back up the results you're presenting. Alternatively, does your contribution take the form of a design for a new interface, interaction technique or design tool? If so, you will probably want to demonstrate "evaluation" validity, by subjecting your design to tests that demonstrate its effectiveness.
You must also decide how far to go towards demonstrating validity. How rigorous and painstaking should you be? Of course it usually pays to err on the side of thoroughness, but this can lead you into short-changing other aspects of the work, because all your time is going into gathering extensive data under carefully controlled conditions and subjecting it to thorough analysis. Where should you draw the line?
A guiding principle here is to consider the benefits that lie in your contribution, and confirm to your own satisfaction, and your colleagues', that these benefits are really there. Again, the steps you take depend on the contribution. For example, if you have developed a new type of menu, capable of reducing errors in selecting menu items, you will probably run a careful experiment to measure error rates with this and other types of menu. If you have come up with an innovative system to support collaborative writing, you may try to evaluate it in real-world conditions, offering it to a group of co-authors for use in a joint writing task, and conducting studies to determine how the system helps them — and what problems it introduces. If you have developed a new system design methodology, you may find it hard to compare with other methodologies, but you will probably want to report on your experiences in using it. Any evaluations like these, conducted to convince yourself that you've got something of benefit to the HCI community, can appropriately be adopted and extended to convince your reviewers and readers.
Bear in mind that reviewers of papers often mention issues of an obvious or important nature that have not been addressed by the authors. They often criticize authors for conducting studies without adequate theoretical basis, or for not providing enough evidence or sound reasoning for claims. A further concern is lack of justification for design choices and not explaining why certain design features have been included. In summary, you should explain not only what you did, but also why you did it, so that readers (including reviewers) can be convinced that you made appropriate choices. Explaining your choices can also stimulate more research by helping others see alternative approaches.
Finally, remember that where you have collected data for analysis, appropriate methods should have been selected and correctly applied to support the work. You should provide sufficient data or well-supported arguments, explain what analyses were made and why, cite relevant work, and cover the important issues at the appropriate level of detail.
Gaining credit for originality
Originality in your paper will help it get accepted in two ways. First, it is not just helpful but essential that the paper's contribution be original, going beyond any work already reported in other journals or conference proceedings. Second, reviewers will often give credit for original approaches adopted in conducting the work, particularly if these contributed strongly to the work's success.
To demonstrate the originality of your contribution you should make sure to cite prior work (including your own) in the relevant area. If possible, explain the limitations in this work that your contribution has overcome. Make sure also to cite publications that have had a major influence on your own work. Lack of references to prior work is a frequent cause for complaint — and low rating — by reviewers. Note that reviewers are being asked to set the context for their review by identifying relevant past work; you can help them do this. You can also make it easier for them to check your references by concentrating on papers in easy-to-find publications. Allow adequate time for this part of your paper's preparation.
As regards originality in conducting your work, remember that acceptance of your paper doesn't depend on this. If the paper's contribution is a strong one, it should gain acceptance however you arrived at it. However, reviewers do appreciate novelty and elegance in conducting the work, particularly if they can see how it simplified the work, or could help others conduct work of a similar kind, or both. Thus they will probably give credit for an original way of collecting data during a study, or of choosing a means of evaluating a design, or of overcoming a weakness found in a new design. A few examples of such originality in your work will probably strengthen your paper; however, a plethora of them could drown out the central contribution — so go easy!
Describing the work clearly and concisely
You would be surprised at the number of reviewer complaints about written presentation. Describing your work involves not only writing good prose, but also providing a good structure that helps the reader follow the explanation. The text should be supported with figures, tables and even videos where appropriate; these should be clear and easy to understand. In summary, try to write clearly and concisely, avoid jargon, organize the paper to flow logically and smoothly, provide the right level of detail, and make good use of figures to support the text.
Although all presentations at CHI are made in English, CHI is a conference with an international audience — and an international panel of reviewers. Papers must be written in a language that effectively communicates across national and cultural boundaries. When authors are not native speakers of English, reviewers try to assess the quality of the work independent of language issues, but good English always helps. If you are not a native English speaker but have access to those who are, it is a good idea to ask them to proof-read your paper before you submit it.
Even if your first language is English, keep in mind that non-native English speakers will be reading and reviewing the paper. Avoid long, complex sentences as well as regional colloquialisms, jokes, or puns that could be difficult for someone outside your culture to understand.
A couple of final and important points: first, CHI papers are reviewed on an 'as-is' basis, and cannot be accepted conditionally upon making changes. This is unavoidable given the tight schedule of the reviewing process: there is no time for a second review after the author has made changes, so reviewers must make a decision whether the submission in its current form is acceptable for CHI. Note, however, that reviewers often do make suggestions for further improvement, and authors of accepted papers are encouraged to make minor revisions to their work before a final draft is required.
Also, when writing your paper you should resist the temptation to describe future work, or work expected to be completed before the final submission or conference. Although these planned activities are often interesting, you cannot rely on them to get your paper accepted. On the contrary, they may be seen by reviewers as evidence that the submission is premature, and you may be advised to resubmit when more of the work has been completed.
With its large number of submissions, CHI's review process is bound to be highly competitive. The intent of the review process is to provide the conference with a program of papers offering significant contributions of high potential benefit to attendees and readers. Writing such a paper for CHI2004 is a lot of work, but it is rewarded with the visibility and influence that only high-profile publications like the CHI Letters series (in which CHI Proceedings are included) can offer. We hope this document has helped give you some clear and concrete guidance on how to write a successful CHI submission. If not, feel free to send feedback and questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Best wishes, and we look forward to seeing a good collection of successful submissions this year.
Note 1: The types of contribution your paper can offer