Although the set of standards is not widely understood, there is a set of standards. There are many areas of disagreement, but they are out-weighed by the areas of agreement. The purpose of this panel is to try to explain how OOPSLA papers are judged so that it will increase the odds that your paper will be accepted.
Alan Snyder's appendix to the OOPSLA'91 proceedings on "How to Get Your Paper Accepted at OOPSLA" is very accurate. However, abstract rules like "explain the contribution of your paper" and "convince the program committee that your work is correct" can be interpreted differently for different kinds of papers. That is why most of the panel members will describe the way that standards are applied to a particular topic. Kent Beck will give his extremely concrete rules for writing papers.
One piece of advice that often seems to be ignored is to have your paper reviewed by colleagues. Two of the most important rules are that papers should be understandable and that they should be of interest to the OOPSLA community. In both of these cases, you will need outside readers to tell whether the paper is acceptable. I have a hard time telling whether a paper I wrote is easy to understand -- I never have any trouble understanding my papers. Most people are like me. Since most of the authors are new to the OOPSLA community, they have a hard time telling whether the paper is of interest. Many problems can be avoided by having someone else read your paper and criticize it. The best reviewers will be people who are active in the area and who often attend OOPSLA, but who are from a different institution and so do not know the work you are reporting on. Authors of papers you are citing are good prospects, especially if the papers were presented at OOPSLA. They can tell you whether you are ignoring some related work and whether they are convinced by your argument.
A low acceptance rate is hard on the program committee, just as it is hard on people submitting papers. Members of the committee read thirty to fifty papers, try to write careful reviews while knowing that all but a handful of the papers will be rejected. Eventually they fall into the state of expecting to reject papers, and consequently sometimes overlook good ones, ones that with a little improvement would be good. We would all be better off with fewer papers submitted and a higher acceptance rate. The best way to do this is for authors to have a better idea of what it takes to get a paper accepted at OOPSLA and not to submit papers that obviously are not suitable.
Give your paper a clear focus. It is far better to have a single idea that has been thoroughly discussed than a set of interesting but unfocused ideas. This one of the easiest ways to get into trouble: you may want to say too much. Remember that only so much can be said in twenty pages.
State your thesis carefully and be sure to support it. It must be clear that the body of the paper supports the thesis. A paper that makes a claim but does not support it is far worse than a paper that makes lesser but supports them well. All too often a paper will claim to provide a better or more efficient solution to some problem, but then offer no analysis or evidence to support the claim. Reviewers spend much of their time scanning for your thesis statement and will read anything that looks like a claim as one. They will then be sure to check for supporting evidence.
Theory for its own sake is not enough. The theory must prove (or disprove) some proposition that is of interest to the community. It is not enough to simply give an x-theoretic account of concept-y. You must answer the question: what does an x-theoretic analysis provide that was lacking in previous analyses? Explain how things can be done differently as a result of the understanding the theory gives.
As with all papers, comparison to related work is essential for an acceptable theory paper. Although it can be difficult, a formal analysis of the difference between your new theory and previous attempts is very convincing.
Test the power of your theory against accepted practices of object-oriented programming, languages, and systems. Take a real example and analyze it with your theory. Or prove that the theory is related to an existing system. An untested theory is not worth much, but a good theory should be easy to apply to practical examples.
An experience paper ideally tells an informative story on some aspect of the development, delivery, design, or architecture of a significant object-oriented application. The best papers present a single focused topic or case study and then reflect on broader issues. On the other hand, research papers disguised as “experiences gathered in an academic setting” and papers discussing the implementation of a commercial product that are thinly disguised advertisements are inappropriate.
Many potential authors with interesting stories don't know how to write a technical paper for a technical conference. The key to a good experience paper is to present ideas clearly and succinctly. Experience papers needn't mimic the style of a research contribution. For example, extensive citations or discussions on areas for future research aren't appropriate. However, they should include relevant facts, sum up key points, and cite related ideas when appropriate. They also must present enough details so that others can understand and relate to the experience.
Experience papers should assume that their audience understands object technology, current methods and practices. It is appropriate to assume that the audience does not know much about the application area discussed in the paper, and that they don't wish to. The audience is more interested in the important aspects of application development that are affected by the use of object technology. Ideally, the paper should present lessons learned that can be easily compared with others' experiences. Presenting a balanced view of both positive and negative aspects of the experience can be illuminating.
Many submissions fall short of their potential simply by attempting to cover too much ground. For example, when presenting a case study, it isn't necessary to include coding examples. When discussing a project history, it is appropriate to summarize the highlights and perhaps amplify a few key points. Including too many low level technical details is generally not interesting. Papers discussing detailed language specific techniques are more appropriate for a language specific conference or journal.
A good paper about object-oriented methods should also:
Whole Cloth Languages Primary Audience: experienced language designers
Papers in this category have been rare since 1990.
A paper in this category presents a completely new programming language, either in its entirety or in summary. The language would need to be quite small to fit into the page limitations of the OOPSLA proceedings, and so my advice is as follows:
Language Extensions Audience: experience language designers
Papers that discuss extensions to an existing programming languages are still popular. If the extensions you are proposing solve new problems or solve old problems in new ways, you should treat this paper like a Whole Cloth Language paper and talk about the extensions as if they were the new language. If the extensions solve implementation problems or focus on reducing complexity or improving performance, you should probably treat this paper like a Language Implementation paper.
Language Implementations Audience: language implementors
Though there are conferences that focus on language implementation, there is also a core of people in the OOPSLA audience who care deeply about implementation techniques. Here are some rules:
In considering the level of "proof of concept" mentioned above, make sure you are informed about the state of the art in presentations for the category of implementation you are reporting on. For example, garbage collection papers reached the point where merely describing the algorithm, even formally, or determining its complexity, are not enough. You must either prove the algorithm is correct rigorously or describe a running implementation that is essentially in production-level use. For persistent objects, simply describing clearly and compellingly a new technique without proof or providing benchmark results is acceptable -- there is requirement of rigorous proof or a production-quality implementation.
Language Comparisons Audience: language designers, people making language choices
A language comparison paper takes two or more languages and compares them narrowly or broadly. A narrow comparison must focus on the key areas of the languages. This can be either a research or experience paper, depending on the means of comparison -- it could be at the semantic level (research) or at the use level (experience). A language comparison paper should be a paper that the designers of each of the languages in question would agree with. You should have people who are ardent users of each of the languages read your paper; a successful paper in one that each of the readers finds at least thought-provoking as well as informative regarding all the languages and accurate with respect to the favored language.
Language Critiques Audience: language designers, language choosers, general
I draw a distinction between critiques, pans, and accolades. All three of these types of papers focus on one language and present arguments about its adequacy, usefulness, design quality, or expressiveness.
A critique contains both positive and negative statements about the language. A critique is not a flame session.
Language Pans or Accolades Audience: language designers, language choosers, general
A language pan is a critique that is entirely negative; a language accolade is a critique that is entirely positive. It is extremely hard to get such papers accepted unless there is extraordinary scholarship involved. Such a paper must have clearly objective basis and must be very compelling. You probably have to be one the well-regarded language designers to pull this off.
The best way to approach this paper is as an experience paper in which an application failed or succeeded because of the language.
You best bet is to submit this sort of paper to one of the trade magazines and not to OOPSLA.
The caveats about responsibility mentioned in the Language Comparison section apply here.
Language Semantics Audience: theoretical programming language people
Such a paper presents the semantics of parts or all of one or more programming languages. Here are some rules:
Language Reflection Audience: general
A paper in this category explains something about languages that is either not clear, nor apparent, or poorly understood, or it presents a new way of thinking about things that is compelling. There are few papers like this today, and many of them are formal or theoretical. An example would be a paper that showed that abstract data types and classes were orthogonal ways of expressing or understanding modularity. There is only one rule:
A note on writing Referees don't have a lot of time to spend on reading and reviewing conference papers. Although every single one of them is devoted to doing the best possible and most thorough job, qualified referees have a hectic and demanding schedule. A referee has limited time to read your paper and frequent distractions to confuse him or her. Often, your paper will get exactly one read- ing by each referee. Wouldn't you like that one show to have the best effect it can?
Over 2300 years ago, Thucydides wrote:
A man who has the knowledge but lacks the power to express it is no better off than if he never had any ideas at all.I won't try to teach you how to write, but I will give you one piece of advice:
Remember that the program committee is made up of experts in the field. Even if your topic is of broad interest to beginners, there must still be some spark in it to keep an expert reading to the end. If your topic is highly technical, it may not be in an area that they are familiar with, so it must readably present the novel aspects of the work.
I think some people are reluctant to boil their message down to one startling sentence because it opens them up to concrete criticism. If you write about the Foo System and someone says it isn't neat, you can just reply, "Is so, nyah!" If you say network garbage collection is easy, it is a statement that is objectively true or false. You can be proven wrong. Wait! You spent five years proving it was easy. Make you case.
Divide your paper into four sections. The first describes the problem to be solved. When the PC member is done reading it, they should understand why it is a problem, and believe that it is important to solve. The second section describes your problem. You are convincing the PC member that your solution really could solve the problem. This section is sometimes supplemented with a section between the defense and related work which describes imple- mentation details. The third section is your defense of why your solution really solves the problem. The PC member reading it should be convinced that the problem is actually solved, and that you have thought of all reasonable counter arguments. The final section describes what other people have done in the area. Upon reading this section, the PC member should be convinced that what you have done is novel.
I try to have four sentences in my abstract. The first states the problem. The second states why the problem is a problem. The third is my startling sentence. The fourth states the implication of my startling sentence. An abstract for this paper done in this style would be:
The rejection rate for OOPSLA papers in near 90%. Most papers are rejected not because of a lack of good ideas, but because they are poorly structured. Following four simple steps in writing a paper will dramatically increase your chances of acceptance. If everyone followed these steps, the amount of communication in the object community would increase, improving the rate of progress.Well, I'm not sure that's a great abstract, but you get the idea.
I always feel funny writing an abstract this way. The idea I thought was so wonderful when I started writing the paper looks naked and alone sitting there with no support. I resist the temptation to argue for my conclusion in the abstract. I think it gives the reader more incentive to carefully read the rest of the paper. They want to find you how in the world you could possible say such an outrageous thing.
Kent Beck was the OOPSLA'89 program chair and on the OOPSLA'88 and '90 program committees.
Grady Booch was on the OOPSLA'86, '89, '91, '92, and '93 program committees.
Richard Gabriel was on the OOPSLA'89 and '93 program committees and has reviewed over 400 OOPSLA submissions.
William Cook was on the OOPSLA'90, '91, '92, and '93 program committees.
Rebecca Wirfs-Brock was the OOPSLA'92 program chair and on the OOPSLA'91 and '93 program committees.
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