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Is it considered bad practice or unethical to remove some references/citations between the initial paper submission and the final one? I submitted an 8-page conference paper, it got peer-reviewed, it got accepted, and now I have to submit the final 6-page version. In order to cut down on length, I'm thinking of removing some less important/relevant references that I included in the initial submission.

Are there any general "rules" against that? It's an IEEE paper btw.

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    Welcome to Academia.SE, Spyros! Just a quick note about the etiquette, it's usually not expected to write "thanks" or sign your name as we see your avatar/pic just besides the question. That being said, I can't imagine how else you would shorten a manuscript 25% without needing to remove chunks that contain references. I would be very surprised if there are guidelines that specifically prohibit that. – posdef Jan 29 '14 at 17:04
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    It is strange to ask for 8-pages length during submission, then asking to cut 2 pages after acceptance. Very strange. – dgraziotin Jan 29 '14 at 17:06
  • @dgraziotin: The procedure of accepting a submitted full paper only as a short paper because the reviewers felt the contribution in itself is valuable, but not major enough to warrant a full paper, does not strike me as particularly strange. Without any further information, that may well have been the case here. – O. R. Mapper Feb 5 '15 at 14:16
  • @O.R.Mapper I agree with you. However, short papers usually have their own submission system, or are at least marked as such when submitting. Short papers also have a significant..shorter length with respect to full papers. I am not saying that they are always 1/2 of a full paper but we are usually about that proportion. A reduction to two pages without a request to submit as short paper looks to me more that there had been issues with the conference proceedings publisher. – dgraziotin Feb 5 '15 at 16:33
  • @dgraziotin: Sure, but some conferences take the liberty to accept submissions submitted as full papers only under the condition that they be shortened to short papers. Of course, it should be pointed out in the notification message that the "full paper submission was accepted as a short paper" or similar; the OP doesn't make any statements about whether that was the case. – O. R. Mapper Feb 5 '15 at 18:01
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You are of course entitled to add or remove parts of your paper to adhere to length and content guidelines of a conference or journal. If such changes lead to a change in the references being cited, then that is reasonable. Of course, it is also reasonable for the journal or conference to determine if the changes that you've made affect the overall quality of the paper. So it cuts both ways.

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In general no major changes should be made to a paper after acceptance unless either requested by the editor or, if suggested by you, approved by the editor. There are of course trivial changes and there are major changes that can result from making removing materials in a paper. When a paper becomes accepted, it is considered ready for publication by the editor. If you then make changes to the paper (apart from correcting spelling or grammar) you need to communicate these to the editor and make a good case for why you need to make them and how you can ensure they do not alter the content and more importantly the basis for your conclusions. The reviewers have reviewed the paper with all the information included and in the worst case your paper may not have been accepted were not all of it there.

So making significant changes after acceptance is not to be toyed with and consulting the editor is necessary.

The problem in your case lies, as pointed out by dgraziotin, in that you need to shorten the paper after acceptance which is normally considered too late. On the other hand, if the editor asks you to do so, then I would assume the editor will see to it that the reduction does not significantly influence any vital parts of the logic and reasoning leading to your conclusions. In such a case you will need to follow instructions, the responsibility for accepting the paper with the final revisions still lie with the editor and you have not done anything unethical or wrong. I will, however, say that the order of matters seems jumbled within the organisation of the conference peer review system.

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    To the down-voter: It is difficult to improve an answer when no comments are left to guide such revisions. According to the help formulation for down-voting "voting down a post [signals the opposite]: that the post contains wrong information, is poorly researched, or fails to communicate information". – Peter Jansson Jan 29 '14 at 20:10
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    No idea why this was down-voted, it's as accurate as an answer could be to the question at hand. – posdef Jan 30 '14 at 8:55
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Every paper is written with one thing in mind: making a contribution to your field. If, by removing a citation you are impacting the quality of your contribution, then it needs to be left in.

Having said that, I think the section of your paper the reference is in could help you determine if it's making an impact on your contribution. If it's from the related works section, and you have plenty of related work, then no big deal - remove it. But ... if it's directly in support of your contribution, then removing it may have more impact on what your trying to accomplish, and you should find a way to keep it in.

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A paper is not accepted until the editor says it is. Having a glowing referee's report is not the same as an acceptance; at best it is "provisional acceptance". In this case, the editor wants additional changes regarding length. If these changes can be made to the editor's satisfaction (which may include sending the revised version to referees again), only then the paper is accepted.

My advice is to do the best you can, and to address your changes in your cover letter. Honestly, how much space do your references really take up in an 8 page paper? Most likely you can make the cuts you need in the body.

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