I am currently reviewing a conference paper. In the main mathematical proof in the paper, the authors have used a variable 'X' without specifying what it means. And, it is not trivial to figure out what it means. Everything seems well written but understanding the proof without the meaning of the notation is making me frustrated.

Should I try harder to figure out by myself, what the notation could mean? This would require a lot of effort from my side, and perhaps I might fail to figure it out. Or should I simply reject the paper?

There is a small rebuttal period but then I am not sure if I would be able to devote sufficient time to review the paper again that time.

  • 7
    This is what "revise and resubmit" and "major revision" recommendations are for. (That said, many conferences in maths do not consider proofs to be essential, under the theory that conference papers are mere teasers for later journal papers. Depends on the conference.) Commented Jul 4, 2021 at 7:51
  • Would you mind explaining what a rebuttal period is? Do authors get to reply to recommendations to reject? (Asking out of curiosity: might be something that ought to be imported from your field to mine.) Commented Jul 4, 2021 at 8:54
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    The process you mention (like "rebuttal period") seems to be common in theoretical computer science conferences. In your situation, I'd ask the chair of the program committee (or whoever asked me to do this review) to ask the authors for the definition of X, so that I can continue reviewing. And, of course, if the review is otherwise successful, I'd say in my report that the definition of X must be included in the final version of the paper. Commented Jul 4, 2021 at 11:48
  • @AndreasBlass Yes, you are right! I am reviewing a paper of a Computer Science topic. I will try communicating this to the program committee chair. However, I wonder if he/she will respond since there are thousands of papers that are submitted in the conference, and the chair might be busy with other important tasks. But I will try.
    – IY2
    Commented Jul 4, 2021 at 12:39
  • @AnonyPostdoc You might find the definition in this useful.
    – IY2
    Commented Jul 4, 2021 at 12:41

1 Answer 1


If your only options are "Accept" and "Reject" then yes, you might reject. But issues like this one is why there's usually a third option, "revise", that you can recommend. I would just recommend revision now, and wait for the authors to fix the issue (it shouldn't take long).

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