I am reviewing a conference paper that violates the maximum number of pages by more than 10%. I believe that this is enough reason to outright reject the paper.

However, maybe the authors would welcome reviewer comments anyway. But I do not want to waste a day's work, in case nobody cares about my comments. What is customary and ethical in such a situation?

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    Just to make sure: Do the guidelines for reviewers provided by the conference say anything specific about that? Mar 7, 2015 at 15:15
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    Was this paper given to you after being processed by the program committee? Mar 7, 2015 at 16:16
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    Is the paper otherwise formatted according to the instructions in the call for papers? E.g., if the ultimate format is supposed to be max 8 pages of dense 2-column IEEE format, and they submitted a single-column double-spaced manuscript, it might be the case that it will be under the page limit after producing the final draft, and that the program chair has factored this into their decision to send it out for review. I think that checking with the program chair/committee is the best strategy.
    – Bill Barth
    Mar 7, 2015 at 19:13
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    Does this paper include an appendix? In cs, these are often not counted towards the limit (but should then not contain anything vital) Mar 8, 2015 at 1:32
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    Is revise and resubmit an option? Is it possible the paper could have material excised and thus be approved? Do you have time to provide such a direction (I would think you would, since you're already intending to review a paper less than 90% this one's length)? If yes, review it with that in mind. Else reject it.
    – Aaron Hall
    Mar 9, 2015 at 18:28

8 Answers 8


As a disclaimer, I have not been in this exact situation: in my field (mathematics) there are few conference papers, and the number of journals with strict length requirements is small enough that I have never reviewed a paper which violated the requirements. Nevertheless:

In my experience it is customary in academic and professional contexts that if you submit something that does not adhere to the rules of submission, then you should expect that your submission will be rejected for that reason alone. Now it may be the case that rather than definitively rejecting your submission you are told, "Hey, please fix X so that your submission can be considered"...and it may not. There is much talk of grant applications that are rejected because something in the fine print of the submission rules was not followed.

In your case, you have noticed that one of the submission requirements has been violated, apparently in a nontrivial way ("by more than 10%"). In my opinion your clearest ethical obligation is to convey this knowledge to the editors. It is really unfair if the requirement gets completely ignored and the paper gets published anyway whereas some other authors are either getting dinged for not following the same rules or are working much harder (and perhaps, trading on the quality of their paper) in order to follow them. So I think your first step should be to point this out to the editors.

If you like, you can convey your willingness to look at a new version in a timely manner. You could even say that you are reading the version that you already have and are willing to work on a report under the assumption that the authors will later submit a version which is essentially the same but meets the length requirements. But I think that's about as far as you can go. If the submission really is permanently rejected based on the length then the authors will resubmit to another conference/journal and they'll get their feedback at that time (possibly even from you!). Viewing the fact that you received the paper and are not at this time writing a report on it to the authors as some kind of disservice to them is probably the wrong way to view it: this is really part of the usual business of academic refereeing.

Added: As long as you point out the failure to meet the length requirement, I certainly see no ethical problem with passing on whatever evaluation of the paper you want. In fact, when communicating with the editors if you think that the paper is otherwise very strong then it would be useful to say that. However, it seems to me that it is possible that the editors might decide that since the length requirements have been violated the paper will be rejected and the authors will not receive a referee report. Thus your careful comments are not guaranteed to be conveyed to the authors. This seems like a good argument for checking in with the editors before writing a full-blown report.

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    The advice to discuss with the editor/programme committee is absolutely correct. It's unlikely that the authors will be given the opportunity to submit a second version since, just as it's unfair to judge this too-long paper against ones which may have had to cut content to meet the limit, it's also unfair to allow the authors of this paper extra time that the other authors didn't get. Mar 8, 2015 at 22:13

There is only one possible answer: Ask the Program Committee chair. It is an almost-one-line mail:

Hello Jeffy,

one of the papers I've got to review for the ABC Congress doesn't fit in the page limit given, it's: John Doe et al.: Study of DEF in context of XYZ, link: http://sciencesconf..../link-to-the-paper-in-the-review-system

Should I still review it or is exceeding the length itself a reason for rejection?

Cheers, Tom

It saves troubles in the thing I think. It may be fine in some conferences (when the page limit is taken loosely) and may be a problem elsewhere (when it's strict for instance because the proceedings publisher is strict about it, or for whatever reason). You can't know this, there's the PC chair to know this.

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    You should mention the page length in such an e-mail. The program committee will react differently to an 8 page and 2 line paper than to a 15 page paper when the page limit is 8 pages.
    – Eric
    Mar 11, 2015 at 1:10
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    @Eric Yeah, you can, but the PC chair (1) knows the limit and (2) will have to open the PDF file anyways and check.
    – yo'
    Mar 11, 2015 at 8:40
  • Answering a question about the rules does not require the chair to validate the premise of the question. Just provide the necessary information directly.
    – Reid
    Oct 5, 2021 at 15:51

It's not uncommon to have vague descriptions of maximum length (do references count? acknowledgments? tables? all of these can vary across conferences). Maybe the maximum length is not as you interpreted.

If you suspect that the paper is overlength, I would petition the program committee and wait for their response before putting any effort into reviewing, but I would not vote for rejection myself.

In my opinion, deciding on desk rejection is up to the editors/PC, not the reviewers. If the paper was sent out for review, I assume that it passed initial screening, but ofcourse it is possible to have slipped through the cracks.

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    Commonly the PC chair (or whoever assigns the reviewers) doesn't check the files in detail. I wouldn't be optimist to assume the paper passed any true pre-check more than "it's not a blatant spam".
    – yo'
    Mar 8, 2015 at 1:16

Technically speaking, you have the right to immediately vote for rejection because of the length constraint violation.

If you want to review the paper and leave helpful comments, you are obviously welcome (for example, if there is some section in the paper you think is not necessary and can be removed to make the paper both in the correct length and good enough for the journal / conference then you might point that out).


Maximum length alone should not be a criterion for rejection. If the paper has merit, then final acceptance should be contingent on bringing the length down.

EDIT: Maximum length should still be within reason and often there is some flexibility for one page over the limit. If the maximum page limit is 8 pages and the paper is 15 pages, it should be rejected. For an 8 page limit, 10 pages is about the limit of what could be condensed to something less than 9 pages without losing content.

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    The problem is that the final version isn't re-refereed. So requesting a major change such as "cut 10+% of the length" means that the paper that will be published is substantially different from the one that was refereed. You'd have to reject a 100 page paper if the limit was 10 pages because you'd have no idea what the 10 page paper would look like. At the other end of the scale, it would be idiotic to reject on length alone a paper that was ten pages and one line. But the situation described isn't as clear-cut as either of those. Mar 8, 2015 at 18:58
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    @DavidRicherby True but the same goes for any edits suggested by reviewers. You can usually take a page out of an 8 page paper just by condensing things and using terse language without significantly changing the actual content.
    – Eric
    Mar 8, 2015 at 19:07
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    Sure, and then you could just condense things and use terser language to get it down to 6 pages. And then do it again to 5 pages... Obviously, there's a limit. If you've already condensed and "tersed" to get to 8 pages, it's unlikely that you can knock off another page without losing actual content. Mar 8, 2015 at 19:39
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    Re the edit, the flexibility of the page limit presumably varies between fields (so, again, check with the PC member who sent the paper to you). I've never heard of a theoretical computer science conference being flexible about page limits. After all, if word gets round that one person was allowed an extra page, everyone will want one. Mar 9, 2015 at 1:23
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    @Eric: You might do those things, such as abbreviating references, tackling dangling lines, shrinking figures, etc., unless ... they have already been done. Removing a paragraph from the introduction can mean the difference between a paper considered quite good by a reviewer and one considered incomprehensible due to a lack of basic information. Using terse language can successfully reduce paper length, but it can also lead to complaints by reviewers about "spelling mistakes" when you write iff and they think it's meant to say if. ... Mar 15, 2015 at 23:00

The rejection is not up to you. The fact that the manuscript (MS) has gone out to review despite being two long can be for two reasons: (1) the length was not spotted by the editors and was thus sent out without identifying the problem and (2) the editors know it is too long but do not think it is a problem. Now you do not know which of these apply. If you refuse to review it and number (2) is the case, you are not doing the editors any favours. If you review the MS and (1) is the case, then it is still not certain you can see what will happen since any decision is up to the editors. It is possible they will reject the MS once they know it is too long but it is also possible they will require the authors to take the reviews and both revise according to suggestions and shorten the MS to a proper length. It is of course possible they let MS through despite breaking the length.

So options are plenty. Therefore, if you think your work may be done in vain, you simply drop a line to the editors pointing out the fact that the MS is longer than expected and ask whether or not they still want you to do the review. An editor should be quite happy to respond to such a heads up mail question.


Given that it is a conference paper, I would assume that by the time the reviewer sees it, the submission deadline has already passed. The authors would therefore not be able to submit any modifications. Hence the only viable action is to contact the chair of the program committee, as yo' suggested.

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    This isn't quite true. At least in the computer science conferences I submit to, if a paper is accepted then the authors are expected to revise it in light of the referees' comments. The problem here is that the revised version isn't refereed again because the changes are expected to be minor. In this case, the changes required (cutting 10+% of the length) aren't particularly minor. Mar 8, 2015 at 18:54

Ask them to re-write it properly or if they refuse reject the paper. Schools work on a basis of you teach this person and they adhere to you're guidelines not vica versa. As they are opposing this is the basic contract of teaching discluding money and limitations such as not permenantly confiscating or prosecuting.

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    I feel this answer is somewhat besides the point. This is about a conference paper, not about coursework. Usually, reviewers for conferences are in no position to "ask [authors] to re-write" something and wait till they have. Also, while the reviewer is expected to provide an expert view, I would see it as quite presumptuous to categorize the relationship between a reviewer of a paper and its authors as that of someone teaching someone else. Reviewers provide their (educated) opinions, which are valuable, but not infallible - that's why there are usually several reviewers, their ... Mar 15, 2015 at 23:05
  • ... statements may contradict each other, and the goal is that the paper is improved based on the reviewers' input, not that the authors learn how to write a paper specifically for reviewers X, Y and Z. Lastly, I really don't understand your last sentence. Mar 15, 2015 at 23:07

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