7

My understanding of short conference papers being extended to journals was that I should have at least 30% fresh results and content (read that in answers to this question here). I had a short 4-page paper published and presented as a poster at a conference in the past year. I had extended the work, had plenty of fresh results with me, and decided to send it to a journal. I would say I had at least 70-80% fresh content and results.

I was surprised to receive a reply from the Editor that my manuscript was been rejected without review. The reason given by an editorial board member is

A non-negligible part of this manuscript (~1000 words) has been copied by a previous publication of these authors.

And, thus, he suggested that the manuscript be rejected without review.

I agree that some basic data pre-processing modules are same in both papers (coz why would they differ!). Some introduction and related work part is also the same. Rest, the manuscript is fresh. My manuscript is easily 9000-10000 words. 1000 words just makes 10% of that. Keeping in mind that "30% fresh content" rule, I thought I was playing pretty safe. But this response has disappointed me :(

My questions:

  1. Should I bother to write to the Editor, asking for a clarification? Maybe I can just ask whether the editor bothered to read my cover letter (where I had clearly mentioned about the previous paper, and the overlaps with this paper). If yes, how does one usually contact the Editor? The emails sent by the journal do not come from a personal account. Will it be wise to write to him directly?

  2. After this rejection, I may submit it elsewhere. But what if it gets rejected on same grounds. Should I consider re-writing my manuscript and making it completely different from the previous paper?

  • 14
    Did you look at the specific journal's author instructions? That's always much more important than a general rule you saw somewhere... – Andrew Mar 25 '15 at 9:40
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    Did you literally copy/paste 1000 words? If so, that is self-plagiarism! You should have rewritten it. – Marc Claesen Mar 25 '15 at 9:44
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    Actually, the rules of the journal you link to say: "Submission of an article implies that the work described has not been published previously (except in the form of an abstract or as part of a published lecture or academic thesis or as an electronic preprint, see elsevier.com/sharingpolicy)". This could be interpreted as that journal not allowing extended version of previously published papers. (On the other hand, you say your previous publication was a "poster paper", which is sometimes called "poster abstract" and spans something minimal like 2 pages - please clarify.) – O. R. Mapper Mar 25 '15 at 11:18
  • 4
    On the other hand, a very superficial Google search quickly brings up a 2014 article by this author that appeared in the same journal and that is said to be "an extended version of our CODASPY'13 conference paper", even though there does not appear to be any mention of that fact within the paper itself. – O. R. Mapper Mar 25 '15 at 11:22
  • 1
    @MaartenvanWesel: No, I am suggesting two possibilities: In my first comment, I point out that I am not sure whether they want to support the model of publishing "extended versions of conference papers" at all, as their guidelines mention nothing about it. In my second comment, however, I point out that they have actually done so in the recent past, and they did not seem to apply very strict requirements about how the paper needs to point out it is an extended version. – O. R. Mapper Mar 27 '15 at 10:21
11

I work in this field. Yes, you should contact the Editor to ask them what their policy is on submissions that are based on a prior conference publication -- but ask very carefully. See the last two paragraphs of this answer before writing to them. In particular, I suggest contacting the Editor-in-Chief. It's fair game to write and ask them what their policy is, regarding whether they accept journal submissions that are an extension of a conference paper and if so what the requirements are.

I looked through the guidelines for authors for this particular journal, and I have to say, it's not clear to me what the expected policies are. Therefore, I think it's entirely reasonable to contact the Editor-in-Chief to ask for a clarification.

I can't tell you what this journal's policies are, but I can give you my impression of what a common policy in this field is. It's not uncommon for journals to allow publication of a journal version of a paper that was previously published at a conference. Yes, one common rule-of-thumb is that the journal version of the paper should have at least 25% new content. Of course this is a subjective judgement call, but it gives you a rough idea of what to shoot for. Also, the journal version should be "archival-quality" (e.g., the definitive reference; polished, high quality, well executed). But this can potentially vary. There's no requirement that every journal has to subscribe to this particular policy -- it's up to each individual journal to decide on its own policy, and it would be entirely fair for any particular journal to choose something different.

For an example of the 25% requirement, see the ACM's policy for submissions to ACM journals: http://www.acm.org/publications/policies/sim_submissions/

Do note that what matters is not the percentage of words that are new, but rather the percentage of intellectual ideas. We measure the contribution of each paper by its "delta" over previous publications, i.e., by the new intellectual content of the new ideas that have not previously appeared. That can't be measured by counting the number of words that are new.

In journals that do allow you to publish a journal version of work that previously appeared at a conference, I would not expect any requirement that you have to rewrite or rephrase every sentence of the previously published work. (It's not clear what purpose that would serve.) You are of course expected to revise anything that can be improved, but there's no requirement to paraphrase or reword your own writing just to avoid having the same words in the same order.

Your question was a little unclear about how the previous work was previously published. In my experience with reputable conferences in this field, the most common kinds of papers are: "papers published at a conference" and "papers published at a journal". Less commonly, there's "posters presented at a conference" (usually does not come with a paper that's considered published), and occasionally "short 1-page or 2-page paper published at a conference with a poster presented at the conference" (the 2-page paper would be considered published). If you're referring to the latter kind of publication, then I would not have expected that to lead to outright rejection of your journal submission without consideration of its merits. But who knows? It's up to each journal to determine its own policy.

So, given that the publicly available web pages of that journal aren't entirely clear, I think it's perfectly reasonable to email the Editor-in-Chief and ask them what the policy is. You can point to your submission and explain the situation if you want.

However, it's extremely important to avoid conveying any implication that you feel you've been wronged, that their decision was inappropriate, or any other form of criticism. The purpose of this email should be solely to gather information about what the journal's policy is. Once you know their policy, then you can consider what to do. But don't write to the Editor-in-Chief to complain or dispute or appeal the decision. That just sets up an adversarial situation that isn't likely to yield any constructive results. You might want to write a draft email, sit on it for a few days, edit it to remove any hint of disappointment or criticism, then give it to a senior colleague to read, and follow their guidance.

And you can also treat this as a learning experience. If you do decide to submit it elsewhere, you can check what their policies are on this sort of situation before submitting. If it's not clear from their web pages, you can contact the editor in advance to ask.

  • 1
    This is an excellent answer! Great to have some advice from someone working in this field. Yes, i meant a short (4-page) paper published at a conference with a poster presented at the conference. – pnp Mar 26 '15 at 5:18
15

So you wrote in the cover letter that the work is an extended version of a conference paper that accompanied a poster presentation.

Apparently, this information got missing somewhere. Also this information should actually be in the paper, as Maarten van Wesel already wrote, as the later reader should be also be made aware of this.

So, judging from your post, the only thing that you did wrong was not to note this in the paper itself (please add a comment to this post if this assumption is wrong). What then went wrong in the journal's workflow is that the paper was rejected due to copying rather than asking you to add such a note in the paper. A possible explanation is that checking for plagiarism is done by the publisher's office beforehand, and they actually never saw (or read) the cover letter.

I think that it is fair to write a letter to the editor, mentioning that (1) you already wrote in the cover letter that you submitted extended work, and (2) you are of course happy to add a note that this is an extended work of [Previous work].


On a related note, there may be a small copyright problem. You may have already given an exclusive licence to distribute your work to one publisher with your earlier paper. If you now copy a good part of that work, the new publisher may see this as problematic. While many publishing agreements nowadays explicitly allow reuse of the work in extended versions, not all of them do, so the new publisher's office may suspect that this is not the case for your earlier paper. Coincidentally, many extended versions of papers are actually completely rewritten, which circumvents this problem altogether. Whether an extended version should be a full rewrite is yet another discussion, which we probably don't want to pursue in this thread.

5

You should have clearly indicated in your paper (for instance as a note to the title) and in you letter to the editor the publication of the conference paper, how it is titled, and that it is available online.

If you haven't indicated this, get on your knees and explain this to the editor. Promising you will correct this on a new to submit manuscript

4

I am not sure that I understood clearly your question, but as far as I understand, you have the exact same paragraphs in some part of the two papers (i.e., copy and paste ?).

If this is the case, maybe you should take the rule "X% of old content allowed" as a semantic rule, not syntactic. So this means 100-X % new results, but almost 100% rewriting of the old stuff.

  • 4
    When a conference and a journal are closely linked (e.g. same publisher, overlapping editorial boards, the journal kind of being suggested as a "regular" place to follow-up on some of the conference papers), this is not necessarily true; "extended version" can indeed mean "largely the exact same text as before + some new, additional text and information". It is very journal-specific whether this is actually the case, though. – O. R. Mapper Mar 25 '15 at 16:46
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    I've never heard of any requirement to re-phrase all of the sentences when you take a conference paper and extend it to prepare the journal version. In other words, I've never heard of a requirement to rewrite 100% of the text. A journal might or might not allow submission of extended versions of a conference paper -- but if it does, it would strike me as quite odd to require re-phrasing 100% of the old text. – D.W. Mar 25 '15 at 21:18
  • I am not saying that this is a requirement, but an editor still has the final decision on papers, and it could make sense for an editor to avoid copy pasting of large part of previously published papers. – Sylvain Peyronnet Mar 25 '15 at 23:06
2

I have had this experience too. The journal that rejected my work also had other papers which were extended versions of conference papers so it was completely inconsistent. I recommend simply ignoring this journal from now on unless it is really the leading one in your field. You could first write a polite letter to the editor pointing out the unfairness in your case but I wouldn't be too surprised if it doesn't help.

Of course you shouldn't be publishing with Elsevier in any case. See https://gowers.wordpress.com/category/elsevier/ and http://thecostofknowledge.com/ for example.

  • 3
    I know this journal. It's a solid, reputable journal in the field -- not something you'd boycott for being disreputable. Better to write to the editors to ask for the journal's policy, treat this constructively, and look for opportunities to learn from the experience. Writing to the editors to point out unfairness is not likely to yield constructive results. – D.W. Mar 25 '15 at 21:21
-3

No, do not argue with the editor that rejected the paper. Yes, send it to another journal. (Of course reference the "poster paper" and explain the differences. This benefits no only the journal you submit to, but also potential readers who have already seen the previous poster paper.)

  • 6
    This answer seems to oddly lack any justification for the advices it provides. – O. R. Mapper Mar 25 '15 at 13:18
  • We generally prefer answers that provide reasoning, arguments, or evidence to back up their conclusions. – D.W. Mar 25 '15 at 20:51

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