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In some areas, like Computer Science, peer reviewed conference are as important as Journal Papers.

Unlike most Journals, Conferences have hard deadlines to submit the papers as well as page limits.

So I have a few questions:

  • How early should I start writing a paper for a conference?
  • Is it reasonable to write and do experiments at the same time?
  • How many references should you check? one professor told me: check 200 use 30.
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    Start writing now. No, really, now. – JeffE Oct 18 '12 at 3:46
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    Also: Check ALL the references. – JeffE Oct 18 '12 at 3:47
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How early should I start writing a paper for a conference?

Well, there are different approaches. Some people think "there is this conference coming, I need to write something for it", others think "I have this nice idea of research, let's see where I could present it". In the first case, you might need to start very early, since you need to do all the research, while in the second case, you might just need to start early... Seriously though, it depends a lot of the content of the paper, the mechanical action of writing it (i.e., typing and formatting the text on a computer) is not what takes long.

Is it reasonable to write and do experiments at the same time?

Sure. Even if you can't finish your experiments by the deadline, it's very likely you can reuse a good part of what you've already written for another conference.

How many references should you check? one professor told me: check 200 use 30.

You don't check references because you should, but because they are relevant to your research problem. You should cite what you've read and what you think is important with respect to you work. You should cite the approaches that laid the basis for your own approaches, and explain how you build on them, which assumptions you are challenging. You should also cite the approaches that are similar to yours, and explain why yours is better.

There is no magic number: there are excellent papers with only 10 citations, and bad ones with 50 references.

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Generally areas like CS have plenty of good conferences all round the year, so missing a particular deadline is unlikely to hurt you much. But in case you are targeting a specific conference whose deadline is say, September 1st, then you need to have solid results which you think might fit in well as a paper at least a month before.

It could take several rounds of copy-editing before a draft can become a neat paper. By experiments, I guess you mean simulations that validate the results in your paper. You could plan to use one section of your paper to present all your simulation results.

The task essentially involves planning your presentation, loads of typing and copy-editing and some coding for simulations. Earlier is better, and all these procedures could be totally different for a different field.

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I can't directly comment on computer science, but for chemical engineering, I had to write a conference paper for AICHE. Writing a paper can benefit somewhat from a "forward-backward" approach. Start perhaps with your data, writing out the data section fully, explaining everything. Then move to the introduction, motivating your research, and explaining why your results are new. The conclusion really just summarizes the basic result of your work. Then, the abstract condense the whole paper down - write that last.

It takes practice, but its not too bad once you get the hang of it.

Several rounds of editing are strongly recommended. When you have a first draft ready, let the paper sit for two or three days. Then, print it out double-spaced with wide margins, and read your paper. Look for ways to cut words - e.g. say the same thing with less. Can you understand what you have written? Make changes until you converge upon a tight package.

For reference, get a copy of How to Write and Publish a Scientific Paper by Robert A. Day.

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