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I'm new to academic writing. I submitted a paper which I co-authored with my supervisor to an upcoming conference. I wasn't too confident that the paper would be up to scratch because I'd never submitted one before, so I was pleasantly surprised to find out that the paper was accepted. Of the two peer reviews, one was a "weak accept" while the other was a "weak reject".

I couldn't really find anything by Googling. What exactly do "weak accept" and "weak reject" mean, and what are the other levels of acceptance? Where do weak accept and reject fall in the scale?

Edit: The conference did state that at least three reviewers would be selected. I have only received feedback from 2 at the moment.

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    Are you sure this is a good conference? Your paper getting accepted when reviewers gave it a weak reject and a weak accept is not very likely for very good conferences. – Alexandros Jul 27 '15 at 13:54
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    @Alexandros I'm pretty sure it's a decent conference, but it seems pretty small. I asked my supervisor his opinion first, and he was happy to go for it. The head of my school is one of the speaker chairs. – Anthony Jul 27 '15 at 14:24
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    @Alexandros "good conference" does not necessarily imply "low acceptance rate". There are several CS fields, for example software engineering, where there are a couple of highly ranked conference with a very low acceptance rate. The rest of the field is characterized by small, often thematic conferences that have often been established. My best experiences in terms of reviewing process, feedback, and networking has been with the small ones. – dgraziotin Jul 27 '15 at 14:40
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    In my field (mostly signal processing), you usually don't receive replies until a decision has been made, so if you have replies from two reviewers now, I would expect that is all you are going to get. Sometimes TPC members are unable to find enough reviewers even though they would ideally like at least, e.g. three. – Thomas Arildsen Jul 28 '15 at 15:34
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In my discipline (CS) in conferences you can find several levels of reviewer recommendations that are different depending on the venue's regulations. You may have:

  • Strong Accept (+3)
  • Accept (+2)
  • Weak Accept (+1)
  • Borderline (0)
  • Weak Reject (-1)
  • Reject (-2)
  • Strong Reject (-3)

Not all conference have the same levels. E.g., The Borderline level is not very common (I have only met it in one conference) and Strong Reject or Strong Accept might not be there as well.

Usually, for your paper to be accepted in good conferences, when we are talking about 3 reviewers, you usually need at least 2 weak accepts and 1 accept or something similar. Getting accepted with a weak reject is not very likely, unless the other two reviewers gave an Accept or better, but I do not think this is very common.

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Many conferences use a reviewing system that ranks papers as "Accept", "Weak Accept". "Borderline", "Weak Reject", and "Reject". They may even add a level with "strong" qualifiers on both sides. Each reviewer gives their written opinion, maybe some numerical scores, and this ranking. When the Program Committee meets they can look at the reviewers' opinions and rankings and try to decide which papers they want in and which ones they want out.

Since there are no absolute standards for what should be presented at a conference, the "weak" qualifier gives each reviewer the opportunity to hedge their ranking a little. If there are lots of papers, then having 5 levels of ranking may help distinguish between papers that 3 or even 2 levels of ranking would not.

Now, it's a little surprising that your paper only got 2 reviews. That might mean that the conference is small or, as the comment suggests, that the conference is of lower quality. Without absolute standards though, it's hard to gauge whether there's any meaning to a weak accept and a weak reject leading to an acceptance or not.

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    Yeah, I'm leaning towards "small". By all evidence, the conference is supported by the right people and organisations to indicate that it's got potential to be a quality conference; representatives from my own school are chairing, and some important societies have their names on it. Ultimately I think the particular track I submitted in was not swamped with submissions. – Anthony Jul 27 '15 at 14:29
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In CS science conferences, there are often the following levels : strong accept (3), accept (2), weak accept (1), borderline (0), weak reject (-1), reject (-2) and strong reject (-3). But this can vary from one conference to another

Besides, a reviewer may often be able to indicats its confidence level on a scale for example of 1 to 5. This is used as a kind of weight. For example, a reviewer may choose "accept" but with a confidence of 3 which means that he is not so confident because he may not be an expert in that field. Or he may choose confidence of 5 if he is an expert in that field and then its recommendation will have more weight.

Overall, it depends on the conference. Besides, after all papers have been reviewed, the organizers of the conference will choose the top ranked paper as being accepted. Sometimes a paper could be accepted with "weak accept" or "borderline" or even with a "weak reject". It always depends on overall how many papers are submitted and their relative evaluation.

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