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Which kind of article could be "more suitable for a journal than for a conference"?

I just received a very curious rejection from a conference in Computer Science, where the second referee argues that:

I remain not convinced that it is very suitable for a conference. (...) I still believe it is solid work, suitable for a journal, but probably too specialized and too technical for a conference such as (...).

Beyond my own judgment (this article builds upon results published in general journals publishing the same types of results than this conference), the statement that the article is "too specialized and too technical" seems contradicted by the comments from the two other referees (who both judged the paper to be relevant to the conference):

  • Referee 1 find everything "certainly understandable" and "clearly written", which does not sound "specialized" nor "technical":

    The work, while not spectacular, is very solid and worthy of presentation at STACS. The problems are certainly understandable to all, and the methods are interesting. The paper is clearly written and I have very few editorial comments.

  • Referee 3 finds the results "clearly described" to the point of potentially "incremental" (but still acceptable):

    The paper is well organized, some algorithms are clearly described, and some proofs are given. I am far from an expert, but the result seems interesting. Maybe they could be considered incremental, but that is to be expected for such an longly studied topic.

I have seen many papers presented at conferences without ever passing the threshold to be published in a journal, and I read on Glencora Borradaile's blog (here) how she found easier sometimes to submit directly to a journal (which we will do for these results), but I had never heard of results deemed more appropriate for a journal than for a conference.

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    It sounds like the reviewer is trying to say "I don't think a conference audience would want to attend a talk on this paper." (Another reason why a paper might be deemed more suitable for journal publication, but probably not applicable in your case: if it needs more pages than the conference page limit allows in order to fully address everything that needs to be addressed.) – ff524 Dec 12 '16 at 11:15
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    Is there any chance that in the statement "probably too specialized and too technical for a conference such as (...)", the key point is the part that you replaced with an ellipsis? In other words, that your particular article does not match the level of technical detail that is usual in that particular conference? Maybe the conference focuses on users aspects or (seeing that it seems to be a theory-oriented venue) mathematical proofs, while you (also) described implementation details at length? Or, as a related case, might it be that the reviewer thinks the implementation details should ... – O. R. Mapper Dec 12 '16 at 11:16
  • ... be complemented with a mathematical proof, but including both implementation and proof details would exceed the conference's page limit, whereas you typically have more space in a journal? – O. R. Mapper Dec 12 '16 at 11:17
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    @ff524 and O.R.Mapper: good point about the length of the paper. I did not think about it as I usually combine a submission to a conference with a publication on arxiv (or, before that, to a technical report), where the conference submission is the "pedagogical" version while the tecnical report is, as it's name implies, the "technical part", unlimited in lenght. – Jeremy Dec 12 '16 at 11:21
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    In computer science, journals are sometimes seen as a venue for papers that are not interesting enough for a conference. I disagree, but many people take that view. It sounds like the reviewers think that way. – Thomas May 2 '17 at 18:16
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While both types of venues generally use the same assessment criteria for submissions -- novelty, technical soundness, technical depth, clarity of the description --, the weighting of these criteria differs a bit between conferences and journals.

This is the case because conferences have three distinguishing features: (i) a page limit, (ii) a shorter (or at least more predictable) review cycle, and (iii) immediate feedback through discussion with an informed audience. Each of these features contributes to an increased importance of the criterion "novelty" and a decreased importance of "technical depth".

The fact that Reviewers 1 and 3 have used the words "not spectacular" and "maybe incremental" indicates that the reviewers were not convinced of a sufficient level of novelty.

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