Thursday, July 21, 2011

Let's get rid of Transactions letters (Updated)

Update August 11, 2011: According to an editorial in the August issue of Transactions on Wireless Communications (not yet available on IEEExplore), both Trans. Comm. and Trans. Wireless Comm. will stop accepting letter submissions as of September 1, 2011.  Original post follows.

Both the Transactions on Communications and Wireless Communications accept "letters". There are minor differences between the two journals, but letters are most commonly used as "enhancement of previously published work", i.e., minor results that fall short of a full paper. In both cases there are stringent length requirements: 10 double-spaced pages in the Transactions draft format excluding figures, which works out to about 4 pages in the two-column format.

Anyone who has written a journal paper -- or even a conference paper -- knows that 10 double-spaced pages is barely enough to say anything.  As both a reviewer and an author, I've seen the following dynamic happen over and over:

  1. Author discovers an interesting little result. Not being quite enough for a paper, author writes a letter, leaving out details that s/he considers irrelevant to the overall point of the work, in order to meet the length requirement.
  2. Reviewers are not satisfied with the level of detail in the paper. Ignoring scope and length requirements for letters, reviewers demand more detail, additional simulations, longer explanations, and so on.
  3. Author adds the absolute minimum the reviewers demand, and then cuts, edits, shortens, and otherwise takes a butcher knife to the paper to meet the length requirement.
  4. Go to 2.
"Letters" end up in a kind of limbo, delaying the review process and making nobody happy, even if the paper is eventually accepted. 

The problem seems to be that reviewers treat "letters" like regular papers. So why not make it official and drop the "letter" from the Transactions? Short papers could be handled just like regular papers, with the understanding that the magnitude of the paper's contribution should be proportional to its length. The Transactions on Information Theory did this years ago.


Allen said...

TCOM is already in the process of doing this. In fact, I thought the change was effective 1/1/2011, but I might be wrong about that. (It's in my email, since I'm on the TCOM Editorial Board. But my email is currently in limbo after foolishly installing Lion. Oh well.)

Andrew said...

That's good! I don't think it's in effect yet, since the TCOM home page still mentions letters. I just checked, and it's still possible to submit letters via Manuscript Central.

Allen said...

Now that my email is back... This was to be effective 1/2012 and was to apply to both TCOM and TWC. But it hadn't yet received final approval at the last update I received.