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How to get a Paper Accepted at OOPSLA

OOPSLA is a diverse conference—a puzzling mixture of academia and industry, spanning a range from hardcore practitioners to rock-solid researchers to quizzical innovators. Moreover, OOPSLA is a popular place to present work, and many submitted papers—typically 80%–85%—are rejected. Potential authors—you—are justified in being anxious preparing submissions; This Guide has been prepared to help you.

OOPSLA relies on a panel of reviewers to assist the selection of papers. Each paper is reviewed by 3 or 4 people. The process used to select reviewers and the way they review papers has been reworked and refined over the years to ensure the fair treatment of papers and a good conference program. Reviewers receive guidance on how to review papers, with particular care taken to ensure that reviewer instructions are consistent with the instructions to authors in the Call for Papers and in this Guide.

OOPSLA provides 5 venues in the technical program:

  • Research Papers
  • Onward! Papers
  • Onward! Presentations
  • Essays
  • Lightning Talks

There is a guide for each of these.

General Advice

All written submissions use an online system designed to support the Identify the Champion pattern language by Oscar Nierstrasz. For each submission the goal is to find the program committee member who will act as its ardent supporter. Experience with many scientific and technical program committees shows that, generally, accepted papers have champions who argue for acceptance.

The online system asks each reviewer to answer the following questions for each reviewed paper:

How do you classify this paper?

  • I will champion this paper at the PC meeting (Advocate/Accept).
  • I can accept this paper, but I will not champion it (accept, but could reject).
  • This paper should be rejected, though I will not fight strongly against it (reject, but could accept).
  • Serious problems. I will argue to reject this paper (Detractor).

What is your overall expertise concerning the subject areas of this paper?

  • I am an expert.
  • I am knowledgeable in the area, though not an expert.
  • I am not an expert. My evaluation is that of an informed outsider.

Comments for the Program Committee (NOT sent to the authors)

Summary of the paper (sent to the authors)

Evaluation, including points in favour and against, and comments for improvement (sent to the authors)

Additionally, each reviewer will be asked to evaluate each Essay, Research, Onward! paper, and Onward! presentation according to these criteria:

  • Technical contribution—how substantial is the contribution
  • Novelty—how novel or innovative are the ideas
  • Substantiation—how well substantiated is the contribution (e.g., proof supplied, implementation completed and tested, experiments performed according to accepted methods)
  • Presentation—how clearly written and presented is the material
  • Argument—how compelling or well-made are the arguments in the paper
  • Art/Craft—how well does the paper demonstrate, describe, or promote excellence of artistry or craft in architecture, design, implementation, methodology, or documentation

A technical contribution is a technique or a technology—something concrete that can be applied either to create better software or to foster better technical and scientific understanding. Further, the description of the technical contribution must include a description of the benefit—the benefit is that which gets better based on the contribution.

Novelty is what is new about the contribution. The idea itself, its use in a particular setting, or its use in conjunction with other technologies or techniques can be new. Novelty is measured in terms of published literature as well as known applications, especially those whose source code is publicly available. Moreover, the contribution should not be obvious to a typical practitioner or researcher in the field.

Substantiation is why the contribution or its claimed benefit should be considered valid. The substantiation should not itself be novel.

Presentation is the sum total of all the methods and techniques used to convey the substance of the paper to its audience. This includes the quality of the writing, clarity of explanation, and effectiveness of the narrative and rhetorical structure. Some reviewers are willing to work hard to understand a paper; others aren’t.

A successful submission is not only technically interesting, but well written. Writing is important to many program committee members. Thucydides’ quote from Pericles’ last speech applies to OOPSLA submissions:

A man who has the knowledge but lacks the power to express it clearly is no better off than if he never had any ideas at all. [Book II, 59–64]

Argument comprises the rhetorical and logical structure of the paper. Argument is how the presentation of the paper convinces a reader that the thrust of the paper is believable in the absence of hard substantiation.

Art and craft touches on what makes either what the paper presents or the paper itself uplifting, elegant, or beautiful. A beautiful and effective design for an application can demonstrate good art/craft, as can a well-crafted, well-argued, and well-written presentation.

Each of the venues will value different criteria, as described below in the venue sections.

Papers submitted to OOPSLA must not have been published elsewhere nor be under consideration elsewhere in the same or similar form.

Research Papers

Research papers describe work that advances the state of the art. A research paper must have an original contribution—a new idea, a new technique, or a new approach—with a significant benefit; moreover, it must be sufficiently important and interesting to deserve the attention of the OOPSLA and programming communities.

A research paper must present substantial supporting evidence, not just conjecture. Papers presenting theory or algorithms must be convincingly demonstrated to be technically correct, either through proof or analysis; some algorithms can be shown valid via a thoroughly evaluated implementation.

The original contribution may be the result of experience. Such a paper should present new data based on actual experience, describe problems encountered, and make suggestions for improvements. It should provide new evidence, either positive or negative, to evaluate existing ideas or techniques, direction for future research, and new insights of value to other practitioners

The scope of a research paper is narrow: It should present and substantiate one idea. The potential audience for a research paper possibly is also narrow—understanding and appreciating it might require detailed and specialized knowledge. It should be possible to convey the idea of the paper to its intended audience in one or a few sentences. The title and abstract for a research paper should have the effect of inviting the intended audience and warning away others.

Work that does not yet have a crisply described contribution or a compelling benefit is perhaps too premature for submission—or maybe should be submitted to Onward!.

Criteria: Technical contribution, novelty, and substantiation are more heavily weighted by reviewers than presentation, argument, and art/craft.

Onward! Papers

Onward! papers describe work that has the potential to change significantly the field. An Onward! paper must say something substantially original, and must be sufficiently important and interesting to deserve the attention of the OOPSLA community.

An Onward! paper must present some supporting evidence, not pure conjecture. Evidence may be in the form of a compelling argument or analysis, a sketch of validity, or an initial implementation.

The scope of an Onward! paper can be broad: It can be single idea, a new approach, a new programming language, a new paradigm for computing, or a new way of thinking about automation. The potential audience for an Onward! paper possibly is also broad. The title and abstract for an Onward! paper should be inviting, and the paper itself should be readable by all OOPSLA attendees.

An Onward! paper must be well thought out, well-written, and compelling in its argument.

Criteria: Novelty, argument, presentation, and art/craft are weighted more heavily than technical contribution, which is itself more heavily weighted than substantiation.

Essays

An Essay is a piece of writing that enacts or reveals the process of understanding or exploring any topic sufficiently important and interesting to deserve the attention of the OOPSLA community. An essay is fundamentally an act of discovery shared with an audience through writing.

An essay may or may not have a conclusion, but it must provide some insight either directly or indirectly stated. The key characteristic of a successful essay is that it shows a keen mind coming to grips with a tough or intriguing problem in such a way that, as Virginia Woolf wrote, “it explains much and tells much.” [from the preface of “Memoirs of a Working Woman’s Guild”]

It is perhaps best to explain what an essay is by saying what it isn’t. The following is from Robert Atwan’s foreword to “The Best American Essays 1998”:

Years ago, when I was instructing college freshmen in the humble craft of writing essays—or “themes,” as we called them—I noticed that many students had already been taught how to manufacture the Perfect Theme. It began with an introductory paragraph that contained a “thesis statement” and often cited someone named Webster; it then pursued its expository path through three paragraphs that “developed the main idea” until it finally reached a “concluding” paragraph that diligently summarized all three previous paragraphs. The conclusion usually began, “Thus we see that....” If the theme told a personal story, it usually concluded with the narrative cliche, “Suddenly I realized that....” Epiphanies abounded.
What was especially maddening about the typical five-paragraph theme had less to do with its tedious structure than with its implicit message that writing should be the end product of thought and not the enactment of its process. My students seemed unaware that writing could be an act of discovery, an opportunity to say something they had never before thought of saying. The worst themes were largely the products of premature conclusions, of unearned assurances, of minds made up. As Robert Frost once put it, for many people thinking merely means voting. Why go through the trouble of writing papers on an issue when all that’s required is an opinion poll? So perhaps it did make more sense to call these productions themes and not essays, since what was being written had almost no connection with the original sense of “essaying”—trying out ideas and attitudes, writing out of a condition of uncertainty, of not-knowing. “Sleep lingers all our lifetime about our eyes,” says Emerson, “as night hovers all day in the boughs of the fir-tree.”
The five-paragraph theme was also a charade. It not only paraded relentlessly to its conclusion, it began with its conclusion. It was all about its conclusion. Its structure permitted no change of direction, no reconsideration, no wrestling with ideas. It was—and still is—the perfect vehicle for the sort of reader who likes to ask: “And your point is....”

Criteria: Argument, presentation, and art/craft are weighted more heavily than technical contribution, novelty, and substantiation.

Onward! Presentations

Onward! presentations describe work that has the potential to change the field. An Onward! presentation must say something original, and must be sufficiently important and interesting to deserve the attention of the OOPSLA community.

An Onward! presentation should present some supporting evidence, not pure conjecture. Evidence may be in the form of an argument or analysis, a sketch of validity, or an initial implementation.

The scope of an Onward! presentation can be broad: It can be single idea, a new approach, a new programming language, a new paradigm for computing, or a new way of thinking about automation. The potential audience for an Onward! presentation possibly is also broad. The title and abstract for an Onward! presentation should be inviting, and the presentation itself should be accessible to all OOPSLA attendees.

An Onward! presentation can be thought of as a rehearsal for an Onward! paper: at an earlier stage in its conception and argument, perhaps smaller in scope, but still worthy of presentation to the OOPSLA attendees to stimulate discussion and further work.

Criteria: Novelty, argument, and presentation are weighted more heavily than technical contribution and art/craft, which are themselves more heavily weighted than substantiation.

Lightning Talks

Lightning Talks are 5-minutes long, and can be about anything: a new idea, an evaluation, an observation, a story, a complaint, an explanation, a suggestion, a report of success or failure, a call to action, a description of a technique, technology, or a lament.

A Lightning Talk need not report on original, unpublished research nor be a thoughtful analysis; the only requirement is that it be of interest to the OOPSLA attendees.

The scope of a Lightning Talk is very narrow: With 5 minutes to present and 1 acetate foil to show, there is neither time nor space to say much. But, there is plenty of time and space to be memorable.

Criteria: Presentation is weighted more heavily than novelty, argument, technical contribution, substantiation, and art/craft.

Further Reading

In the past the following two references were supplied to prospective OOPSLA authors:

How to Get Your Paper Accepted at OOPSLA,” by Alan Snyder

How to Get a Paper Accepted at OOPSLA,” by Ralph E. Johnson, Kent Beck, Grady Booch, William Cook, Richard P. Gabriel, and Rebecca Wirfs-Brock

SIGCHI has a good, detailed guide that would help authors prepare their papers for OOPSLA:

Guide to Successful Submissions: Papers

Poets & Writers Magazine had an interesting article on essays that might help prospective essay authors:

On Essays: Literature's Most Misunderstood Form,” by Michael Depp

Perl conferences have Lightning Talks, and an excellent summary of the practice in that community has been written by Mark Fowler.

Richard P. Gabriel has a Writing Broadside and accompanying essay that might be useful.