Pages: pp. 145-145
Are journals more archival than conference proceedings? I don't think so. Most published conference proceedings live in libraries, digital or otherwise, and in that sense they are as archival as any other library publication. So what is it that distinguishes a conference paper from a journal paper? If it is the additional detail that a longer journal paper allows, then this may explain why many readers tell me that they often find journal papers hard to read. I think it is more than just detail though. Could it be the additional evaluation that journal publication demands? This is certainly a reason that many editors and reviewers give me. However, I have sat on many conference program committees in recent years, and I have observed expectations for high standards of evaluation, especially at the so-called top conferences. So, for such conference papers, is there much to distinguish them from journal papers? I must admit, I often find it hard to make such a distinction myself. The feedback I get from readers suggests that I am not alone. In recent months, I have discussed this issue with two prominent software engineering writers and editors (who, fortunately, are also readers of TSE). One lamented that journal papers “these days” lack the depth of contribution and thoroughness of evaluation that one expects from a mature engineering discipline. The other harked back “to the days when” journals published new and exciting research, some of which has been shown to be highly influential without having been evaluated thoroughly at the time of original publication. So what is a journal editor to do? Lower evaluation standards to increase the likelihood of more “exciting” work getting published (and risk that the research may be flawed or useless, and therefore less “archival”)? Or, only publish research that has depth and substantial evaluation? Or is there a better middle ground?
If you are expecting me to answer these questions, then stop reading now. If you have answers to these questions yourself, then please let me know. I would welcome your thoughts. I believe that we need to restore journal publication as the forum for publication of new work (rather than serving simply as a worthy extension of conference publications). I have been trying to facilitate this in TSE, by speeding up the review process, encouraging editors to engage in more discussion with their reviewers to better understand and judge research work, and therefore be better placed to make risky but promising decisions rather than conservative ones only. At the same time, I have emphasized TSE's expectations for high standards of evaluation, but encouraged the authors to engage with TSE editors and reviewers (anonymously) to get the work in to publication shape, iteratively. This allows TSE to serve, in part, the role traditionally reserved for conference publications. I hope those of you who write, review, and edit TSE papers have noticed this, and that readers will notice the results in the coming months.
Finally, it is my pleasure to introduce and welcome a new member of the TSE editorial board, Professor Martin Robillard. Martin has managed to publish research that is novel and exciting, yet also establish himself, through his writings, as a researcher who undertakes rigorous evaluation of his work.