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E-ditorial: State of the Journal


Pages: pp. 145-146

Happy New Year.

I say this not only to wish you all a happy new year, but as a statement�expressing my relief and optimistic outlook. Relief that the first fully online issue of the IEEE Transactions on Software Engineering ( TSE) has been published, and optimism that it heralds a positive evolution of archival journal publication. I must confess that I was a somewhat nervous convert to online publication of TSE. Not because I don’t accept the obvious benefits of electronic online publication, but because I still get a lot of pleasure from flipping through hardcopies of journals, and I was aware that many colleagues shared the same sentiment. I also felt a sense of responsibility for TSE—a flagship software engineering journal—and opted for a conservative evolution to its online presence, rather than being a first adopter when I started as Editor-in-Chief three years ago.

The reality, however, is that the majority of TSE readers already access papers electronically and the appearance of preprints of TSE papers in the CS Digital Library immediately on their acceptance has meant that TSE online publication has been with us for sometime already anyway. For those with a desire for a physical manifestation of the journal, a quarterly digest and CD-ROM containing the published papers will still be sent to individual subscribers as part of the format of OnlinePlus.

Another reason for optimism is TSE’s return to monthly rather than bimonthly publication. For some time, the backlog of accepted TSE papers has been growing, and authors have had to wait for over a year to see their papers published in hardcopy. Although preprints of accepted papers are available online immediately upon acceptance, full citation information, including volume, issue, and page numbers, was not available until papers appeared in print. This may have had a negative effect on the citation of papers and perhaps discouraged prospective new authors from submitting their work. Combined with a substantial increase in annual page budget of TSE, I hope that timely publication of full and final version of accepted papers will improve the accessibility of published material.

It is customary for there to be a first editorial of the year to give readers some publication statistics. TSE continues to be the software engineering journal with the highest impact factor, but last year saw a drop in impact factor from 2.22 in 2010 to 1.98 in 2011. Recall that the impact factor measures the number of times, on average, a paper published in a journal is cited during a 2-year period, and is also a function of the number of papers published in the journal as a whole. So why has there been another drop in the impact factor of again TSE this year? It is not entirely clear—although it appears to be a pattern for most of the other IEEE Computer Society’s periodicals. One explanation that I alluded to above is the large backlog of unpublished but accepted papers that, despite being available online, do not have citation information till much later, leading other authors to cite earlier accounts of the research such as conference papers or even technical reports.

In terms of submissions, TSE received 381 papers in 2012, up from 359 in 2011. Because of the increase in pages budgeted per volume, and despite TSE publishing increasingly longer papers, 82 papers were published in 2012, up from 48 in 2011. Of course, the papers published in TSE in any one year are not necessarily drawn from the same pool of submitted papers, as many papers will have been submitted in an earlier year, so the numbers should not be used to calculate so-called acceptance rates. Nonetheless, it is interesting to observe that 297 papers were also rejected in 2012, compared to 219 in 2011.

So last year I was able to say that, on average, one paper was submitted to TSE per day, and one was accepted per week. This year both figures have gone up slightly.

Looking ahead, it will be interesting to see what OnlinePlus publication does to some of these statistics. From an editorial perspective, little has changed. Submitted papers still undergo the same peer review and editorial process that they have in the past. Increased page budgets, faster publication, and somewhat more flexible pagination alleviate some of the operational constraints on editors, to the benefit of readers and writers. Looking even further ahead, we may well observe that the traditional volume/issue structure of a journal may need to be revisited, as papers are accepted and published continuously. I believe there is still value in the publishing machinery associated with the production of the journal—for example the fine copy editing and production work by Kathy Santa Maria and her colleagues. Online publication and increased page budgets may well allow for more and longer papers, but there is still an associated�cost of (and benefit from) the editing that takes place.

I take this opportunity therefore to remind potential authors that TSE also welcomes short paper submissions, which can often be reviewed faster than is possible with many conferences, with the added benefit of revision cycles to improve the work. The novelty, rigor, significance, and evaluation of the work published, however, still has to be determined by the review process.

The journal has seen a continuing large number of submissions in two broad areas: analysis and testing, and empirical software engineering. This is despite an editorial board that represents a wide spectrum of areas within software engineering. A particular form of empirical contribution that has seen an increase in submissions has been the so-called systematic literature review (SLR). While these are very welcome submissions to TSE, the last year has seen a raising of the quality bar for such papers. While the novelty of the technique in the context of software engineering led to many SLRs being published in the early years, it has now become increasingly important that authors of SLRs justify convincingly to reviewers and editors that the subject matter being studied is worthy of systematic study in the SLR form.

I am also encouraged by the increasing submissions in the last year of empirical work that studies not only software systems and development processes, but also the people involved in the development (and sometimes use) of such systems and processes. I am encouraged by this because it goes some way toward meeting my original goal of broadening the scope (and appeal) of the journal.

Finally, I would like to conclude with my customary but heartfelt thanks to the many people involved with TSE. Authors, of course, provide content without which the journal would not exist. Reviewers provide the rigorous assessment upon which the reputation of TSE stands, while receiving very little public acknowledgment of their efforts, other than appearing on an annual list of TSE reviewers. Associate editors, who interface between authors and reviewers, have to deal with the quirks of both! I would like to thank two outgoing Associate Editors in particular, Peggy Storey and Tetsuo Tamai, whose terms as editors ended yet they still continue to deal with the backlog of papers that they started handling during their tenure. Next month, I look forward to introducing you to a host of new Associate Editors.

The TSE Editorial Office have been excellent as usual. Debby Mosher has again shown how indispensable she is in supporting the peer review process, and I have already acknowledged with gratitude the role of Kathy Santa Maria in the production of TSE. I would also like to thank Joyce Arnold, Hilda Carman, and Alicia Stickley for making sure that TSE operation functions effectively as part of the IEEE Computer Society.

To TSE readers—I know you are out there—thank you for supporting TSE in 2012. Do get in touch to tell me your views about the journal and the papers published in it. I don’t hear enough from you, and would dearly like to hear more.

Wishing you all the best for 2013 and the forthcoming Year of the Snake.

Bashar Nuseibeh


January 2013

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