Paper pet peeves

Anyway, as I read over the papers (and reviews) I kept noticing people were making similar mistakes over and over again. So, I thought I’d mention a few of my pet peeves when reading papers.

  1. If you are listing multiple sources in a sentence, do not reference them all separately ([1], [2], [3]), instead put them together [1, 2, 3]. This also works if your using a more arts type of referencing like (Smith 2009 and Doe 2011)
  2. If you are going to specifically talk about a reference, do not write your sentence “In [3], they present a wonderful new idea…” I shouldn’t need to look up who 3 is. Instead write the sentence “In Smith and Doe’s work they presented a wonderful new idea…[3]”.
  3. Try to include place your references in the sentence such that they don’t break up the flow. When they’re in the middle of a sentence, it often causes the reader to jump out of the sentence for a second and then have to back track to re-read it. Usually the best place for a reference is at the end of sentence, or right before a comma or conjunction (and, but, or).
  4. Paragraphs. Please, please, please use paragraphs. It can get really hard to follow a paper that just keeps going on and switching ideas. Paragraphs are not only great for organizing what you’re writing, but for allowing the reader to keep track as to where they are in the paper.
  5. Run on sentences. There’s nothing like reading a sentence that just goes on, and on, and on. I should not be able to get lost in a sentence. I saw sentences that were, and I’m not kidding, SEVEN LINES LONG!
  6. Spell check and re-read your work. It’s frustrating as anything to be a reviewer that has to read a paper that has obviously never been re-read, edited or spell check. These are some of the easiest and best tools everyone has available to use and they can make a world of difference. It’s best if you can wait a minimum of 24 hours between writing and reading. Also, try reading your paper out loud, and slowly. It’s amazing how many mistakes you can catch that way.
  7. Not properly sectioning information. This works too ways. 1) People cram lots of information into a single section, when it would be better to separate it out. For example, I read a paper that did not contain a related works section, and instead put all this information into the introduction. This made the introduction clumsy and hard to figure out exactly what the authors were doing versus everyone else. 2) Don’t break everything down into sections. Some times it seems like the best thing to do is section everything out. This is not true if you’re going to need a new section for each paragraph. Try to use the general rule that you should never give something it’s own section unless it’s at least 2 paragraphs long.
  8. Having a section heading followed immediately by a subsection heading. Every time you add a heading to your paper, it should be followed immediately by some text, even if it’s just to give a breakdown of the sections your going to talk about under that heading. Think of the first paragraph after a heading as the guide to what the section is going to contain.
  9. Using acronyms without an explanation. The first time you are going to use an acronym in a paper, write it out fully and then follow that by the acronym in brackets. There are a few exceptions like company names (IBM) and other very well known terms in your field. But if you have the slightest doubt, better to put it in fully.
  10. Not explaining terms. This is a “know your audience” problem. If your writing for a general audience, then realize that most of the terms that would be completely fine to use in a area-specific paper need to be defined in a general audience paper. For example, when writing a paper on Artificial Intelligence for an AI conference, you don’t need to define AI. However, for a general CS conference you should.
This is not an exhaustive list. I’m sure I could come up with lots more as I’m quite picky. But, it benefits both the authors, reviewers and readers when a paper is well laid out and easy to follow.
Do you have any specific pet peeves?

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