Style

When writing a document, there are many stylistic choices that are relatively arbitrary. I collect the arbitrary choices that I've made in the course of my writing here both for my own reference and for my students. Many of these are LaTeX-specific.

You'll likely disagree with much of what I say here. In fact, I disagree with some of it; sometimes the choices here reflect compromises done to minimize friction with co-authors or choices made to minimize paper length (e.g., removing ISBNs from references). Please do not point out places in papers where I've deviated from these. Sometimes I have good reasons for deviating: my style is evolving, my co-authors wouldn't accept my conventions, or the journal stipulated something different. I also realize that, as with every document on writing, there will be typos and mistakes here.

Be sure to check out Neil Spring's useful resources (including a script you can use with flymake when editing LaTeX documents). I disagree with the following rules:

  1. I use the British convention for quote marks (which makes more sense to computer scientists, as below).
  2. "sufficient" is a fine word (esp. for "sufficient statistics")
  3. "Teh" is almost never a mispelling when I write it

The rest is great, however, and you should use it (with the above edits). For my students, this is included as part of the Makefile for generating papers. Look at the end of compilation to see the red flags that it has discovered.

The Economist style guide is a good resource for exposing bad habits, and their conventions are reasonable. However, they are a British publication, so ignore British-specific rules (I do have some other points of disagreement, such as infinitives).

Specifically for scientists, Nature has good resources. Specifically for NLP, Philip and Jason have good advice. For machine learning, there's even official NIPS advice.

Why LaTeX?

Sometimes I get asked by a new collaborator why I use LaTeX. The bad reason is that it's a convention. It's quite obvious when a paper is not written in LaTeX, and in many scientific fields, it's a sign that you're not really part of the community: papers not written in LaTeX are greeted with more skepticism than papers that are (and often with good reason, non-LaTeX papers usually are worse than LaTeX ones in my reviewing experience; not a rule, but a useful heuristic).

But these are social reasons to use LaTeX, and are not particularly convincing for pragmatic reasons. So here are some pragmatic reasons to use LaTeX instead of Word.

If you're going to ignore my advice, at least make your Word documents look nice (but it's a lot of work).

Tense

  1. Almost everything should be in the present tense
  2. This includes related work (even super old stuff like Aristotle)
  3. This includes generative processes
  4. It's okay to use the future tense for future work
  5. Exception for HCI papers
    1. findings from past studies are in past tense or, if they still apply today, are in present perfect
    2. method detail from past studies is in past tense
    3. our own approach, method, and specific findings are in past tense
    4. general conclusions of the paper / findings are in present tense because they are still true (rather than completed and in the past) at the time the paper is written (and hopefully read!)

Punctuation

  1. Don't put footnotes on a number (it looks like an exponent).
  2. Put footnotes immediately after sentence / clause punctuation. Do not put footnotes before final punctuation (common mistake).
          I'm never ever sick at sea.\footnote{Well, hardly ever.}
        
  3. Do not use a comma between two verb phrases (no subject) joined by a conjunction.
           I washed the car and mowed the lawn.
         
  4. Do use a comma between two independent clauses (subject and verb) joined by a conjunction.
           I washed the car, and I mowed the lawn.
         
  5. Use an Oxford comma to set off the penultimate element in a list.
  6.       I had eggs, toast, and orange juice
        
  7. Use LaTeX hyphens (-), en dashes (--), and em dashes (---) correctly
          This is a low-budget trip, and pages 78--101 describe the
          journey.  If the train is on time---which it never is---we'll
          get there tomorrow.
        
  8. Put punctuation outside quotes (British / Canadian style, not American). Also make sure that your quotes go in the right direction; don't draft in MS Word and copy paste into a TeX document. If you do, your quotes will be wrong (TeX uses different symbols for left and right quotes).
          In civilized cultures, this is called a ``coaster''.
        
  9. Similarly, I use M-x q to word wrap paragraphs in emacs. Like two spaces after a sentence, it looks better in editing but has no impact on layout (more practically, it helps you estimate text length while editing).

Figures

  1. If a figure has a caption, use the top or bottom positioning. Center the actual image, and be sure to provide a label.
    	\begin{figure}[tb]
    	  \begin{center}
    	  \includegraphics[width=0.9\linewidth]{2015_hoverboard/awesome}
    	  \end{center}
    	  \caption{Jetpacks are next.}
    	  \label{fig:hoverboards}
    	\end{figure}
    	
  2. If the figure has no caption, you can use "here".
  3. Make sure the caption stands on its own. When a reviewer first sees a paper, they will often just skim the figures. Make sure that if a reader does this they will get a sense of what the paper is about and the clear takeaway from each figure.
  4. Try to use full sentences in the caption.
  5. Use raster / vector formats as appropriate. In general, photos should be wavlet formats (jpg), hand-drawn cartoons, logos, or images with alpha channels should be low-pallete rasters (png), and everything else should be a vector format (pdf/eps). This is another way that LaTeX is far superior to Word, where it's much harder to inser graphics without vector formats being lost. (Omnigraffle and ggplot2 by default create vector pdfs; another reason to use them!)
    Vector vs. Raster Images
  6. Don't supply file extensions; pdflatex/latex will choose for you (makes it easy to switch between the two).
  7. Don't use vertical rules in your tables. It's fine to use shading (light gray) when you have text (like lists of topic words) that makes it hard to see when one row starts and another ends.
    \rowcolors{2}{gray!25}{white}
    \begin{tabular}{cp{10cm}}
    \hline
    \rowcolor{gray!50}
    \hline
    Topic & Terms \\
    \hline \hline
    1 & Lady Leicester Scrooge Dedlock Rouncewell ladyship Wold
    Chesney Ghost Volumnia Christmas Tulkinghorn
           family Spirit Baronet nephew Rosa Scrooge's housekeeper Lady's \\
    2 & Richard Jarndyce guardian Ada Charley Caddy dear Skimpole Miss Summerson Esther Jellyby miss Vholes Kenge Woodcourt quite myself Guppy Chancery \\
    3 & says George Bucket Snagsby Guppy returns Smallweed Bagnet comes Tulkinghorn looks takes trooper does makes friend goes asks cries Chadband \\
    4 & Oliver replied Bumble Sikes Jew Fagin boy girl Rose Brownlow dear gentleman Monks Noah doctor Giles Dodger lady Nancy Bill \\
    5& Nicholas Nickleby Ralph Kate Newman replied Tim Mulberry Mantalini Creevy brother N oggs Madame Gride Linkinwater Smike Arthur rejoined Wititterly Ned \\
    6 & Pickwick Winkle replied Tupman Wardle gentleman Snodgrass Pickwick's Perker fat boy Bardell dear Jingle inquired Fogg Dodson friends friend lady  \\
    7 &  Lorry Defarge Doctor Manette Pross Carton Darnay Madame Lucie Monseigneur Cruncher Jerry Stryver prisoner Charles Monsieur Tellson's Marquis father Paris \\
    8 & coach uncle gentleman lady box coachman gentlemen landlord get London guard inside horses waiter boys mail passengers large better hat \\
    9 & street door streets windows houses room window few iron walls wall rooms dark within shop doors corner small stood large  \\
    10 & money letter paper business read pounds papers five hundred office thousand clerk paid years pen next law desk letters week \\
    \hline
    \end{tabular}
         
    Table suggestions
  8. When you refer to a figure, don't use "see". Just put the reference.
  9.  The FancyPants algorithm can find fancy pants (Figure~\ref{fig:pants}). 
  10. Use ggplot2 for graphics, and make sure notation is consistent with LaTeX. Store your data in the same repository as your paper and have a Makefile command to regenerate figures from the original data.

Math

  1. When in text, spell out all natural numbers less than or equal to one hundred. Also spell out "infinity" unless it's in an equation or an algorithm. Anything else should be represented in decimal unless prefixed by the base (e.g., "0b00010"). In general, follow the Chicago style for numbers.
    1. Spell out big round numbers like thousand, billion, etc.
    2. Never start a sentence with a number represented with numerals.
    3. It's okay to break these rules to ensure consistency in the same sentence or paragraph. E.g., "The final score was 315 to 10".
    4. It's okay to use numerals for Likert scales: "5-point scale".
  2. Do not use more significant digits than you need to (or should!).
  3. Make sure that all equations and math are nouns and are embedded in a sentence with appropriate punctuation.
            The voltage is $V=IR$, where $I$ is the current.
         
  4. Do not use phrases like "The entropy is defined as follows" when introducing an equation. "The entropy is" or "we define entropy as" work better.
  5. Remind readers what variables are if you haven't used them in a while.
  6. When creating a multiline equation, use the align environment, and keep the alignment to the right of the equals sign.
      \begin{align}
        4 = & 2 + 2 \\
          = & 1 + 1 \\
            & + 1 + 1 \\
          = & 4
      \end{align}
    
  7. If you use
    \MoveEqLeft
    you're probably using align incorrectly.
  8. Refer to equations as parenthetical appositives or nouns:
    The gradient (Equation~\ref{eq:grad}) is further simplified in Equation~\ref{eq:simp-grad}.
  9. Create macros for the following and use them consistently (or ask me for a preamble that defines these things)
    1. Underbraces for explaining complicated mathematical concepts
      \newcommand{\explain}[2]{\underbrace{#2}_{\mbox{\footnotesize{#1}}}}
      
    2. Gamma function with balanced parentheses
      \newcommand{\G}[1]{\Gamma \left( \textstyle #1 \right)}
      
    3. Log gamma function with balanced parentheses
      \newcommand{\LG}[1]{\log \Gamma \left( \textstyle #1 \right)}
      
    4. Digamma function with balanced parentheses
      \newcommand{\digambig}[1]{\Psi \left( #1 \right) }
      
    5. Digamma function with balanced parentheses but with squished fractions
      \newcommand{\digam}[1]{\Psi \left( \textstyle #1 \right) }
      
    6. Expectations
      \newcommand{\e}[2]{\mathbb{E}_{#1}\left[ #2 \right] }
      
    7. Entropies
      \newcommand{\h}[2]{\mathbb{H}_{#1}\left[ #2 \right] }
      
    8. Indicator variables
      \newcommand{\ind}[1]{\mathds{1}\left[ #1 \right] }
      
    9. Exponential
      \newcommand{\ex}[1]{\mbox{exp}\left\{ #1\right\} }
      
    10. Partial derivatives
      \newcommand{\D}[2]{\frac{\partial #1}{\partial #2}}
      
    11. ELBO (for variational inference)
      \newcommand{\elbo}{\mathcal{L}}
      
  10. Do not use italics (the default in math mode) for distributions; it helps to define a macro
    	\theta \sim \mbox{Dir}(\alpha)
          
  11. Don't use a pipe (alone) for given; make sure there's space around it
    	p(a\, | \,b) = \frac{ \sim p(b\, | \,a) p(a)}{p(b)}
          
  12. Don't use default parens for big math items; use automatically resized parens
    	I = \left( \frac{V}{R} \right)
          
  13. Don't start sentences with a math symbol.
  14. Obey Mermin's rules.
    1. Number all displayed equations
    2. Have a name for every equation
    3. Punctuate every equation as prose, treating it as a noun
  15. Vector/matrix convention (stolen from Yoav Goldberg):
    1. Use bold upper case Latin letters to represent matrices and bold lower-case Latin letters to represent vectors.
    2. Use a semicolon to denote vector concatenation.
    3. Use upper case caligraphic Latin letters for sets.
    4. Use upper case un-bolded Latin letters for scalars.
    5. Use lower case Greek letters for latent variables (bolded or not depending on whether it's a vector).
    6. Use subscripts to represent entries from those vectors and superscripts to identify different flavors (e.g., different times or layers). In the rare case that you exponentiate vectors or matrices, put them in parentheses first.

References within a document

  1. Prefix the label of a reference with the type of reference it is (use the first three letters of the type of thing it is: fig, tab, sec, etc.).
  2. 	\section{Introduction}
    	\label{sec:intro}
          
  3. Keep references short and do not include spaces in the label (use hyphens if you must have more than one word, but this should be a rarity)
    	\label{sec:romulan-treaty}
          
  4. When using an inline reference, make sure there's a tilde between the noun and the number. This makes sure that this doesn't get split between lines (non-breaking space).
  5. 	As we show in Section~\ref{sec:intro}, long cat is long.
          

Stupid rules you should follow

Even though they're not really true, people get twitchy when you abuse them. So learn them as rules for professional writing (even though they're hogwash).

  1. Use "fewer" when comparing discrete amounts, and use "less" when comparing continuous amounts.
    	To weigh less, he should eat fewer donuts.
          
  2. Use "that" for restrictive clauses (no commas). Use "which" for non-restrictive clauses (use commas).
    	The pizza, which everyone loves, is from Conte's.  The pizza that fell
    	on the floor is no longer edible, however.
          
  3. Use "who" only with the nominative case (and "whom" in other cases).
    1. who can use this (subject of "can use")
    2. for whom we designed this (object of preposition)
    3. who gave a lecture (subject of verb "gave")
    4. Caltech tenured whom? (object of verb "tenured")
  4. Only use "data" as a plural noun (with one exception).
  5. Likewise, only use "media" as a plural noun.
  6. Trickier is "criteria" (plural) and "criterion" (singular): "Some good criteria are ..." vs. "A good criterion is ... ". Avoid sounding pompus but still be technically correct (the best kind of correct) by using "criteria" as a plural noun.

Anti-rules

Some people don't think you should do the following, but I disagree. Feel free to completely ignore these non-rules.

  1. There's no blanket prohibition against the passive, but don't use it to obscure agency.
  2. It's fine to end your sentence with a preposition if it sounds natural.
  3. It's fine to boldly split an infinitive.
  4. It's fine (and often better) to use "they" as a singular gender-neutral pronoun.

Citations

Below, I suggest removing valuable metadata. This is for two reasons: space and uniformity. Unfortunately, the bibliography often counts against page length, so we need to keep our bibligraphies as short as possible while keeping them useful. Because we often have to strip bibtex entries, it helps to have everything be compact to preserve uniformity and having to do last minute massaging. Just make everything obey these rules when you put it into your bibtex for the first time.

  1. Use bibtex and use it correctly
    1. Do not abbreviate names (i.e., use "Thomas Stearns Elliot", not "T. S. Elliot") in your files. Bibtex will will do this for you, and you will be out of luck if your citation file uses full names (like ACL).
    2. Make sure that you are using the correct citation type for articles, books, chapters, etc.
    3. Put proper nouns (e.g., "Dirichlet", "Bernoulli", and "Pitman-Yor" are all named after people), in your bibtex file in brackets to make sure they get capitalized correctly
      	title = {Latent {D}irichlet Allocation},
            
  2. Define journal and conference names in a different bib file from the one you store your references in. This way you can swap out long form title (Proceedings of the Association for Computational Linguistics) with the short form title (ACL) if you're tight for space. Plus, it makes sure your citations are consistent.
    @String{cl="Computational Linguistics"}
    @String{chi="International Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems"}
    @String{cvpr="Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition"}
    @String{coling="Proceedings of International Conference on Computational Linguistics"}
    @String{colt="Proceedings of Conference on Learning Theory"}
    @String{conll="Conference on Computational Natural Language Learning"}
    @String{eacl="Proceedings of the European Chapter of the Association for Computational Linguistics"}
    @String{ecml="Proceedings of European Conference of Machine Learning"}
    @String{emnlp="Proceedings of Emperical Methods in Natural Language Processing"}
        
  3. Put citations inside the relevant sentence but outside quotes.
          The rug really ``tied the room together''~\cite{dude-98}.
        
  4. Do not include page numbers, publishers, or locations for conferences (nobody reads the paper versions anyway).
  5. Do not include volumes for NIPS. People just use the year.
  6. Do not include DOIs or ISBNs
  7. For numeric citation styles (e.g., NIPS), don't use inline citations as nouns; use the name.
            Moseby~\cite{moseby-11} shows that he can pull off red boots.
          
  8. For natbib-like citations (e.g. ACL), use citet/newcite to accomplish this. Don't use a non-breaking space in this case.
            \citet{moseby-11} shows that that he can pull off red boots.
          
  9. Don't include material that's only title, author, and year. That's not enough information to find it. Make sure you include either a web address (ArXiV), a university (theses), or a venue (most things).
  10. When introducing a paper with, for example, an acronym you'll use throughout the paper, put the acronym in the citation brackets.
           We compare word-level represenations~\cite[Word2Vec]{mikolov-13}
           against document-level representations~\cite[\abr{lda}]{blei-03}.
        

Typography

  1. Put mentions of words in quotes and topics (e.g., from a topic model) in underline (topic macro).
            We wanted to understand why the \underline{research} topic has
          high probability for ``procrastination'', but we leave that for
          future work.
          
  2. Use small caps for acronyms (it looks better; I create a macro called "abr" to make this easier), and don't put periods after the letters in acronyms (the reason why: LaTeX uses smart spacing after periods, but doesn't handle sentence-final acronyms; this will make your life easier).
    	\textsc{tla}s are popular in the \textsc{us} government.
          
  3. If you have an abbreviation mid-sentence, make sure LaTeX knows not to use sentence final spacing.
            Crosby et al.\ have a very, very, very fine house.
          
  4. Because I learned to type on monotype fonts, I will put two spaces after a period that ends a sentence. There's no good reason to do this, but LaTeX knows to do the right thing in typesetting. I continue to do it, though, because I think it looks better when editing in emacs with fixed-width fonts. (You don't have to do it, but if you see me doing it, that's why; you don't have to worry about it / correct it.)
  5. Put features (for supervised learning) in monospaced fonts (feat macro).
          The number of words in a document (e.g., \texttt{doclen:13})
          is the final feature.
        
  6. If it's allowed (ICML 2013 didn't, for instance), use the "times" package for serif fonts.
  7. For ordinals, write them out if they're less than or equal to one hundred. For ordinals greater than one hundred, use a text superscript.
          The Second Reich loved its 247\textsuperscript{th} pointy helmet design.
        
  8. Write ligatures, umlauts, and other diacritics correctly.
    	If you want to know what a f\^ete galante looks like to a
    	physicist, look up Schr\"odinger in the Encyclop\ae dia
          
  9. If you have a long list of names (e.g., journal title page), use non-breaking spaces between name components.
           Herr~Doktor~Professor~Albert~Einstein, Joe~the~Plumber
        
  10. Put a non-breaking space between references, citations, and math symbols. Do not put a space before the non-breaking space; this defeats the purpose. Your word should end, be followed by a non-breaking space, followed by the reference, citation, or symbol. This prevents a line breaking between references and the thing they're connected to.
  11.       Figure~\ref{fig:pony} shows a pony with a mass~$m$ calculated by
          Euler's method~\cite{horse-mass}.
          
  12. When presenting foreign text, use the Leipzig glossing rules:

Word choice

  1. Never use the word "performance". It's likely a stand-in for something else (e.g., "accuracy", "latency", or "F1"). Say what you actually mean.
  2. Avoid "perform an X". X is likely a noun form of a verb. Just use that verb. Don't "perform a split" or "perform a cross-validation" or "perform a song". Just "split", "cross-validate", or "sing".
  3. Use "first" rather than "firstly" (same for second, third, etc.).
  4. Use "unlike" rather than "different from".
  5. Never use "utilize"; always use "use". Corollary: prefer "usage" over "utilization", unless it's a technical term. Same thing with "leverage" (unless there's mechanical advantage involved).
  6. You can always delete "this means".
  7. You can always delete "it turns out that".
  8. You can always replace "in order to" with "to".
  9. You can always delete "we find that".
  10. You can always delete "our findings/results suggest that" (and variants)
  11. You can always replace "to do this we" with "we".
  12. Use "while" rather than "whereas".
  13. Don't say "it is well known"; either cite or just state the fact.
  14. Prefer "toward" over "towards".
  15. You can almost always delete "notice that" or "note that". (My dumb fingers are often very guilty of writing this.)
  16. Use "we" rather than "this paper" or "this work".
  17. Use "shown" over "denoted" or "listed".
  18. Use "in addition" rather than "besides".
  19. Use "certainty" rather than "certitude".
  20. Unless you're talking about physically knocking someone to the ground, don't use the verb "tackle".
  21. Try not to use "hedging" language (often, probably, etc.). Either something is true or it isn't. If it really is a mixed bag, quantify the amount (e.g., three out of four dentists).
  22. Avoid the phrase "it has been shown"; if you have nothing more specific to say about it (e.g., who showed it), then just remove it. It's an agentless appeal to authority.
  23. If British and American English use different words, you should typically prefer the American ("elevator", "stroller", "diaper", "truck"). The exception is when this could lead to confusion when one language's term is ambiguous. In those cases, use the version that removes ambiguity. As a consequence, use the British terms "trousers" (not "pants"), "crisps" (not "chips"), and "cashpoint" (not "ATM"), but use the American terms "pacifier" (not "dummy"), "gasoline" (not "petrol"), "fries" (not "chips"), and "cookie" (not "biscuit"). Most of these examples will not be relevant in academic writing, but "factoid" is one notable example. British speakers view it as something that is untrue. Try to avoid it if possible. (I learned about this too late from KMH.)
  24. I will default to American spelling. If you send me a nearly-complete draft using consistent British spelling, I will gladly keep that convention (being an Economist reader finally pays off). If you use Indian or Canadian spelling, experience has shown that I will turn it into American spelling as I edit (sorry, I just can't keep the intermediate cases straight).
  25. In academic writing, avoid contractions.

Paragraphs

  1. Make sure your paragraphs have topic sentences. Until you have mastered writing paragraphs, you shouldn't break this practice.
  2. Use transitions liberally. I've yet to see a student use too many transitions. I long for the day when I delete an extra transition.

Writing a paper Collaboratively

  1. Often, when computer scientists work together on a paper, they will discuss something using the concept of a "write token". This concept comes from a token-ring computer network. The problem is that the computers share the same wires to send messages over the network. If two computers try to send something at the same time, it will cause a problem. The same problem comes up when writing a document; if two people try to edit the document at the same time, it can cause problems.
  2. Thus, before editing a file shared in some collaborative environment (Dropbox, SVN, etc.), send an e-mail (or some other pre-arranged notification) to your coauthors. Something along the lines of "I'm claiming the write tokens for foo.tex". Then, edit the file to your heart's content, save and commit your changes, and then send an e-mail saying "I release the write tokens for foo.tex". Bottom lines: only modify files for which you have the write token, and release tokens for any file that you're not actively editing.
  3. As a consequence, it helps to "input" many smaller files to create the whole document. This enables co-authors to claim tokens to specific sections on a file-by-file basis. (SVN, CVS, and git allow you to merge files after agreeing to the same delineation of write tokens, but this is dangerous; I discourage it.)
  4. Make sure that your text editor notifies you when the underlying file changes. If this doesn't happen, then you might unintentionally clobber (overwrite) another's edits. This happens as follows:
    1. you edit a file (with your write tokens)
    2. you save the file, commit, and release the write tokens
    3. you leave the file open in your editor
    4. Collaborator Charlie modifies the files
    5. you update the file on your disk (but leave the file open in your editor)
    6. you then make some changes to the file (after getting the write tokens)
    7. and then you save those files, but because your editor never reflected the underlying changes, everything that Charlie did is forgotten
    8. you commit the changes, and your version control software thinks that you knew that you were overwriting all of Charlie's changes (because it gave you the new file), and everyone else will also miss out on Charlie's changes

    Emacs does notify you when this happens: either use emacs or a text editor that does this.

  5. When the deadline gets really close, I like to print out a copy of the paper, mark the changes with a pen, and then quickly grab all the tokens for a paper to implement those changes. (If rewrites or large text additions are required, I do those in a scratch file.) I can then very quickly implement my changes while holding the tokens for a short period of time. If time is really short and there are lots of papers going in for a deadline, I may hand you (physically or virtually) the marked up version to implement the changes. This is meant to save time. If anything is unclear, please ask me.
  6. If you're actively editing a file, you should only put in the files needed to generate the output. Do not store the intermediate or final output (pdf, log, aux, etc.). This is not just to save space (every little change, no matter how small, will force a multi-megabyte file to be saved) but also because it can get in the way of other people as they're compiling the document.
  7. I also prefer using pdf (vector) and png (raster) files for graphics (as appropriate); this is because the output of pdflatex is usually better/easier than that of latex.
  8. Organize the files as follows:
    1. Keep all style files (e.g. things that could be shared between submissions) in the "style" folder
    2. Keep all bibliography files (e.g., bibtex source) in the "bib" folder
    3. Have the main body in a file called "YYYY_venue_project.tex" and the associated data (sections, graphics, etc.) in a folder called "YYYY_venue_project"
    4. This allows the Makefile to work well and reduces clutter
  9. What about ShareLaTeX or Overleaf? They are not mature enough, they don't work offline, and I cannot use command line tools (latexdiff, grep, etc.), so I'd rather just work with svn or git.

Error Analysis

When writing a paper with an objective measure of success or failure, it is important to include an error analysis. This is helpful for multiple reasons: it shows that you've actually looked at your data, that you understand what your algorithm is doing, and you know how your method is better (or at least different) from other algorithms.

For example, let's say that you're doing a paper on word segmentation and you're comparing to the Zigglebottom segmenter. One thing you can do is sort all of your sentences by the following metric: #words you got right - #words Zigglebottom got right. You should look at both extremes. Are there patterns in the things you get right and they get wrong? If so, that likely reveals something about what your algorithm is doing.

Otherwise, if you're writing a paper on a well-known task / method, you risk a reviewer reading it and saying, okay, I might do slightly better, but why? Are there pitfalls I should be aware of? It also makes sure you understand what you're claiming better, which allows you to write a better paper overall.

Moreover, good error analysis can improve your model.

Writing an Author Response Document

For some conferences and most journals, you will have the opportunity to respond the the reviews you've received. This often doesn't matter. Many times the reviewers all loved or hated your paper. You don't have much of a chance to change their minds. When your paper gets marginally positive reviews, a good response can really help.

First, be as brief and civil as possible. If you don't have much to say, don't try to fill the space. Only use as much of the allotted space as you actually need. If there are no statements of facts you can offer to help clarify a reviewer's opinion, then just let it go. Make sure to thank the reviewers and to be gracious. They may be idiot numbskulls who trashed your paper, but they did so as a volunteer. If they didn't understand something, it's usually your fault for not writing it well in the first place.

Second, make your response as self-contained as possible. The PC will read your response by itself. They should be able to get the gist of the reviewer's opinions through your response and understand your reply without looking anywhere else. Obviously you cannot include all necessary details, but make sure your response stands on its own as a single, coherent document.

    Reviewer Three questions whether the Pope is Catholic.  We follow
    the convention of Capitan Obvious (2003), which has been the
    foundation of many subsequent papers.
  

Don't get this wrong by writing your response as an inline e-mail. It's an inefficient use of space and you can better frame the issues than the reviewers. (It may be helpful to compose the response next to the reviews, but don't assume that the reader will have access to that information.)

Even if you don't get a response, once you get a set of reviews, create a spreadsheet (shared with co-authors on Google Docs) to address the issues that the reviewers found with the following columns:

Other than organizational fixes (which should be done first), it's often easier to go in increasing order of difficulty. Lots of little fixes can sometimes fix bigger issues as you work your way through. This spreadsheet will also help to write a response document (more important for journals than conferences).

Checklist before submitting something

  1. Look over your citations. Do they look uniform? Sometimes when you copy/paste a bibtex citation, junk comes with.
  2. Read over your section titles. Do they tell a story? Don't just use "introduction", "background", "model", "inference", "conclusion", etc. While your sections may map to those, call them something more specific.
  3. Do your figures stand on their own? Make sure a bored reader / reviewer can get the gist of what's going on through the figures alone. So if your first figure is about the data you use, make sure that motivates the method you'll use. If you have a figure of the graphical model, don't just say "our graphical model"; instead, point out the salient aspects of the model that makes it interesting to a reader under time pressure. If you have a figure of results, don't just say "summary of results"; instead, point out what the results mean in the caption. You'll say something similar in the text, so don't repeat yourself. Likely there are different interesting trends you can point out.
  4. Is your abstract persuasive and interesting? When an area chair reads it, will they send it to the reviewers that you want?
  5. Do a spellcheck!
  6. Make sure you've spelled your co-authors' names correctly (not always obvious; perhaps they use middle initials or a different name / spelling for publishing) and you have the correct affiliation (did they move since you first wrote the paper)?

Camera Ready

First, congrats! It's great that your paper has been accepted. Your work isn't done yet. Do not ignore these steps. They are very important for you to take ownership of the paper, make sure that your reputation will be safe, and to keep your advisor and funders happy.

  1. Immediately (within one week), do the following:
    1. Have your advisor give notes on the current draft of the paper
    2. Add acknowledgements to anyone who helped you at any point while working on the paper. Read an early draft, provided data, provided help, had interesting discussions with, etc.
    3. Add an appropriate acknowledgement to the grant funding you (use previous papers as an example). For my students, find your project on my projects page, ask about anything you're unsure of.
    4. Turn the reviews into todo lists and order everything starting with easy / obvious things and going down the list to impossible / difficult / things you disagree with (call the items generated from the first two items TODO)
    5. Make a list of relevant papers that have come out since you submitted (call this list CITE)
    6. Move the paper to a public publications repo to make it easier for people to read drafts and make suggestions.
  2. Within two weeks, meet with your advisor to select:
    1. What things out of TODO are trivial
    2. See if they have other things to add to the list
    3. What citations to add from your CITE list
  3. Within three weeks, create a version of the document that:
    1. Addresses all of the trivial issues from the TODO list and CITE list
    2. Has everything spell-checked and typos corrected
    3. Has everyone's name is added to author list and spelled correctly (if there's any doubt, ask)
    4. Uses the right style file (it sometimes changes between submission and camera ready)
    5. Cite any recent work that's relevant and has come out (or you learned about) since you submitted Has no widows or orphans
  4. In the rest of the time left:
    1. Send the document to other folks to read over (you must do this if there are any coauthors not deeply involved in the writing process)
    2. Carefully incorporate their suggestions, but don't ever let the document leave a camera ready state
    3. Work on any of the more difficult TODOs
  5. Once you submit the document:
    1. Put it on your webpage and send the final PDFs to the authors
    2. Notify your department's publication mailing list
    3. Update your CV
    4. Post any associated data and code on your webpage

Talks

  1. Read these general advice pieces from Robert Geroch and Jason.
  2. Use Beamer and OmniGraffle (but keep your Beamer slides uncluttered with navigation and sections).
  3. Don't use a laser pointer (integrate any emphasis into your slides). People have a tendency to over-use laser pointers, and they are not always usable (because of the screen, multiple screens, etc.).
  4. Don't read from notes (and don't use your slides as notes). If you feel uncomfortable delivering the talk, it means you need to practice more.
  5. If you can ever use a picture instead of an equation, choose the picture (even if it takes more time).

Posters

  1. Use Beamer
  2. Use blocks with informative titles (just like section headings)
  3. Do not put two images / tables in a block unless they are showing very related information (e.g., don't put results from two different datasets in the same block).
  4. Use a color scheme consistent with your institution; look at previous posters from the group before you begin.

Personal Statements