Friday, September 17, 2010

Thoughts on Writing My First CHI Paper

I've been working on a paper for CHI2011, one of the (or the?) top conferences in human computer interaction. I'm aiming really high with this and know full well that it's a competitive conference that I can't expect to get into on my first attempt. The way I see it is that I have a 100% chance of not getting in if I don't even try, and if I do get rejected, I'll hopefully receive feedback useful for the next iteration of the paper no matter where I plan to submit it next. Plus, this goal encourages a much better paper than I might have written otherwise, because we're not going to submit something we know isn't good enough for CHI.

To make things even harder on myself, it's the first time I've ever written a paper like this one. I'm proposing that designers use a certain set of useful cognitive theories when creating augmented reality (AR) systems. These theories are also useful for explaining why AR is good and to influence the design of user studies, but for this paper I'm concentrating just on design. It's a theoretical paper, and I don't know how well received it will be by CHI reviewers. But more interestingly, I only learned about cognitive science in a class I took in the fall. After all, I'm a computer scientist and we don't usually talk about these things.

Because I am somewhat out of my element on this paper, I have been noticing a few things that I didn't really think about when writing previous papers. For instance, going through a few iterations has been key. I always get a little stressed before the next meeting to go over issues, but I'm usually relieved by the fact that a lot of the missing elements are things I've had inside my head but not managed to get out onto paper yet.

One of the things I was constructively criticized for was not being assertive enough in my statements. Especially in this type of paper where the contribution is not experimental results, I need to be less afraid to say with confidence that "this is the way it is." At least, that's how I'm interpreting the advice; we'll see how well I can incorporate it as I start my next iteration.

A related issue I've been struggling with is how much I can say without citing something to support it. For example, I want to just describe what I think AR is, but I have been limiting myself to saying it in a way that others have said it. It's kind of stifling so for my next iteration I'm going to try to allow myself more freedom, and see what the others think. I can always backtrack.

With just a week left before the submission deadline, I'd welcome any advice on a such a paper for CHI. With very open arms. Please and thanks. ;)


Tia said...

Oh man. So my adviser had originally targeted our to be a full paper, and then immediately backpedaled to doing a WIP for CHI because...yeah, we're not even at the user study point and our work is more Look-at-how-we're-combining-these-technologies than any real, hardcore philosophical changes.

I'm too newbie to have any good advice about writing authoritatively, but my advisor recommended glancing through previous articles that were accepted there in a similar to tier to get the feel for how it should be written, how much should be cited, etc. It might also help you find how much freedom you really have in your writing. Best of luck!

Gail Carmichael said...

Thanks! :) Good luck to you too!

Female Computer Scientist said...

I am not a CHI person, but I know many people who are so have picked up a few tidbits here and there.

1) Tia is right - definitely check out what other accepted theory/design-y papers look like, and model your paper after them in terms of format, included content, etc.

2) When dealing with a conference with often very strict reviewers (like CHI, SIGGRAPH, etc), it's good to justify everything. Don't be shy about having loads of citations. In fact, if anything it's good, because it shows you've thoroughly reviewed the literature.

3) Don't be tempted to do a note, even though the four page aspect looks enticing. It's actually harder to get a note accepted than a full paper accepted from what I heard from a friend who was a chair last year.

4) You can say, "this is the way it is" only if you can back it up with a fact. If it's just your gut and you haven't tested anything, it's actually much better to err on the side of caution. I'd much rather see, "Based on XYZ, it may be the case that QRS." or "we expect QRS", as opposed to, "Based on XYZ, it is QRS."

5) On that note, be sure to mention limitations of your work in your discussion section. You can pepper it in pretty language, but be sure it's there. A lot of people get really miffed if they don't see limitations mentioned.

I think that's it. Congrats on aiming high - I wish you lots of luck!

Gail Carmichael said...

Thanks for the tips! Very much appreciated. :)

iosparkletree said...

You are an inspiration Gail! One day I hope to submit a paper somewhere big like you!

Gail Carmichael said...

Aww thanks Steph! I put in the final submission last night after working with the other profs for a couple of days. I'm personally really happy with the outcome and think it ended up being a really nice paper. Fingers crossed until we hear back in December!

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