Thursday, 21 January 2010

Why is a good conference paper not necessarily a good journal paper?

This is a tricky one, which often creates some ill feeling when we accept a paper for conference presentation, then reject it from the special issue of Minerals Engineering journal.

Why is it not suitable for the journal if it was suitable for the conference?

Conferences provide many things, intellectual stimulation, socialising between friends and new acquaintances, and professional networking, leading to new ideas and projects.

Imagine that you are talking to someone in a conference coffee break and you mention the fact that you have been suffering from a bad back. Your new contact finds this interesting, as he cured his back pain by hanging upside down from a tree for three hours. Your reaction might be that this is worth a try and that speaking to this person has proven to be an interesting and potentially valuable experience. However, you would not expect his advice to make it to the British Medical Journal, as it is purely anecdotal and has no scientific rigour. If he had performed many controlled experiments with bad back sufferers, hanging from trees for varying times and noted the results, then his findings might make it to a scientific journal.

Many good conference papers are anecdotal, and have little solid scientific backing. For instance papers by plant operators might show how a change in flowsheet improved recovery, so providing food for thought for other operators in the audience. Such papers are interesting, and of potentially great value, even though not backed up by rigorous science.

This is the crux of the matter. An anecdotal paper is unlikely to be published in a peer-reviewed, archival journal such as Minerals Engineering. Peer-reviewed journals seek to advance the knowledge of science, and it is no coincidence that at MEI’s Flotation conferences, a higher percentage of the fundamental papers make it to the journal rather than the applications, although many people would argue that the latter are of more interest to the audience.

So when submitting a conference paper to a peer-reviewed journal, ask yourself:

1. Are the results and conclusions backed up by solid scientific methodology?
2. Is the paper of generic interest? It must not be of interest only to a specific ore or operation.
3. Is it original and innovative?

If the answer to anyof the above is ‘no’ then think again about submitting to the journal, and accept the fact that your paper is anecdotal and might have sparked new ideas and concepts at the conference.


  1. I agree the two types of papers are intended for different audiences so they are often not appropriate for all media. When people want to submit papers to your journal, remind them of your requirements (you’ve stated them very clearly in your post). If they submit non-conforming papers, politely explain why they are not appropriate and invite them to revise and resubmit. Your colleagues are professionals and should understand that you are publishing hard facts, not a chat line.

    Another idea is to publish non-conforming papers under the heading “Letters / Opinions” or something like that, if you want to include interesting topics for a larger audience. However, this idea is only good if it fits within your vision of the character of your journal, and of course if you have room for it.

    Stick to your objectives. We need more hard facts and fewer “opinions disguised as facts” in cyberspace.

  2. From Brian Grant, President & COO at Goldbrook Ventures, Inc. Canada (from LinkenIn):

    Because they are meant for two entirely different audiences!
    A conference paper is meant to be "promotional", ie a bit of fact, and mostly interpretation and conclusions simply because of time constraints. The point of a conference presentation is to get your research out there noticed and generate some interest from fellow researchers and peers. it is not intended to cover all the bases and provide evidence for every conclusion.
    hence, journal cannot accept such material as they rarely meet the guidelines of proper scientific method.
    Journal papers on the other hand have the time behind them to meet rigorous scientific method and can demand evidence for all interpretations and conclusions.

    Its a good thing we have both styles as with only journal submissions we'd never generate interest in many original concepts and techniques. Similarly, with only conference presentations many lines of research would wither and die from lack of hard evidence and data to support the long, tiring years many research projects require.
    If one can't promote their research at a conference it would make it pretty difficult to acquire funding and to find out what our peers are up to with similar lines of research.

    comparing these is like asking why your 1/2 ton pickup doesn't do the same job as the 400 tonnes mine haul truck and vis versa. They of course are designed for entirely different functions and a combination would be useless for either picking up groceries or 400 tonnes of ore!


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