Shrinking a LaTeX paper to fit under the page limits

As PhD students or grant writers, I’m sure we have all been there. You need to squeeze in two more paragraphs into the text and stay under the 12 page limits. Sometimes you can throw away another paragraph that is not so necessary. Other times you can rephrase multiple sentences and save several lines. Shrinking figures is always an option.

You know what’s worse? Resubmitting a paper to a conference with a less forgiving template in terms of space, or just a smaller page limit. Once the idea is shaped and the text is written, it is indeed harder to go back and shrink it further. After fitting a 30 page paper in 20 pages, I thought I’m qualified to share the tips I learned. In this post, I’m going to share several well-known and less-known systematic techniques to squeeze in that extra paragraph, or sometimes half a page 😅, into the paper.

Quick reference:

Text Manipulation Techniques

This is the organic way of shrinking a paper. Essentially, we are looking for any type of redundancy. Are you repeating yourself? Can you remove certain words without changing the sentences too much? For example “This method is very useful in …” can be rewritten as “This method is useful in …”. Most of these opportunities to rewrite and shrink the text should come to you naturally.

Focus on paragraphs where one or two words fall on to the next line:  Shrinking text specifically from these paragraphs will pay good dividend in terms of saving space.

Shrink background or the related work: In an ideal world, every word in the paper conveys something so you don’t want to remove anything. But when it comes down to this, specific parts are of less importance. As the last ditch effort, one can remove a sentence from the related work or the background.

Save space from the references/bibliography: The page limit for some venues does not include the references and the appendices. Sometimes there is a hard limit for everything, and at times, the references are included in the original page limit. If the latter is the case, you can save some space by removing duplicate items (e.g., IEEE S&P 2020 (2020) with duplicate years), and by removing unnecessary fields such as:

  • doi URLs
  • Page numbers
  • Conference location
  • Month
  • ISBN
  • Issue number
  • Article URL

If the conference/journal has a widely known abbreviation, it can be used. You need to keep the authors, title and the venue and publish year, the rest can go.

Packages & Techniques (+Black magic 😈)

SaveTrees: This LaTeX Package will reduce the line height and will try to subtly save you some space. To put this into perspective, an 18 page paper with Usenix Security conference template will become 19 pages without the savetrees package. It is saving 1 full page in 19 pages.

You’d want to use it in “subtle” mode. In the example below, it is saving us two lines out of two paragraphs.


Negative vspace: The padding before and after figures and tables is sometimes unnecessarily large. By adding negative vspace to figures and tables, this space can be reclaimed.

\caption{A figure caption is always placed below the illustration.
Please note that short captions are centered, while long ones are
justified by the macro package automatically.} \label{fig1}

Itemize with fake bullets: Another opportunity to save space is from the indentation of bullet lists. Itemize can be faked with $\bullet$:

    \item \textbf{item 1} abc.
    \item \textbf{item 2} abc.
    \item \textbf{item 3} abc.
% Replace with
\noindent $\bullet$ \textbf{item 1} abc.
\noindent $\bullet$ \textbf{item 2} abc.
\noindent $\bullet$ \textbf{item 3} abc.

Which looks like this:

Section and Subsection spacing: You can reduce the spacing before and after section headers. To do that, use the titlesec package along with the following code:

\titlespacing\section{0pt}{12pt plus 4pt minus 2pt}{0pt plus 2pt minus 2pt}
\titlespacing\subsection{0pt}{12pt plus 4pt minus 2pt}{0pt plus 2pt minus 2pt}
\titlespacing\subsubsection{0pt}{12pt plus 4pt minus 2pt}{0pt plus 2pt minus 2pt}

In our sample template, this gives us two extra lines in each column.

For lncs templates, you would need to use the following code:

% Reduce section spacing
\renewcommand\section{\@startsection{section}{1}{\[email protected]}%
                       {-8\[email protected] \@plus -4\[email protected] \@minus -4\[email protected]}%
                       {6\[email protected] \@plus 4\[email protected] \@minus 4\[email protected]}%
                        \rightskip=\[email protected] \@plus 8em\pretolerance=10000 }}
\renewcommand\subsection{\@startsection{subsection}{2}{\[email protected]}%
                       {-8\[email protected] \@plus -4\[email protected] \@minus -4\[email protected]}%
                       {6\[email protected] \@plus 4\[email protected] \@minus 4\[email protected]}%
                        \rightskip=\[email protected] \@plus 8em\pretolerance=10000 }}
\renewcommand\subsubsection{\@startsection{subsubsection}{3}{\[email protected]}%
                       {-4\[email protected] \@plus -4\[email protected] \@minus -4\[email protected]}%
                       {-1.5em \@plus -0.22em \@minus -0.1em}%

Reducing the font-size !! caution !! is also another possibility. This is risky though, from what I’ve read online, reducing the size of the table text, and the references are safe. But reducing the size of the main text is something you should refrain from. Read more about reducing the font-size…

Do you know about a technique that was not mentioned here? Comment below and I’ll add it to the text.

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