How to write an abstract for a “call for papers”/conference presentation

1. Read the call for papers

This is quite obvious but still really important. Consider whether the conference is:

  • a good fit for you/your paper/your presentation?
    • If so, which strand or theme will you submit to? There are often different strands or themes where your work will be narrowed down to fit a group of similar papers/presentations.
    • Sometimes there is an ‘other’ category/space for papers which don’t typically fit into any of the strands or themes but still fall under the general umbrella of the conference – if your paper doesn’t seem a good fit for any of the strands or themes, you may consider submitting here.

*a good tip is to email and ask the conference organisers beforehandChoose your title carefully

2. Choose your title carefully

It’s good to have a catchy title which captures what your overall presentation is about in an interesting and enticing way. However, this is not always easy to come up with, so it’s a good idea to perhaps leave it until you’ve actually written your abstract in full. If you have already written the paper to be presented, this maybe slightly easier, you may want to present using the title of your work although you can also change it to reflect or highlight the main focus of your presentation.

3. Working paper or completed paper?

Do you already have a paper ready to present or are you doing a presentation from scratch? In most cases it doesn’t matter. There is a presumption that you must only present work which is complete and/or published, however, it is fine to either;

  • Extract parts of your previous work (like an article or even your thesis) and focus on that in your presentation
  • Completely create a new presentation based on ideas you have in response to the call for papers topic(s)

In the latter case, your abstract will clearly be a starting point as you probably wouldn’t have finished your presentation at the time of submitting your abstract. The good thing here is you can use your abstract to guide the presentation you produce. However, you need to think how you will organise and present your ideas clearly in the abstract.

4. Check the word limit and stick to it

If you’re submitting the abstract online, the fields usually won’t allow you to over-populate beyond the fixed characters. However, you should still draft and write your abstract initially in a word processor, then edit and redraft before submitting it on the website form.

If you are submitting your abstract via email, e.g.: in an attached document, you must ensure you stick to the given word count. In some cases, the references are included in the word count, though it is not always necessary to include a reference list, it’s always better to check with the conference organisers. There is usually no 5-10% leigh way for going above the word count so do not do this as it demonstrates you have not followed the guidelines and may give the impression that your presentation will also not and therefore will probably be rejected.

5. Get straight to the point

It’s a really bad idea to begin your abstract with long, complex and detailed information about you or your work. The abstract’s function is for the reader to grasp the point instantly and make a decision whether or not to proceed with your work. Therefore, only include information that is relevant and will help the reader make a quick and informed decision. What your abstract should include is:

  • the clear title of your presentation
  • what the presentation is about
  • why it is important (generally speaking, what will it contribute to the subject/field?)
  • why it is important/useful to present at this conference (more specifically, what will your presentation bring/add to the overall conference?)

*It is usually good practice to include a reference list, although this is not mandatory. A good tip is to check with the conference organisers. You may also be asked to include a short biography about yourself. Again keep this relevant to your role as a presenter and only include information that adds credibility to you as a presenter, e.g., your current academic/research role, previous qualifications, research interests.

Good luck!

~ Nafisa

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