Writing for conferences
by Dr. John Wood - Professor, Rose State College
Participating in conferences can be an enjoyable and rewarding experience. Lower level conferences ? local and state ? tend to have higher acceptance rates, while upper level, especially regional conferences, tend to be stingy in their acceptance of papers. This is especially true when they are from unknowns, i.e., graduate students, new professors, and those new to the field. The people who evaluate your abstract are usually faculty members and you may have to prove yourself if they don?t already know you. The more effective your abstract, the more likely that you can get your foot in the door. The more effective your first presentation, the more likely you will be accepted in the future.
- Submitting your paper. When you submit for a conference, you have to write an effective abstract. However, you should not send an abstract too early. Wait until you have two things: your data and an analysis of it. Do not submit an abstract in the early stages of your data collection. Definitely, never submit your abstract if you have not started your study yet! However, you do not need to have your study fully completed by the time you submit. If you are not prepared, you might be embarrassed or have to pull out of the conference and your reputation will follow you.
- Presenting the same paper in two or more places? It is fine to present the same research at more than one conference. It is important to know that different audiences will give you different kinds of feedback. Certainly you should reframe each paper to match the focus of the particular conference. Likewise, change the title to reflect this specific reframing.
- Think simple. Conference presentations often range from 15 to 20 minutes in length with additional Q & A at the end when everyone is finished. Obviously, you cannot present your entire research paper, so select a small sample of data that makes a single point or give a brief summary of the importance of your work.
- Give your paper and/or information away. It is unlikely you will know how many people will attend a meeting, or how many may want your paper. If you bring a half a dozen copies of your paper, this is likely enough to satisfy most of the people who want a copy. If you run out, simply, make sure you have a business card to give out your contact information so you can email them a copy upon request. You never know whether one of these colleagues might want to give you feedback or become a coauthor in the future.
- Goals. Remember, a conference is about:
- Obtaining feedback to enhance your paper;
- Networking with future colleagues and/or employers
- Practicing and enhancing your presentation skills.
- A minor goal might be to see new places.
- Title. Make sure your title is informative and clear with all the key elements of your presentation (i.e., the point of your argument; a key concept, or something that grabs you, but still informative). Do not be too short or too long. A title can be coupled with a subtitle and separated by a colon to maximize its information value in a short space. Ex: "A Second Look at Third Parties: Correcting the Supreme Court?s Understanding of Elections." The main title should bring you in and the subtitle can further describe your paper. Most people will read the title to make a decision to either read it, listen to your presentation or skip it and go on to the next conference session. Make your title interesting and stand out. Most people think if the title is boring, the paper probably is as well.
- Choose the title after writing the abstract. Writing an abstract forces you to clearly think and describe your paper. After that exercise, you can make a clear, concise, and interesting title.
- Do not read directly from your paper. Practice a short presentation to fit the time you have to present. There is nothing worse than someone reading a paper while everyone sleeps. People know they can read your paper if you have copies or contact information.
- If you have charts that are necessary to understand you points, make sure to print them off and pass them out so everyone can follow along.
- If your audience does not intimately know your subject matter, then you might have to explain key concepts. Do not assume your audience knows, or cares, as much about your subject matter as you do. Avoid technical jargon if at all possible. The more general the audience, the less jargon you should use.
- Make sure to arrive to your room early to ensure you have everything you need, i.e. screen, projector, PowerPoint, overhead projector, plug in for your laptop, etc. If you are the only one on your panel using PowerPoint, rethink whether you should. Check on these details before you leave for the conference.